In Appleton, Wis., Kari Stockinger, business development manager at $298 million asset Prospera Credit Union, focuses on businesses and organizations in the Fox Valley area.
“I was out virtually every night at events, and at lunch touching base with people,” Stockinger says. “But that dried up overnight with the pandemic.”
She shifted gears to create virtual happy hours and networking lunches via Zoom for people with common interests. “I might schedule one for area realtors and another for business owners,” she says. “We also had a women’s group.”
In the early days of the lockdown, “people were hungry for connection,” Stockinger says.
That early bump has plateaued, however. “People are looking for more human contact,” she says. “We have to step back and ask, ‘How can we adjust this?’”
Facebook has been a valuable to tool to gauge the pulse of the business community.
“You can glean information on what’s happening with businesses and what people are doing individually,” she says. “I learned about a member who had an accident and needed a new car. It’s also a way to reach members who own businesses.”
As quarantine restrictions begin to be lifted, some members are willing to meet face to face.
“People are glad to see you,” Stockinger says. “But with this second wave of the virus hitting, that reaction seems to change day to day. Right now there’s a lot of tension about kids going back to school.”
Consultant Lara Brecher, a former credit union business development manager, offers five tips for reaching out to clients during the pandemic:
1. Get organized. This is a great time to get in touch with clients who have fallen off the radar and to catch up on correspondence.
“If you have a customer relationship management system, go through it and determine if all your contacts are even still available,” she says. “Do your SEGs have furloughed employees? Do they need assistance? Be creative with helping them out.”
2. Find new business. While it’s important to connect with current community partners, it’s a prime time to reach out to new potential clients, Brecher says.
“Talk to local business organizations,” she says. “Find out if they received Paycheck Protection Program loans and how you can help them through that process or help their employees with financial assistance. Seek out webinars and online events where you can make additional contacts.”
3. Get out there. Brecher says Zoom and similar technologies have actually lowered barriers for setting up meetings with people and groups who were difficult to contact before COVID-19.
“One of my issues when I was in business development was just finding time to physically meet people,” she says. “Zoom takes a lot of those issues off the table. People don’t avoid meetings as much.”
4. Focus on financial well-being. If you don’t have a financial counseling program, start one. If you do offer this service, “ramp it up,” Brecher says. “Now is the time to expand your education and get certified.”
5. Embrace your community focus and use it to your advantage.
“Community is more important than ever right now,” Brecher says. “It a perfect time to get involved in your community and show what your credit union is all about, especially your commitment to members. Think about what members need from you right now.”