Supporting our stakeholders through uncertainty
I remember talking to my youngest daughter, who was eight at the time when she accidently saw some unsettling footage on the news last year. She asked me why there are so many bad people in the world. An old saying came to mind: “Whenever you see bad things, look for the good people helping – there’s always more of them.”
As we move from the third month of unprecedented national and international self-isolation and the first tentative steps out of it, we as an industry have never been closer to our members – we’re all in the same boat, trying to figure out what the new ‘normal’ is. Yet at the same time, as an industry we have an opportunity to show leadership and be those helpers in trying times.
Helping our members (and indeed sponsors) can and should go beyond the basic business continuity planning. Absolutely we must pay pensions and try to maintain the operations and all other activities which go into the effective management and running of a pension scheme. But how can we give comfort to members when things are so uncertain?
Here are a few thoughts on what is more important now than ever.
Remove the barrier of language
As was brilliantly discussed at the recent PASA Annual Conference, we’re an industry with a sad history of bad language! Now more than ever, it’s in the members’, sponsors’ and our own best interests to talk plainly.
Many of us will be pointing members and sponsors to our websites as a first port of call for answers. If they can’t understand the answers you’re providing, it’ll increase their frustration and anxiety and push failure demand onto your operations in the form of increased emails and calls.
Now is the time to unleash your communications experts and create a new dictionary for your scheme.
When people are anxious, they naturally want to take more control and do more for themselves. The more you can enable members and sponsors to take control and ‘self-serve’ the more confident they’ll feel.
This is in a large way supported by clear language and the removal of jargon, but it’s also aided significantly by turning on as much online self-service as you can and challenging your developers to enhance the user experience. These improvements should of course cover both laptops/desktops, as well as mobile devices.
A great user experience will ensure your website is a doddle to use and members (including pensioners) and sponsors will come back time and again, creating a channel of choice for the future.
Provide one source of the truth
As we’ve seen recently with the toilet paper ‘gold rush’, during times of crisis people are even more influenced by traditional and social media and this’ll affect their patterns of behaviour. Develop your messages and control their distribution.
You’ll no doubt have some business continuity messaging you want to convey but listen carefully to your sponsors and members. What are they asking through your contact channels? Trends will quickly emerge which will drive your frequently asked questions content on member and sponsor websites and, in doing so, will help other members. Keeping this content up-to-date and relevant to your audiences will reassure and establish the website as the channel of choice.
Once you have your process in place and control over your content, use other channels to direct members to this. These could include:
- Twitter and Facebook – stating these are unsupported channels for personal enquiries if you don’t have operational capacity or the platforms to support
- Sharing messages with sponsors to post on their company intranets
- Sharing messages with Trade Unions to expand your reach
The more places you have pointing your stakeholders to a single source of reliable and accurate support, the better. And once they’re on the websites, you’re able to encourage registration and self-service at frequent intervals, enabling them to take more control.
This is not business as usual
We know this, and so do our customers. We won’t be able to solve all problems as quickly as members and sponsors would like, but they’ll value you being there, communicating openly and trying your best.
Pensions are a long-term journey we share with all the parties who provide them or participate in them. The journey will extend beyond the present circumstances, but what we do, or don’t do now, will be remembered.
We have an opportunity during these unprecedented times to foster a deeper relationship with our stakeholders. We’ll achieve this if we are transparent, empathetic where possible, and honest in how we set and manage expectations.