Growing Your Customer Base

an interview with
Jennifer Spencer Digital Communications and Community Manager, PerkStreet Financial

Starting a new company can be a daunting challenge unless the entrepreneur capitalizes on the inherent advantages of being small–you can and should be more nimble, more innovative and less risk adverse.  One clear example of that approach is PerkStreet Financial, an online bank that according to Jennifer Spencer, Digital Communications and Community Manager, has “grown our customer base and our staff while spending less on traditional media to focus on how to get the biggest bang from unexpected places, like social media channels.”  I caught up with Jennifer at a recent BDI conference and found what she had to say extremely enlightening and inspiring.  Hope you do too.

Drew: Can you give me a bit of background on Perk Street?
Our CEO, Dan O’Malley, was an executive at CapitalOne, and although his career was going great, the higher he climbed at that company, the less he liked what he saw. He didn’t feel good about seeing people get into debt to ‘earn’ rewards, so he left to start PerkStreet. Our company emerged from his idea that smart spending – using a debit card, living within your means, and avoiding credit cards – should come with rewards. So he founded PerkStreet Financial in 2008, and launched our game-changing cash-back debit card. Today, we’re giving our customers over a million dollars per year in rewards for avoiding debt and spending on debit.

When I found PerkStreet (on Twitter!) I was a debit user who wasn’t getting anything back from my big bank except the runaround when I needed help and fees just to keep my money there. I loved being a customer at PerkStreet so much that I sent them my resume. That’s the kind of passion we all have working at PerkStreet, and a lot of our customer community reflects that sentiment.

Drew: So as an online financial institution, what role does social play in your marketing mix?
Opening a checking account isn’t a snap decision. Social lets potential customers join our community and get to know us before they apply. It also lets people share their excitement about earning cash back on debit, and spread our content to their friends easily.

Drew: Do you think social plays a bigger role because you are an online institution?
I think it does. I don’t know about you, but I certainly feel better about trusting my money to people who put a face behind a name. Everything we do in social, from signing our names to all Facebook responses to using Twitter at live events to help people find us quickly, does that.

Drew: How are you measuring the impact of social on your marketing?  Can you share some results?
Our social measurement is focused on engagement. We use Google Analytics and SproutSocial to pull those numbers together for us. We are always testing, and seeing what messages perform best in which channels, and what that means as far as traffic to our blog, our site, and applications. We get a lot of current customer traffic to our blog, for instance – Facebook is the largest driver of traffic to our blog this quarter, followed by Twitter at 2nd, and Pinterest at 5th.

Drew: A lot of banks/financial institutions  are still afraid of social from a compliance/regulatory standpoint. How are you all overcoming those concerns?  Does it come from having a start-up mentality?
I think it comes more from every department understanding how important it is to our brand and our business to make connections with our community. Our compliance team really “gets it” when it comes to social, and having open communication with them helps. We respect what the other is trying to do and we collaborate to find ways we can work together, since ultimately it will benefit our company and our customers.

Drew: Can you give my readers an example of 1 or 2 social programs that you have done that really worked well for you?
Any time we use social to gather user generated content, it’s a success. Our graphics team is doing some really great stuff with inspirational quotes to help spark conversation (here’s one our fans loved!) and we’ve used VideoGenie to let our customers easily record their own stories for us to add to our website.

Drew: Is social also a customer service channel for you?  If so how does that fit into your overall plan?
Social is a customer service channel as well. Any place where customers can ask questions then becomes a customer service channel, and we need to be there to respond. We use tools like SproutSocial and HelpScout to assign tickets among the social and customer service teams so we can get the best answer out as quickly as possible. With so many banks out there getting slammed for terrible customer service, social channels are a low barrier way for potential customers to see how we treat our current customers. It’s all part of people joining PerkStreet not just because we have good banking products, but because they see that being a PerkStreet customer is a great experience.

Drew: Are you doing things with visual channels like Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr?  If so, what / why and did they achieve your goals?
As far as visual social media, we’re sticking with Pinterest for right now (although the Timeline update to Facebook has arguably made that a visual channel.) No one likes to talk about personal finance, but people are always talking about the things finance affects: home, heart, and health. That kind of content is getting shared like crazy on Pinterest, and we’re excited to be a trusted resource for it.  Our goals for Pinterest, while we still get to know the medium, include driving traffic and using what we find there to inspire visual content on our blog, both of which have happened.

Drew: You talked about quarterly planning-can you elaborate on your campaign approach to social?
We don’t have a campaign approach to social, but rather a social approach to campaigns. As I mentioned above, we do a lot of engagement measuring. We take that into consideration as we approach a campaign, and figure out what messages work best in which channels. A campaign has to move beyond social, even if it starts there.

Drew: What kinds of social things are on your radar for 2013? Or what’s on your social wish list? Bigger footprint?  More engagement? Better analytics?
Like most folks who work with Facebook every day, “more data from Facebook” is always at the top of my wishlist. Right under “Commute to work by unicorn.” Seriously, though, I think the road ahead for PerkStreet will involve more ways we can engage current and potential customers on a very personal level. That might look like an expanded Twitter presence, online chats, and lots of video.

Drew: It’s unusual for a financial institution to feature customer testimonial videos on their homepage.  Can you tell me about how you gathered these and the rationale behind it?
For the “Share Your Story” campaign, we awarded the first 50 video submitters an extra $10 in perks in their accounts to help us get the ball rolling. We used VideoGenie to make it easy for our customers to create and submit videos to us, and also accepted submissions from their own cameras or phones, as well as quotes and photos for the video-shy. In the end we received over 200 unique submissions from our customers in about two weeks, with most of them coming in a few days. During the peak, we were getting submissions on average every 8 minutes. There was so much good stuff in there, we couldn’t help but feature it on our homepage.

Drew:  Do you think these videos have had a measurable impact on new customer acquisition?
We are still testing this homepage to see how it’s impacting conversion. I don’t have any conclusive data to release about it, but if I had to guess, I would say it has performed well from a conversion perspective. There’s little that makes people feel more comfortable about a product than being able to hear from someone they can identify with that the product is working for them. On some level, that’s what social media marketing is all about. Testimonials and reactions from authentic sources influence people all the time in social channels. One thing I love about that homepage is that the content was made by real people in their living rooms, and you can tell immediately. It’s incredibly authentic, because it’s real.

Drew: I love all the interesting content on your blog. Do you see this more as a retention tool versus an acquisition one?
It really serves as both in a very interconnected way. A lot of people find our blog when looking for good, frugal life advice and it leads them to learn more about us, to build a deeper relationship, and ultimately, to open an account. Our blog also supplies great information to our current customers, and gives them added value beyond just our banking products. They visit the blog, learn from it and then share our content with their friends, who learn more about us and open accounts of their own. This way, the cycle begins again. Ultimately, we believe that even if we’re measuring our performance by new account acquisition, we are doing a better job all around if what we’re sharing adds to customer retention and loyalty. No matter what your goals are, content is always going to serve a multiplicity of roles. This fact can’t be ignored or the cycle breaks down.

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