NEW YORK (MainStreet) – After a few years of widespread financial hardship, one study characterizes bank customers as anxiety-ridden “nervous Nellies” and finds that financial institutions are changing the way they reach out to customers to regain their confidence.

The report comes from the Palo Alto, Calif.-based CMO Council, a network of top marketing decision makers, in collaboration with True North Custom Media. The report, which studied 120 bank marketing professionals, sought to take the temperature of bank consumers and evaluate how that might impact bank/customer relationships. Here are some of the highlights:

  • 89% of participants rate bank customers’ anxiety levels as moderate or high.
  • 43% of participants say customers are less trustful of banks than they used to be.
  • 55% of participants say that communicating with bank customers these days is “moderately challenging,” while 32% say it’s “extremely challenging.”
  • Despite the anxiety, 34% of participants say their banks have “cut back” on marketing and customer outreach budgets.
  • 39% of those surveyed say higher consumer anxiety warrants increased levels of customer contact.

Clearly, bank managers need to do a better job of reaching out to people, whose trust they are increasingly seeing slip away.

“Bank marketers, while highly sensitized to risk and regulatory considerations, are looking to improve their game when it comes to personalized, real-time interaction with critical audiences,” says Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the CMO Council. “However, this needs to be emphasized during uncertain times, as well as part of a continuous communications program that maximizes the lifetime value and profitability of customer relationships.”

But getting closer to – and calming down – customers is a tough job for bank marketers. Consumers still place a high priority on human interaction at a time when the entire financial services industry is going digital. The survey notes that customers are actively requesting “contextual and reassuring” information through their relationship managers (54%), call centers (52%) and local bank branches (48%).

Websites and email are much lower on that consumer priority list, and somewhat surprisingly, mobile messaging is a priority for only 2% of bank customers, according to those surveyed.

The report also notes that banks are changing the way they reach out to customers, and the bulk of those marketing campaigns are geared toward digital services. The idea, the CMO Council says, is to find out what specific services customers want – then find fast, efficient, targeted ways to get those services to them.

“While marketers tend to rely primarily on websites to inform consumers, many are finding that custom content in the form of e-newsletters, print publications, videos, mobile content, and other media is highly effective in attracting consumer attention and providing valuable information to assist them with daily financial matters,” says Jason Skinner, chief marketing office of True North Custom Media. “Leveraging custom, integrated content to engage specific consumers with content that is truly relevant to them may go a long way in regaining consumer confidence.”

As the report attests, banks have a long way to go before they regain that customer trust. Meanwhile, the way they communicate with bank consumers is changing rapidly – for better or worse.

Marketing is one way banks may try to repay what President Obama recently referred to as a "deficit of trust", but check out MainStreet's look at 10 Resolutions Banks Should Make in 2012 for more!