Beyond Expectations

Give members a reason to beat a path to your door.

January 1, 2011

Last week I went to my credit union branch to cash a fairly large check, which was drawn on an out-of-town institution. I was prepared for the teller to ask me to deposit the check because of its amount and out-of- town status. If that wasn’t enough, I never remember my account number, so I expected to see some frustration from the teller.

Instead, I was greeted graciously. After the teller checked my identification, I told her I didn’t know my account number, I had an out-of-town check to cash, and I wanted the money in $100 bills. “No problem,” she said, “our system is down right now so I’ll have to make a phone call.”

I settled in for what I thought would be at least a five-minute wait. Obviously, with the branch system down, the staff was prepared because the call took roughly 30 seconds and I got what I wanted without a hitch.

It’s important to note that the teller was new to me and this is not a small credit union with a close-knit membership. It’s a $1 billion-plus credit union with a very large, diverse, and far-flung membership. But the way my transaction was handled and the positive attitude of staff would have been notable in a “boutique” credit union serving a small, elite membership. It’s also important to note that staff didn’t allow the system problems to interrupt excellent service.

I would classify myself as a fairly “irascible” customer. Time is important to me and performance and attitude are equally important. I don’t make scenes when I’m dissatisfied, I simply don’t go back. I vote with my feet. Your members get a chance to vote every time you provide—or don’t provide—a service. Many of them won’t be as quick on the trigger as I am, but every one of them gets to decide whether to keep using your credit union, do more business with it, or take all their business elsewhere.

The deciding factors—time, performance, and attitude—are important to most people, along with price and product. It’s important to do well in all these areas. But even fast service, if mistakes are made or an employee’s attitude is rude, won’t keep me around long. The friendliest attitude won’t work with sloppy or inferior work.

Nearly all credit unions would agree that they want a great service culture. Creating and maintaining such a culture takes commitment and perseverance.

Start by providing staff with:

A clearly stated message from management and the board to deliver truly excellent service. The best car wash I’ve ever used has a clearly stated standard for service with two rules. Rule No. 1 is “The customer is always right.” Rule No. 2 is “In those cases where the customer is wrong, see Rule 1.” This might not work for a complex and highly regulated credit union, but it’s a great example of a clear and brief statement of commitment to service.

Standards for service and training for all. Train staff to take ownership of a member’s requests and problems and be empowered to follow through and resolve them. Training must be an ongoing process to refresh new skills and provide new ones.

Methods to measure and evaluate service levels are critical to maintaining a service culture. These can include management by walking around, secret shoppers, regular member feedback, and annual or biannual member satisfaction surveys. Other measures of service levels are growth, penetration of key products, cross-sales, average number of services used, and the bottom line.

I’m absolutely convinced from my many years of observation and experience that superior member service results in tangible financial rewards for any business. Get your members to “vote with their feet” by walking away from competitors and beating a path to your door.

JOHN FRANKLIN is executive vice president and chief operating officer for the Credit Union National Association in Madison, Wis. Contact him at 608-231-4266 or at