Help Members Help Themselves

Teach members self-service technologies and you’ll serve them for a lifetime.

December 14, 2012

It’s a tired but true axiom: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

It’s tired because it’s been overused, and true because it expresses the value of sharing knowledge over sharing “stuff.”

As manager of e-services at my credit union, the saying rings true to me as I face the challenges and opportunities of serving members in 2013.

I’m focused on developing self-service options for members, so here’s my self-service translation of the proverb:

Give our members  _______ and we serve them for today.
Teach them how to  _______ for themselves and we’ll serve them for a lifetime.

You can fill in the blank with a number of typical retail functions and see how it works. For example:

Over the past year, our credit union has invested heavily in online/mobile account access, mobile apps, remote check deposit, integrated voice response, and personal financial management tools. Self-service options like these provide excellent value to busy, time-strapped members.

They appreciate the convenience and flexibility of anytime, anywhere account access. With the sky-high rate of adoption of smartphones—almost 50% as of mid-2012, the Pew Research Center reports—we’re taking advantage of this window of opportunity to build member loyalty through mobile options.

Helping members help themselves with routine transactions also improves organizational efficiency. It frees up credit union staff time for higher-value work that hits the bottom line.

As you can imagine, technology like this doesn’t come cheap. For many credit unions—ours included—the greatest challenge in offering new self-service delivery channels is dealing with initial and ongoing costs.

Some costs are financial, but that’s not the whole story. Initially, it takes considerable time and resources to develop a strategy, assess risk, and choose service providers.

Once you select a vendor, compliance rules require many hours of due diligence and contract review. And ongoing, self-service technologies need a robust member support structure to help users having trouble with the services.

The best way to ensure we’ll experience all the benefits and offset the significant costs is adoption: getting members to use the services. This brings me back to the fill-in-the-blank proverb that will guide my work in 2013.

We know that our tech-savvy members will latch onto self-service right away. They already know how to “fish.”

Other members are slow adopters who would rather continue being fed. Our mantra in working with these members will be “teach them self-service and we’ll serve them for a lifetime.”

“Teach” means to engage, educate, and encourage members to use self-service options. It means we’ll need to understand the benefits of these services and be comfortable explaining the details.

It also means simply asking members to try them. “Serve them for a lifetime” means that once members try self-service, they’ll be hooked.

This will not only save them time and give them more control over their schedules, it will also be fun. Depositing a check with a smartphone delights members in their teens and ‘60s alike.

Both age groups use the same word to describe mobile deposit: “Cool!”

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

This saying communicates empowerment, but it also encourages service. By investing in ways to help our members take care of themselves on their own terms, we hope to achieve both in 2013.




KEN GONYER is e-services manager for Park View Federal Credit Union, Harrisonburg, Va. He’s also a freelance marketer, trainer, and coach for businesses and nonprofit organizations, and a longtime member of the Credit Union Marketing & Business Development Council of Virginia. Contact him at 540-434-6444, ext. 160.