2022: Turn the Misery Index into the Satisfaction Index

The Misery Index is an economic metric created during the Johnson administration to demonstrate the general feeling of consumers in the US economy. Simply, it is calculated by adding the Inflation Rate to the Unemployment Rate. The higher the resulting number, the more miserable consumers are feeling. The lower the number, the more satisfied consumers are likely to be.

Currently, the Misery Index is 10.19 which is slightly better than it was in June (11.29) but noticeably higher than January (7.70) of this year. For historical context, since 1960, the highest misery indexes occurred during the Carter administration – 21.98 in June 1980, for instance – and the lowest occurred during the Obama administration – 5.06 in September 2015.

These are national numbers, of course, and the ones that would, in most cases, matter the most to your credit union would be the inflation and unemployment rates in your local markets. While inflation rates don’t tend to vary much from market to market (although prices do vary), unemployment rates are definitely dependent on what’s going on from market to market.

As you consider the Misery Index for your markets and members, it’s equally important to consider what it might be for your employees, as well. After all, their families and households are likely affected by the same local and national economic factors as your members. Further, it’s necessary to define what your credit union is doing to help members and employees during this moderately “miserable” economic time, particularly if you layer-on the emotional misery many are still wrestling with from the pandemic.

Ok, enough talk about misery … let’s turn this discussion on its head and focus on the other, more positive side. Instead of worrying about the misery of members and employees, let’s home in on their satisfaction or pleasure or gratification. As we strategize to thrive in 2022, let’s identify the ways we are and can drive satisfaction in spite of the not-so-positive unemployment and inflation issues that are occurring in many markets.

The “Satisfaction Index” at your credit union should be measured by simply adding your member satisfaction metric to your employee satisfaction metric. (Some of you may be measuring NPS and eNPS instead of satisfaction and while I don’t think that’s totally appropriate for this effort, it’ll be acceptable to start.) Unlike the Misery Index, however, in the case of the Satisfaction Index, the higher the number, the better. You’ll want to strive for as big of a number as possible – I would think 150 would be your floor (assuming a minimum target of 75% for each metric).

In the process of strategizing for an optimal Satisfaction Index, acknowledge that your efforts to drive member satisfaction and employee satisfaction should be tightly synchronized. That is, your effort to maximize one should be similar, if not the same, as efforts to maximize the other. What you do to create highly satisfied members can and should be done, in most instances, to create highly satisfied employees. (For instance, “treat me like a person” is a key driver in both member and employee satisfaction.)

Following are three specific and actionable things you can do today to position your credit union for the absolutely highest Satisfaction Index in 2022 (and beyond):

Lead with Empathy: there is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity today to show the highest levels of empathy with both members and employees. Regardless of the Misery Index level in your community, everyone’s lives have been affected to some extent and that impact has been highly personal. Recognizing the personal nature of that impact and responding with sincere empathy will separate your credit union in a positive way. As we’ve said in previous articles, it is your secret sauce!

Demonstrating empathy doesn’t mean simply saying, “I’m sorry” or “I understand” and there’s definitely a right way and a wrong way of doing it. It is a trained, learnable skill and becomes a muscle that needs to be consistently strengthened after it’s learned. Once perfected, this skill should be baked into all ongoing service efforts with members and regular coaching efforts with employees.

A genuinely empathetic approach should apply to all members and employees, regardless of age or life-stage or perceived levels of satisfaction. And empathetic interactions should address positive as well as negative situations – celebrate wins as well as address struggles. Lastly, being empathetic is the first-step to walking side-by-side with someone to find a better situation … and that’s where empathy leads you to levels of satisfaction unattainable without it.

Be Challenged to Change: not change just to change (“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”) but change that makes life easier and produces positive feelings for members and employees. And they don’t have to be monumental improvements in either case; sometimes a minor change can make a major impact on satisfaction. 

When we say, “be challenged”, however, we’re talking about encouraging everyone in your organization to seek ways to improve and enhance what they do. It’s not just executives or managers who drive change; every employee should take ownership of how they do what they do and identify ways to become better. In fact, in many cases, I’d rather rely on the employees to find better ways of doing things because the executives and the managers are oftentimes the ones who created the ineffective way in the first place.

Three caveats: 1) you can’t just tell most people to change or step outside their box or think different; for most, you’ll need to train them how to do that effectively. 2) failure is an option; establish a change management process and have someone champion that process and you’ll mitigate the impact of failures, however. 3) involve your members in the process; get their input on what needs to be changed. They’ll usually provide a much more accurate view of what needs to be changed than you will.

Synergize the Core: everything you do to maximize satisfaction with members and employees should emanate from your core values – that is, what drives you to do what you do and how you do it. If it doesn’t support your core values and mission then it should not be a high priority in your satisfaction efforts. If the correlation isn’t obvious, then it’s probably not where you want to spend significant time and effort.

For some of you, this means starting with a deep and heartfelt assessment of your core values to see if they’re appropriate for capturing who you are and want to be from a member and employee perspective (this is always a fruitful exercise, especially during planning season). Similar to points above, get everyone included in this process – execs, staff, board, members, even non-members. Don’t assume but verify.

Once your core values become crystalized, it needs to become your mantra. They get communicated and measured; they play a vital role in tactical plans and decision-making; they get baked into all training and coaching efforts. Staying synergized with your core values will result in consistently good satisfaction only if the corresponding action steps are also synergized with your core values.

If your credit union is serious about wanting to minimize or avoid the misery index in 2022 and maximize your satisfaction index, let’s talk. No matter your starting point, our consultants can take you to that critical next level of both member and employee satisfaction. Please reach out to Probert@fi-strategies.com or 636-578-3280.

Paul Robert

Paul Robert

Paul Robert has been helping financial institutions drive their retail growth strategies for over 25 years. Paul is the Chief Executive Officer for FI Strategies, LLC, a small but mighty ... Web: fi-strategies.com Details

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