After many years partnering with credit unions on improving branding and member experience programs, a number of commonalities have emerged. Amongst these is a strongly recurring theme —that in order for a credit union to truly and fully embrace a new brand and member experience program, more than likely it must first go through some internal healing.
This is not to say the cultures of all credit unions pre-brand and member experience program implementation are entirely toxic or poisoned. However, experience increasingly teaches credit unions with an eye for an improved brand and a dynamic member experience program must acknowledge and address a number pre-existing communication and cultural conditions first. Consider the following:
Healing Status Quo Mentality
The dictionary definition of status quo is ”the existing state of affairs.” Colloquially, the status quo represents an old foe of credit unions large and small — that of doing things a certain way because (for lack of a better reason) “that’s the way we’ve always done them.” This type of sedentary and backwards thinking will cripple your credit union in a number of ways, particularly when it comes to brand and member experience. The retail environment in which we now exist is dramatically different than that of even ten years ago. Credit unions that opt to rest on their laurels and maintain the status quo run a significant risk of backsliding and losing out to a variety of competitors. The strategic planning, initiatives, technology and brand culture that got you where you are today are unlikely to propel you to the growth and heights to which your credit union aspires tomorrow. In the current uber-competitive financial products and services retail environment, there is no such thing as stasis. You are either growing or you are shrinking. Until your credit union is prepared to deal with a status quo mentality and heal beyond it, you are unlikely to develop or launch a successful brand or member experience program.
Healing Past Failed Initiatives
Depending on how long certain staff members have been with your credit union, it’s likely they’ve seen the executive team trumpet a number of past initiatives including marketing campaigns, cultural realignment, sales and service training and potentially even brand efforts. If every one of your past such initiatives was a total homerun, congratulations – you’re in a minuscule minority. Most credit unions have, at some point, rolled out some kind of staff initiative only to see it dissolve for any number of reasons. Rest assured your staff, especially those with longer tenure, recall these. You can also rest assured these people will readily share stories of past shortcomings when a new initiative like brand or a member experience program is introduced. It is absolutely critical for the success of your brand or member experience program to strongly inform all staff that it has no connection to past failed initiatives and, more importantly, isn’t going away like previous programs may have. You run the risk of staff members thinking (and sharing out loud with their peers) something along the lines of “we’ve all seen this kind of thing before; the leadership team just has another cultural bee in their bonnet; if we can just ride this out for a few months it will go away like all the others, etc.” It’s dangerous enough when tenured staff share such opinions; it’s even more problematic when you allow this type of cynicism to infect the hearts and minds of less-tenured staff. In many ways, your rookies will look to the thoughts and opinions of “old-school” credit union employees for their cues on what works and what does not in your culture. If you allow the negative taint from past failed initiatives to infect your new brand or member experience program, you doom it to failure from day one. The past is the past and you must ensure all staff, regardless of tenure, understand this and approach a new brand or member experience program with open hearts and minds.
Healing Interdepartmental Angst
Every retail environment has its own version of the gossip mill, internal communication challenges and cultural obstacles. Credit unions are not unique in this. In some ways, it’s the classic credit union “front line versus back office” clash. In others, there may be unresolved issues between departments and/or individuals that go back for years (think your own version of the famous Hatfield vs. McCoy Feud). Some departments may be tagged, fairly or not, with labels such as “don’t bother calling them, you’ll never get any help” or “they get away with everything so why should we bother trying.” These fractures between departments, branches and even different segments of your organizational chart must be addressed if you expect your brand or member experience program to succeed. Going into such an initiative with unresolved past issues and dissatisfaction between teammates is like jumping into a pool of sharks wearing a swimsuit made of bait fish. In other words, you’re just asking for it. Tackle these challenges head-on rather than putting your faith in a fools gold philosophy like “it will take care of itself.” Without direct intervention, existing interdepartmental angst will most certainly not take care of itself and, if allowed to fester, will begin the slow decay process of a doomed brand. In medicine, some wounds have to bleed a little in order to heal. In house renovations, sometimes termites have eaten away at so much wood that it’s better to replace it. The same principle applies to your credit union. Far better to address the root causes of interdepartmental conflict now than to let it cripple and destroy your brand and member experience program in the future.
As retail entities, credit unions striving to improve their brand and member experience must heed these lessons of healing. For any brand to work externally with members, it must first (and successfully) work internally, with staff. They are the standard-bearers and keepers of your brand and member experience. Don’t allow a status quo mentality, past failed initiatives or interdepartmental angst to rot the roots of your fledgling brand or member experience program.