A much needed tune-up for your credit union machine

You may have heard the metaphor comparing everyone at your credit union to a cog in a machine. On an ideal day, each of those cogs is fully operational and moves the pieces that need to be moved to ensure a memorable member experience. But what happens to a credit union when some of those cogs start taking on too large or too small a portion of the workload?

Let’s take a look at a couple of the cog sizes and where the pitfalls lie for each.

The Manager Cog:

If your credit union has five branches between two cities, what unifies those branches? Are there central staff practices, role assignments or training procedures? Where will each branch look for those practices and procedures? The only trusted resource they have on hand: Themselves.

So what?

The first consequence you’ll see is that each of your branches can feel like an entirely separate credit union. Members are constantly watching, and they will pick up on a lack of consistency. If the same member visits two different branches and has two very different experiences – even if they’re both positive experiences – they may begin to wonder what other inconsistencies lie beneath the surface. With financial services rooted in trust, you can’t afford to have the members questioning your processes.

The same goes for your online branch. Of course it can’t offer the same face-to-face experience, however it should offer a familiar tone while complementing the stand-out elements of your brick-and-mortar branches. That means your marketing and operations teams need to sit down and talk in the same way that your branch managers should.

Checking your alignment.

One of the most important factors in maintaining a well-tuned credit union machine – the factor that instills a sense of unity for both staff and members – is organizational alignment. Organizational alignment includes a company-wide discipline for the support of your managers which allows those managers the time and skills to coach their staff and work toward excellence.

There are three crucial tools you’ll want to keep handy if you want to keep your machine in good alignment with minimal need for repair:

Tool #1: The Big Goal.

When it comes to organizational focus, credit unions can find themselves with the best of intentions, yet lack on execution. I call it the “shiny object factor.” You start down the path of creating a sales & service culture, then a new regulation pops up. Bam! Then someone suggests a mobile app. Cool! And what about remote deposit capture? Sweet! All great projects, and all things that can draw your attention away from the original goal. Pretty and shiny, these projects slowly drain our priorities and spread resources so thin that we don’t even recognize our original goal at the end of the year.

Every large-scale idea, attention-demanding issue and compliance regulation has the potential to detract from your focus as a business. The way to counter this occurrence is to practice discipline toward one business-wide endgame. Then, even with all the distracting noise happening all around you, you can stay on track toward where you want to end up as an organization.

So ask yourself, “How does each meeting and process relate to that goal?” If the answer is ever “not at all,” it’s time to re-frame and refocus on your plan. Alignment sets in when you make sure every one of your individual employees knows how each change – and everything they do on a daily basis – makes a difference for the company overall. Which leads me to crucial tool #2.

Tool #2: Communication

Of course, we have to mention the oil in any respectable machine analogy. And for us, that oil is communication – your team’s willingness and ability to interact and cooperate with others at their level and at every other level in your organization.

I’ve worked with credit unions that have said, “We never send all-staff communications.” Really? Communication is the key to frictionless alignment. So decide what you want your employees’ experience to be so that they can influence your members’ experience in the same way. If your employees aren’t treated like important parts of the machine, they won’t be happy. And if your staff isn’t happy, your members won’t be.

Tool #3: Delegation

Think of delegation as the engineering expert that ensures that each cog carries a workload proportional to its size. That means that a credit union branch manager needs to have the flexibility to delegate some of their massive workload to the staff.

Managers may feel they are protecting their overworked staff by not delegating tasks to them. Keep in mind that staff embrace opportunities to support their manager and gain insight into what it’s like to hold a higher position. The more operational duties staff can pick up from their managers, the more time managers have to coach and lead. The more time managers have to coach and lead the more staff feels appreciated. The more staff feels appreciated, the harder they work. It’s almost like a well-oiled machine! This does take a certain type of responsibility from every staff member, which brings us to our second cog size.

The Frontline Cog:

There’s a member service skill that I consider to be tantamount among credit union front line staffs. It’s called “Maintaining Personal Responsibility.” In a nutshell it refers to staff thinking outside of their proverbial box to solve issues for the member without having to involve a manager.

For instance, take the interaction I had at a former credit union. I won’t reveal the name of the credit union, but I will say that they no longer have my membership. And here’s why: A couple years back, I drove to my nearest branch at 7:30 in the morning. I had just sold my home after it had been on the market for a nightmarish fourteen months.

The branch’s drive-thru had just opened and there was no one else around, so I figured, Great, I can take as much time as I need to deposit my check and take care of whatever other business. As the tube whooshed over, I asked the teller, “I just sold my house, so before you send tube back out, could you tuck a rate sheet in there so I can get in touch with loan officer?”

And what was her response? “We’re a green branch so we don’t print rate sheets anymore. You’ll have to go online, because that’s what I’d have to do anyway.”

Needless to say, I was underwhelmed by the lackluster service I received. Now, I’m sure that in the teller’s eyes, she was simply doing what her manager had told her: “We’re a green branch now, so we no longer print rate sheets for members.” But that doesn’t change the fact that just about anything else she could have done would have been better. Imagine if she had offered to email me the link to the online rates? The information would have been waiting for me when I got to the office. I would have appreciated her going the extra step to help – and she would have kept within the green branch guidelines. A win-win!

When a staff member says “How can I make a difference?” that really bubbles up as a differentiator for a member. The beautiful thing about this is that every member of your team can individually control this decision and say “I choose to maintain personal responsibility,” even if no one else around them is willing to do the same. Your team’s role models will rise up among their complacent comrades.

Building member resilience.

Over time, individuals who are met with consistently positive credit union experiences will become more resilient members. That means that if some unforeseen problem ever does arise, those members will be more willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and forgive you in light of past excellence.

There are two straightforward ways to maintain personal responsibility and fuel that resilience: Anticipating Needs and Avoiding Problems.

Anticipating Needs

The goal of any credit union employee should be to anticipate and meet the needs of their members – even without being asked. That doesn’t mean constantly grilling every member about their lives. Rather, the goal should be to make a difference for the right members at the right times.

And encourage your team to sell! Too often, member service representatives avoid recommending the next logical product so as not to be pushy – even if it means missing out on a helpful cross-sell. In the financial services arena, it’s not your members’ job to know your products and services; they look to you for guidance. So, if there is a product or service that makes sense, encourage staff to embrace their role as a product expert, confirm the need and close the sale. Members will appreciate the insight, knowledge and their trust in your credit union will rise.

Avoid Problems

The other way to build member resilience is to avoid problems. Take whatever steps necessary to head off a problem before it arises, whether that means re-asking questions, double-checking your work or keeping members informed about upcoming changes.

The most obvious examples include recommending overdraft protection when you’re waiving an overdraft fee. Or if a member dislikes waiting in long lines, recommending the online branch to meet their needs. So often staff is intimidated by members, when in fact they have the power to improve the member’s lives all along.

Getting some help: CUNA Creating Member Loyalty™

You’ve reached the point in the article where you’ve got a list of company-wide to-do’s and only about four pages of how-to’s. Aligning your organization and instilling a sense of personal responsibility in every one of your employees is no small task. More like a full overhaul.

But don’t worry; this isn’t the part where I leave you. If the above issues sound all too familiar, you might consider getting some outside guidance – specifically from the team at CUNA Creating Member Loyalty™ (CML).

CML uses an ongoing high-level process to help credits unions build sales and service initiatives that address each of the above issues. That process includes defining your big hairy goal in terms your entire staff can relate to, figuring out how to communicate that goal in every way possible and making sure it’ll be lived at every tier of company, from senior managers to front line staff.

Whether you’re not getting the results you’re hoping for or you just haven’t taken the time to sit down and define your plan, CML is one way to find your path and get started down it, even if that means bringing in outside partners and resources.

CML has worked with many credit unions across the U.S. to establish consistency between branches, dependable member care, staff pride, thorough company-wide communication and a collective sense of purpose. In no time, your credit union could look like a brand new machine that not only knows where it’s going, but how to get there.

To request a sneak preview of CML and discover how your credit union can harness the power of CUNA Creating Member Loyalty™, call 800-456-0543 or email cml@cuna.com.

Happy tinkering!

Angela Prestil

Angela Prestil

Angela Prestil is Director of Business Development for Credit Union National Association. Her responsibilities include ensuring the successful implementation of the Creating Member Loyalty™ sales culture development system, as well ... Web: www.cuna.org Details

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