Avoiding the culture of avoidance

There’s a terrific scene in the movie Office Space when lead character Peter Gibbons is avoiding Bill Lumbergh (history’s all-time worst-ever boss) to get out of working over the weekend. Peering over the wall of his cubicle, Peter makes a dash for the door only to be surprise-blocked by Lumbergh and stuck with the dreaded weekend assignment.

If you know the movie, you really can’t blame Peter for trying to avoid his boss. For the most part, however work environments that are blighted with a culture of avoidance are not primed for success. Particularly in credit unions, we’re talking about those where, for whatever reason, staff avoids interaction with staff (what some call the silo mentality) and particularly when staff avoids contact with members.

Avoid contact with members? That’s crazy, you might think. Interacting with our members is the most important thing credit unions do. It drives growth, profitability and deeper relationships. These things are all true — however, in the course of mystery shops during marketing audits for credit union partners, we are continually surprised at just how many financial institutions (and it’s not just banks, friends, credit unions are guilty of this, as well) still tolerate a culture of avoidance with consumers.

Here’s a fairly typical scenario. During a marketing audit we visit a competitor (banks and credit unions) assigned to us by the credit union with which we are working. Typical culture avoidance signs we see often include:

  • A passive entry/greeting system. Too many credit unions rely on passive methods of interacting with members and potential members as they enter branches. We still see clipboard sign-in sheets. Occasionally we will see a computer terminal sign-in queue system or maybe even a tablet. While technology may be better than a hard copy sign in, the method is still passive. In other words, you are relying on members (and potential members who may have never been in a given branch location) to announce their entry to you. In the experience economy in which credit unions now operate, exactly the opposite should occur. Instead of asking members to meekly announce their entry to you, your staff should trumpet an authentic branded greeting anytime someone walks in. Members gift us with their trust and business. The least we can do is actively greet them when they walk in the door. Nothing is worse than walking into a retailer (credit unions included) and feeling unnoticed. If your credit union has a culture of avoidance that tolerates a passive greeting system, your member experience is far from cutting edge.

  • Employees that lack basic business communication skills. Avoidance here can mean things like little to no eye contact, no effort to learn a member/potential member names, reading from brochures instead of relying on internal product knowledge and paying more attention to their computer screen or even (gasp!) cell phone than the person in front of them. Yes, this happens during mystery shops. The lack of eye contact and no/poor use of member name is bad enough. You might be surprised, however, how many times we see credit union frontline staff with either enough lack of product knowledge or confidence in their ability to discuss it so that they rely on the cheat sheet of reading from a brochure. This does not inspire confidence in consumers when it comes to your credit union. And yes, we still see some credit union frontline staff either glancing at or actually typing at their computers and looking at their cell phones rather than fully engaging with the member/potential member directly across from them. That’s not just rude — it’s 100% detrimental to your member experience. If your credit union has a culture of avoidance that tolerates a lack of basic business communication skills, your member experience is floundering.

  • A culture-wide silo mentality. When back-office departments don’t want to talk to member-facing frontline staff. And vice versa. When lending won’t talk to marketing. When marketing won’t talk to human resources. When IT won’t talk to anybody. This is silo mentality. Who does it end up ultimately harming the most? You probably guessed it – the member. Your entire staff must understand that for an optimal member experience, they must break out of the silo mentality and open communication between all people. Progressive credit union cultures that thrive in a brand-centric environment often begin to lose “department blinders” altogether, seeing one team of however many people work at your credit union all striving for the member experience instead of a litany of individual departments only loosely connected and often lost in worlds of their own. If your credit union has a culture of avoidance that tolerates the silo mentality, good luck trying to keep up with your more forward-thinking competitors.

A culture of avoidance, whether internally amongst staff/departments, externally in front of members or both does not bode well for the future of your credit union. A more direct, welcoming and inclusive brand culture of working internally and with members is the direction upon which growing credit unions focus. As a member or potential member, ask yourself this question – “Would I rather work with a credit union where the staff obviously relishes the relationship working with me, or would I prefer to find another financial institution that does?”

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold is an acclaimed speaker, brand expert and strategic planner helping businesses such as credit unions and banks achieve their goals with strategic marketing insights and energized training. Mark ... Web: www.markarnold.com Details