Many credit unions (and businesses in general) pride themselves on giving members and customers exactly what they ask for. No more. No less. They are honest people delivering exactly what they promise. But is that approach enough to ensure longevity and success for the years to come?
I know of at least one old lady in a long, black shawl who would say, “No.” This nameless lady is one of the characters in The Bakers Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale, our YMC Book Club’s book of the month.
In this classic folktale, which is masterfully retold by Aaron Shepard, the woman visited Van Amsterdam, a baker in her hometown near Albany, New York, on Saint Nicholas Day morning. She wanted to purchase a dozen of his famous Saint Nicholas cookies. Van Amsterdam was known as one of the most honest businessmen in his town, a well-respected man who always gave his customers precisely what they asked for. No less, but no more. Though he didn’t realize it at first, Van Amsterdam was about to learn a valuable business lesson from this nameless old lady in a long, black shawl.
When the woman arrived at the bakery, she ordered a dozen cookies. As Amsterdam was wrapping the cookies for her, the two of them shared the following exchange:
“I asked for a dozen. You have given me only twelve.”
“Madam,” said the baker, “everyone knows that a dozen is twelve.”
“But I say a dozen is thirteen,” said the woman. “Give me one more.”
Van Amsterdam was not a man to bear foolishness.
“Madam, my customers get exactly what they pay for—not more and not less.”
“Then you may keep the cookies.”
The woman turned to go, but stopped at the door.
“Van Amsterdam! However honest you may be, your heart is small, and your fist is tight. Fall again, mount again, learn how to count again!”
For the next twelve months, Van Amsterdam watched his business dwindle to nothing. His shelves were bare, and his customers non-existent. “That old woman has bewitched me,” said the baker to himself. “Is this how my honesty is rewarded?”
I won’t spoil the surprise of the ending, but let’s just say that Van Amsterdam came to understand what this old lady meant after a single compelling dream. From that point forward, he found himself counting a dozen as thirteen, giving a little more than each customer asked for, and, as a result, his business bounced back even better than it had been before.
Van Amsterdam and his Saint Nicholas cookies hold a valuable lesson for credit unions—and businesses of all kinds. We tend to pride ourselves on giving our members and customers what they ask for. We embrace the honesty of doing no less, but also doing no more. But by doing so, we’re missing out on an opportunity to go one step further and differentiate ourselves from everyone else who does the bare minimum.
If you want to stand out from the crowd, take an honest look at how you and your team are serving your members. Then, ask yourselves, “What are we missing? What is our baker’s dozen?” It doesn’t need to be a big-ticket budget buster or an all-new, earth-shattering promotion. In our story, a single cookie made all the difference. You might be surprised how one simple change can distinguish your brand from your competitors. If you find creative ways to give your members more than they’ve asked for, this selfless act of appreciation will set your credit union apart, and, like Van Amsterdam with his bakery, you’ll watch your organization grow and succeed like never before.