How credit unions can provide superior service in a time of crisis

COVID-19 has totally changed the way America’s credit unions do business. While credit unions rightly pride themselves on the personal touch and community-oriented business model, transitioning to remote work has made providing that personal touch and sense of community all the more difficult.

PenFed, founded before the Second World War, and its leaders know the difficulties of steering a credit union through a time of crisis. We’ve been able to transition to the “new normal” fairly quickly, thanks in large part to the way we leverage technology in customer relationship management (CRM). If you are with a credit union finding yourself playing catch-up during these difficult times, here are some things you might want to keep in mind: 

Reconceptualize CRM as MRM. Remember: The thing that sets credit unions apart from banks is that we have members, not customers. The language of “customer” implies quick, infrequent interactions; membership implies a long-term, ongoing partnership. 

Once you start thinking of your work through this lens, your approach totally changes. You’re not just thinking in terms of sales and marketing or trying to figure out how to meet a member’s initial need. You’re looking at holistic life-cycle management, making sure members get the right products at the right time over the course of many years. That mindset shift might not seem like a big deal – but it totally changes the kinds of conversations your team is having with your members, especially in high-stakes, high-stress moments like this. 

Pick partners who understand your business model and share your sense of community. While big banks have the resources to sink millions of dollars into creating their own customer service platforms, credit unions’ exclusive focus on their members usually means that this isn’t a possibility. That means you’re in the market for partners, and you’ll want someone who understands the nature of your business and what you’re trying to achieve with your members. 

That process led us to partner with Salesforce a few years ago – a choice made in large part because the company had the tools that would enable us to provide the kind of member experience we pride ourselves on. Instead of generic sales and marketing tools, the company offered a cloud specifically for financial services that we could use not just for sales, but also in other parts of our business, including our branches, our service centers and our mobile and online platforms. As you strengthen your digital strategy in this time of social distancing, make sure you’re partnering with people who can equip you with what you need to care for your members. 

Pick a platform with an extensive ecosystem. Another factor to keep in mind when looking for a partner is finding a partner with an extensive ecosystem. If a partner has a large ecosystem, you’ll have access not only to their products and services, but potentially to the other talent and platforms that work with them. This access can empower you to move nimbly and deploy the services that members need very quickly.  

For instance, when our employees moved to remote work, it was important for our staff to all have the same tools to best serve our members. Our Genesys telephony system provided seamless integration into our Salesforce member service platform, and our computer telephony integration (CTI) worked at our employees’ homes with no effort on our part. We reconfigured our branch employees’ technology in days to enable them to use the same systems as our service centers to take member calls from home too.

The transition worked more smoothly than we could have hoped. Many banks have had to put up notices about long wait times for calls, but we haven’t. Because we partnered with an organization with a large ecosystem, we were able to turn on capabilities with our member services platform within a matter of days. That kind of agility is a huge competitive edge – particularly in times of crisis. And if you can combine that agility with the personal touch credit unions are known for, you’ve got a winning combination. 

Pick a “low code / no code” platform.

Another benefit of the Salesforce platform is that we could quickly develop a self-service skip-pay feature for our members. We knew that many of our members wouldn’t be able to make their monthly payments, and we also knew that if we could save them the time they might spend calling or emailing us by creating a simple online form (ironically using a feature called Salesforce Communities), that would be a huge relief during a stressful time. So, that’s what we did – and without the coding productivity from Salesforce, what happened in a matter of days would have taken weeks or months. 

This kind of agility helps level the playing field, allowing credit unions to keep pace with the big banks and offer superior member service at an affordable price point. Crises like COVID-19 can seem overwhelming, but they also offer an opportunity for credit unions to think about their long-term strategy. By leveraging this moment, you can not only prepare for the next crisis, but empower your team to offer members a more robust, responsive experience than ever before.

Joseph Thomas

Joseph Thomas

Thomas is EVP and CIO at PenFed Credit Union and is responsible for all the information technology functions across the organization. Thomas was assistant vice president of Bank Systems for ... Web: Details