Gone are the days where consumers are restricted to local credit unions or driven by product differentiation. Consumers have more choices of credit unions and other financial institutions now than ever before and are not afraid to use those other institutions to fulfill their financial needs. But what is it that keeps credit union members coming back to your institution? Members are driven by something that sets a particular credit union apart from the rest. Members are attracted to a credit union culture, which no other credit union can copy because each culture is unique. Take a moment to think about your culture and your competitors’ culture and how it differs. But first things first, what is organizational culture, and why is it important?
Culture acts as a guiding force to shape behavior by defining expectations within an organization, which becomes ingrained in employees’ minds, attitudes, and actions. Culture is the organization’s values and identity created through consistent behaviors and attitudes and is manifested everywhere within the organization. Culture helps manifest your brand identity, which is how external stakeholders perceive your organization. When your culture and external brand align, you can determine the internal culture needed to deliver that brand.
If you are positioning your brand as service, there must be an internal culture of service with a commitment to service excellence. In this culture, all employees focus on a collective way of creating value and providing outstanding service. Leaders must define core values and ensure those values prioritizing delivering high-quality service are evident in strategies, policies, procedures, and operations.
If a service culture begins within the organization, employees will exude the core values in every member interaction. If there is no internal service culture, where employees experience exceptional service from within, external service may suffer. Building a service culture requires action and should be a priority for front-line staff and all who support their efforts. The tellers’ primary role is to process transactions, but it is the IT team’s responsibility to correct technical issues when they arise. If member service reps need a quick loan decision, loan underwriters and processors should also be ready and willing to respond promptly. Other departments within the organization should expect to offer the same internal service level when needed. In either of these situations, if the support staff’s response is slow or negative, then there could be a breakdown in the quality of service provided, causing internal friction that negatively impacts service to members.
All employees are responsible for building and maintaining a strong service culture. Still, leaders must define, cultivate, support, and encourage an internal service culture and shift employees’ mindset to gain the commitment needed for a service culture to work internally and externally. Leaders should hire employees who share the same passion for service, share resources and empower employees, create an environment of respect and appreciation, and apply the same standards from the top down, including leaders. Although not in the financial realm, an example of this culture is Zappos, the online shoe retailer where employee culture and customer service are the priority. The late visionary and former CEO, Tony Hsieh, believed that “customer service excellence starts from a commitment from the top and must be lived into by every employee.”
Having a distinct culture of service is what drives customer service from the inside out. When a credit union or any other organization operates to encourage service excellence from within, the outcome is the unique service identity that will differentiate you from competitors.