Business can be summarized as serving. At the core of all business endeavors, there is a connection between something someone needs or wants and a company or person that provides the product or service. From the more niche products like Game of Thrones fountain pens to obscure services like toothbrush delivery subscriptions to commodities like phone service or grocery stores, the common element is that the company has enough people who want to pay for it at the price the business is able to offer it. Although some products are necessities, for most things consumers have enough choices of brands, designs or features to give people options that will satisfy. If a brand does not meet the customer’s expectations, they will choose a competitor.
Financial institutions are at high risk of being commodities. Checking and savings, CDs, money market accounts, and loans are all pretty vanilla products at the end of the day. Credit unions have the advantage of being fairly well liked, when people know what they are. For more on this, Filene Research Institute recently published a fascinating article titled “Who Do Credit Unions Belong To?” which delves into the bipartisan appeal of credit unions. We can do even better by cultivating the skill of listening as a business practice. In a world that is increasingly automated and data driven, where communication happens at a fast pace and important news fades too quickly, helping people feel heard is a way credit unions can stand out. Here are three ways credit unions can listen.
Listen to your members: This one is probably the most obvious, and all of us pride ourselves on serving the member. It’s what we do and what we are about as credit unions. Every once in a while, though, we may make excuses for bad business behavior and blame the customer. Sometimes we do this because a complaint is not legitimate, and it is important to differentiate when something is valid and when something is not. Sometimes we do this because we feel a problem is unsolvable. But rather than invalidating the complaint, consider what can be done differently. Your Yelp, Google, and Facebook reviews are a good place to start. Yes, it is true that people who tend to write online reviews are generally either very happy or very dissatisfied and often without communicating properly with the institution. But there is something to learn there. Also, it is important to highlight the compliments you get as well, and work to do more of what people are saying they like. Compliments and complaints are the best feedback your credit union can get, and your balance sheet is actually built by your customer service.
Listen to your employees: There are times where it can be difficult for management to really listen to employees. Business decisions can be complex, and not every level of the organization has access to the reasons why things are done. Even when employees don’t understand the full scope of the decision, what they are saying (sometimes in private conversations with each other!) is critical. Employees can be closest to the impact of a business decision. If a new process or procedure isn’t working well, they are the ones feeling it. Make sure employee feedback is incorporated into decisions. They are also the ones closest to your members, and if they aren’t satisfied your members will feel it even if internal issues are never verbalized externally.
Listen to your community: Your place of business is not irrelevant, even in an increasingly online world. People are still connected physically to their local communities, and things are happening there for your organization can respond. As credit unions, we should be great at being part of our communities because our charter based system. Know the local, social, political and cultural issues going on. Be responsive. Listen to what local officials, non-profits and leaders need. You might be surprised where your institution can play a bigger role when you have conversations to listen, not just to sell.