Member service matters!

I know there are many people out there who do not believe credit unions can differentiate themselves by focusing on the member experience. Of course I want to say “Tell that to USAA, Nordstrom,, Land’s End, Les Schwab Tires, Southwest Airlines. . .” and the list goes on.

The problem? It’s hard.

But does that make it impossible? Hell no.

Many of you know, I began my credit union career as a teller in Portland. Prior to that I was a serving wench at ‘Enry Beazely’s Fish-n-Chips, where my first boss told me, “We are put on this earth to serve one another, and when we do, our work matters.” Since that day, I’ve always wanted to do work that matters. That’s why I’ve stayed in credit unions for 40 years. (Now you know about how old I am).

Three years ago, my husband and I signed up to be volunteers with Cochiti Fire Department. Driving ambulances lead to EMT Basic license and now we both hold an Advanced EMT license. It’s work that matters because we live in the middle of nowhere, 35 miles from the nearest hospital, and are surrounded by old people. It’s super stressful, the classes were hard and I can’t imagine my life without it.

Last year I was asked to do a keynote speech at an all staff day. I love to do those because it gives me an opportunity to share my stories from the “front line”. As I was preparing for this particular speech we got a 911 call. It was difficult to decipher exactly what the chief complaint was, but I remember what my mentor Deputy Chief Joe taught me “Treat every call as if it’s a Delta call until you can prove otherwise.” And that sent me down a path of odd comparisons between Emergency Medical Services and Exceptional Member Services.

We help people get through their worst day with dignity and compassion.

Chief John told us that was the mission of the CFD during the open house that recruited us as volunteers. How is that not the same mission for any credit union? I was a loan officer in the 80’s before we judged everyone quickly with a credit score. I’ll never forget this woman coming in, on the verge of tears because her refrigerator had broken down. She was a single mom, she had a job and she needed $500.00. Her debt-to-income ratio was a little high, she had a few “dings” on her credit, but explained she had just gone through an ugly divorce. Bottom line, I knew she would pay us back, so we gave her the loan. This woman did burst into tears and she did, in fact, pay us back. I’ll never forget that moment.

Banking is an errand. Members don’t “get” to go to the credit union, they have to, and many times it’s a very emotional decision. Which brings me to the second comparison.

First do no harm.

In EMS they teach you that if you are unsure of a treatment it is better to withhold than to risk doing harm. In the above example, my fear today is that we would have pulled a credit score (which we can do easily now) and flat out rejected her. We do harm by not talking to the person and getting their story. We would have made her worst day even harder. Dignity and compassion? We should always remember how humbling it is to apply for a loan.

When you first approach a patient always start with the ABCs

Airway. Breathing. Circulation. This can be done in less than a minute but ensures the patient is somewhat stable before we continue with history, assessment and ultimately treatment. In the lending experience we need to remember the original three C’s. Character. Capacity. Collateral. Our single mom was of good character. She wanted to take care of her kids, she got custody of her kids, and now she needed a refrigerator. She had the capacity to repay. There was no collateral, but the risk was $500.00.

In a critical situation the best leaders are ducks.

Only 3 months into our volunteering we were called upon to drive the ambulance to the worst accident in our station’s history. One car with five unrestrained passengers versus five motorcycles. There was only one fatality but there were 10 patients and four were critical. I found myself in the back of the ambulance, for the first time ever, assisting our two EMTs. We were stabilizing a critical patient getting ready for her to be transported to the trauma center in a helicopter that was en route. The Fire Chief was the Incident Command and his job was to circulate and make sure we all had the resources we needed. Each time he’d pop his head into our rig, he’d ask very calmly “Can I do anything for you?” and when we said “No, we’re good,” he followed up with “You guys are doing a great job!”

During the debrief later that day, I asked him about it. How could he be so calm when it looked like a scene from a bloody war spread all over the highway? He said, “I like to think of myself as a duck…on the surface all you see is me gliding across the water, but down below I’m pedaling like hell.”

I think of some of the critical situations I’ve been in at the credit union. Computers go down, a large fraud has been committed, you get robbed. Our jobs are not for the faint of heart when you think about it; however, the best leaders will stay calm, offer assistance, praise the good deeds and then debrief AFTER the event, not during it.

We treat every call like a Delta call until we know otherwise

There are four levels of EMS calls. Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta. Delta is the highest priority, lights and sirens, and code 3. I mentioned this in the beginning, but when I visited the Sandoval County 911 dispatch center and sat with a seasoned dispatcher for an afternoon, I could not help observe how similar it was to working in a credit union call center…which, I’ve also done. You never know what you’re going to get, you cannot predict the volume of calls, and yet it’s often critical that you treat the member with dignity and compassion and acknowledge that although it might not be YOUR emergency, it is THEIR emergency.

The other similarity is that when people are under stress, they often do not begin the conversation with all the facts. The conversation is more emotionally lead. It’s up to the call center/dispatcher to ask the smart questions, try and calm them down, own the problem and get the right solution as quickly as possible. A 911 dispatcher NEVER puts a caller on hold nor would they transfer a call and make the member repeat their entire story. We all know that just escalates the situation.

I’m just a driver…

And finally, on one of my first runs I was standing in the Emergency Room next to our patient who was still on our gurney. A nurse approached me and asked “What is the chief complaint?” I said, “Oh, I’m just the driver, my partner is the EMT, he can give you the report.” When we were back in the ambulance he turned to me and said “Don’t ever say that. You are not JUST a driver. You are the most important person on a call, because in a volunteer shop, without you, we cannot go.”

So often we hear “I’m just a teller,” and it’s really a great comparison. Remember I said that banking is an errand? Well a big part of running that errand is interacting with a teller. They have more impact on the credit union’s brand then we’ll ever give them credit for. It’s where I started in the credit union movement and where I’ll always be most proud of. I had a following, I loved my members, I loved their stories and the pictures of their kids. I loved them bringing in the new car they got with a loan so they could show it off. Embrace your tellers.

The work we do really does matter. Go do good things.

Denise Wymore

Denise Wymore

Denise started her credit union career over 30 years ago as a Teller for Pacific NW Federal Credit Union in Portland, Oregon. She moved up and around the org. chart ... Web: Details