Ten must-do’s to reverse the member satisfaction trend

There’s been a lot of recent discussion, and some serious angst, over the recently published industry satisfaction results from American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). It’s understandable if you’ve had other important matters on your plate and missed the “hot” news, so here’s a quick recap:

  • The 2020 ACSI results show that credit unions scored below banks for the second year in a row on overall consumer satisfaction – Banks = 78, CUs = 77 (100-point scale). 
  • Further, the report shows a slow, steady erosion in credit union satisfaction over the past 10 years with scores declining since 2011 – CUs = 87, Banks = 75 (2011 scores).
  • Among the “banks” in the survey, community banks scored the highest with an average satisfaction of 81.
  • Among the big, national banks in the survey, Citi and Chase scored 77 while BofA and Wells came in at 75. That means these big guys (the mean, ugly ones) equaled or came very close to equaling what credit unions scored.

A primary takeaway should be that credit union satisfaction performance has dropped 10 points in the past ten years while banks scores have gained 3 points! As a result, it should be crystal clear that, as an industry, credit unions can no longer say, without hesitation, “we give better service than the banks.”

Of course, there are a multitude of reasons for this disturbing trend but two critical reasons are likely:

  1. Banks, especially the big ones, have the presence many of today’s consumers expect – multiple locations of various shapes and sizes, technology that’s become a staple during the pandemic but has also likely changed banking habits forever, and strong, dedicated support (via phone, chat, website, etc.) when consumers need to “talk.”
  2. The younger consumers (Gens X, Y, and Z) don’t hate banks like the older generations have in the past so their allegiance isn’t to a “credit union” or “bank;” it’s to the financial service provider(s) who they find most easy and convenient to use and has the tech solutions they strongly desire.

Two more somewhat-sobering notes to dampen your holiday spirit:

  • The ACSI report further shows that consumers ranked “importance of competitive interest rates” far down the list of individual areas of importance, coming in at #10. The previous nine areas on the list were mostly technology driven but three non-tech areas stood out – “ease of making changes to accounts”, “speed of financial transactions”, and, coming in at #1, “courtesy and helpfulness of staff”. So, the significance of technology needs to be heavily complimented with convenience and service.
  • CUNA Mutual recently reported that, as an industry, membership has grown at a much slower rate in 2020 than 2019 and that total loan balances were flat for the first nine months of 2020 compared to 2019. Both of these datapoints could be pandemic related, of course, but they could also be telltale signs of permanently changing consumer preferences when it comes to financial providers. There’s a lot of convenient, tech-driven competitors out there and, frankly, many credit unions have struggled to keep up.

No one should seriously question if credit unions, as a whole, give good service – they do. However, everyone should question to what extent have the rules of the game changed. Today’s consumers, especially the younger generations, have a much different definition of “service” and their drivers of loyalty are vastly different. Accordingly, how are credit unions different today than just a few years ago?

Ok, enough of being the Grinch … let’s turn our focus forward and be positive. While there are many ways to reverse that downward satisfaction trend and, equally important, position your credit union for optimal performance in 2021 and beyond, here is a top-10 checklist of must-do’s:

  1. Each of your strategic growth plans must derive directly from your service performance. In other words, use data to know exactly who your members are and then develop the most appropriate strategy for that specific target. This will require you to become proficient with multiple service definitions and models across all delivery channels. Don’t generalize – get specific on the targets and models.
  2. For many of you, your value proposition needs to be modernized. You can no longer say that consumers will choose you because, essentially, “we smile better.” You must define a new value prop for your new membership. This is going to require soul-searching and extensive market research to truly understand why the consumers in your marketplace see you as different from the other financial providers but it must be done.
  3. It’s probably time to accept that providing great levels of service does little good if you’re not actually growing. Simply stated, your service efforts must translate to additional business (i.e., sales). You can’t afford to give great service if you only have an indirect car loan with that member – you must have a process that leads to additional products and services.
  4. Speaking of “products and services,” you must have all the ones your members need and you must encourage them to continue to use them to the fullest extent. That’s going to require active promotion so consumers know you have those products, easy activation when they’re ready to buy, and consistent reliability so members can depend on the product fulfilling their needs.
  5. It’s also time for many credit union leaders to accept that some staff members who have provided good service in the past are not the people we need in those same roles to deliver great service in the future. We must have our member-touching roles populated with individuals who are singularly motivated by providing sincerely great service – externally to member and internally to processes. No more excuses.
  6. Once we get the right people into those roles, you must establish goals, accountability methods, and incentive structures that focus largely, if not entirely, on both service and sales performance. As noted a few bullet points above, service alone isn’t enough but, at the same time, we can’t become too pushy; so we need to set goals and hold people accountable to being great at both objectives. If it’s critical for the credit union to grow, then it’s also critical for each person to actively contribute to that growth.
  7. Your definition of “service” must be multi-dimensional and, therefore so must be your way of measuring it. Many of you proudly brag about your NPS score but it’s time to accept that NPS is only one way of measuring satisfaction. It’s a good metric, sure, but NPS is limiting and myopic; your credit union must have a multi-dimensional way of assessing member satisfaction every day and at every touchpoint.
  8. In addition to measuring service performance, you must also strive to understand service experiences. That requires knowing the member journey for as many transactions as possible and as clearly as possible identifying the member’s feelings and emotions at every stage of those transactions. Consumers remember how an experience makes them feel, not only what they did, and that’s what will drive their future buying decisions (largely leading to those additional sales mentioned above).
  9. It’s never been more critical to maintain open lines of communication with your membership. This isn’t easy and it varies largely on who your members are (bullets #1 and 2 above), but you must have dedicated ways to hear from your members on a regular, consistent basis. The surveys and member journey efforts are two big pieces but don’t forget about closely monitoring and responding to social media posts (the younger Gens are there!), conducting frequent focus groups (even virtually), and simply encouraging members to provide their comments on receipts and mailings (the old fashion way). Not only are these ways to hear from them but they’re also great ways to frequently say “thanks for being a member!” 
  10. Even the best service providers are going to misstep occasionally so you must have a well-defined and consistently delivered problem-resolution process in place. This starts with knowing every step of your processes and where the potential pitfalls lie (the journey mapping above will help significantly with this). But it also includes empowering staff to take ownership of issues and resolve them quickly and thoroughly. Lastly, define the escalation process so at least one executive can step in at a moment’s notice with those issues that are more complicated.

To each of these, you may be saying, “we already do that.” However, our hard challenge to each of you is, are you doing each one to your absolute best? Even if your satisfaction results are better than what ACSI reports, you must maximize your future service and growth performance in order to appeal to many of today’s consumers and, in particular, the consumer that’s coming down the road.


You’ll likely need an outside perspective on how well you’re doing in any or all of these areas and our firm has helped 100+ credit unions over the past 20 years do that … so let’s talk! Contact one of our consultants at www.fi-strategies.com or 636-578-3280. Together, let’s have an awesome 2021!!!

Paul Robert

Paul Robert

Paul Robert has been helping financial institutions drive their retail growth strategies for over 20 years. Paul is the Chief Executive Officer for FI Strategies, LLC, a small but mighty ... Web: fi-strategies.com Details

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