The secret to great member service: Listen to and speak to the heart

“People will forget what you said. They will forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

Years ago I was a Branch Manager at a Credit Union. We, like all credit unions, prided ourselves on outstanding member service. We genuinely cared about and worked hard to serve our members well.

That did not mean however that we never had an upset or unhappy member, and it is those moments that can define us as people. It is the moments in life that are difficult, when we face adversity or discomfort that can spotlight our ability to care for and connect with others when they need it most.

Do we care more about being “right” and “winning” the argument, or does the relationship and being effective matter more. This can require putting our egos on the back burner in honor of serving someone else, and deepening a relationship. I do not mean in the case of an abusive, hostile or unhealthy relationship, but just a moment in time when the other person may not be at their best or is fighting a battle we may not be aware of.

There was a member in my branch one day that was yelling at everyone on the teller line. She was being loud and seemingly unreasonable. She was upset about a check hold that we were putting on a $10,000 check. I asked her if we could step into my office to speak. She hadn’t even sat down and was screaming at me as well. Our defenses naturally rise in this type of situation, but I could see deep emotion in her eyes and hear it in the way she spoke. When she paused for a moment, I said, “I understand that you are very upset, and I want to help you.” She looked taken aback. She took a deep breath and started crying and went on to explain her situation. She had a very sick child in the hospital and needed just a very small portion of the funds from the check to meet her immediate needs.

Had she explained that initially that small portion of funds would have been released without any concern at all. But she was fighting an internal emotional battle, her child was fighting a physical battle, she needed support, she needed grace. Sometimes we can show up for our members in real and meaningful ways when they need it most simply by being able to understand that most often the emotions of a moment are not about us at all, but about some burden they are carrying.

We all want to be heard and understood. We all need that even more when life is tough, when challenges arise, and ironically that is when we can be the least effective at communicating our needs. Our emotions are high, our reasoning and logic is lower.

So when you are faced with that “unreasonable” member, take a breath and remember that they may be fighting a battle you have no knowledge of. They may be unable to be their best at that moment. We’ve all been there, and we could all use a caring person on the other side of the exchange. And just by believing that someone cares, feeling that someone hears and understands them, perhaps you will lighten their burden and impact their lives more than you will ever know.

The member with the check stopped by my branch a few months later. Her son was healthy. She wanted to thank me for hearing and helping her when she really needed it.  She apologized for her behavior. I told her that being human, being a caring and loving mother is nothing she needed to apologize for.

“Being heard is so close to being loved that, for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” – David Augsburger

Linda Lafortune

Linda Lafortune

Linda is the Director of Learning & Client Support at CUInsight.  She has an extensive background in the credit union industry having worked in both large and small credit unions, ... Web: Details

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