Dearly Beloved

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ANAHEIM, Calif.-For Land's End, respected for its customer service, it all begins by "thinking about the person on the other end of our decisions."

It is that thinking, said Jeanne Bliss, a consultant on customer loyalty and whose career includes stints at Land's End, Allstate, Microsoft and Mazda, that has helped to make the clothing retailer a "beloved company."

Credit unions seeking to do the same, said Bliss, need to examine whether they are pursuing the steps needed to achieve such beloved status, or whether they are just another "everyday company."

"In business, our collective decisions tell another type of story to our customers and our marketplace about who we are and what we value," Bliss told CO-OP Financial Services' THINK Conference. "How we correct something when it goes wrong; how we ensure quality; how we give people what they need, all of that ends a signal to the marketplace."

Like other analysts, Bliss stressed that companies no longer control their marketing message, saying 78% of buying decisions are influenced by friends, colleagues and complete strangers on the Internet.

For every CU, Bliss suggested, the real test is to create an experience that has members saying afterward, "'Who else could do this for me?' If you don't have a reliable experience where your members can tell someone else what they get from you, then you don't have a story to tell."

Bliss believes successful organizations also recognize they are human, and take their mistakes seriously. "It's inevitable that you will make a mistake. How you repair that emotional connection when you make a mistake binds you to that customer, or not. Apologizing well is the peace process between companies and customers."

Similar to earlier comments made to the THINK meeting by a Disney executive, Bliss said financial prosperity is not the primary and only objective. "(Successful companies) have something more than financial prosperity. They have prosperity of the human spirit. Their customers become the army that grows their business for them. This isn't about kumbaya. This is about creating higher margins and reducing costs."

Another critical and related question for credit unions, said Bliss is: "Do you believe members are an asset or a cost center? Are you hiring partners, or filling positions? Are we thinking about hiring people for your core values? Your people are the story that's in the marketplace. Are you hiring people as the long-term story?"

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