How Community First Put Service In A Class By Itself

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APPLETON, Wis.-Sometimes instituting a sales culture at the credit union comes at the expense of service. But Community First Credit Union made the move and has not only increased product penetration, but member satisfaction scores, as well.

"We view sales as understanding the members' needs and then educating them on the solutions the credit union can offer," said CEO Cathie Tierney.

After implementing CUNA's Creating Member Loyalty System of Training in early 2008, CFCU's single-service households have decreased. The $1.3-billion credit union ranks in the 99th percentile for Raddon's Cross Sold Households index, the 94th percentile for deposit balances, and the 95th percentile for loan balances. Checking penetration increased from 60.3% to 62.95% at the end of 2008. And the percentage of "very satisfied" members in the CU's annual survey rose from 58.8% in 2008 to 64.3% in 2009.

What's most critical with the training, shared Minh McKenzie, VP-sales and service, is that the program emphasizes service, not sales. "With CML, sales is service and service is sales."

McKenzie asserted that many sales don't occur because of false assumptions on the part of the employee and the member. "For example, an employee may hesitate to ask if a member needs help with investments, assuming it would be prying. The member, on the other hand, incorrectly assumes the employee's silence is apathy."

To remove these roadblocks, the training program emphasizes the need for "high impact" questions, the kind that uncover the member's financial needs, McKenzie said. "With CML, CFCU staff are trained to listen to answers, and then personalize benefits in response. This approach doesn't necessarily take more time than a typical member-employee conversation, but it does allow the employee to uncover what a member really wants."

Angela Prestil, director of sales culture development at CUNA in Madison, said the behavior modeling component of the training builds the necessary skills. "We do skill practices where you watch the trainer do the skill, you watch it on a video model, and then you practice it intensely in a training session."

Prestil said credit unions sign a license agreement with CUNA and pays a "nominal fee" for participant materials, but would not disclose actual costs. Prestil emphasized that the credit union owns the training, and trainers are first educated and certified by CUNA.

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