How Good's Your Service? Filene Offers Benchmarks

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Credit unions accustomed to having to "fly blind" when results of their own member satisfaction surveys with those of other CUs are now being offered a benchmarking standard.

The Filene Research Institute and the Center for Credit Union Research report they have teamed up to create national credit union member satisfaction benchmarks that allow credit unions to compare their own members' level of satisfaction with established national standards.

The study, "Membership Satisfaction Levels: National Norms for Comparing Local Survey Results" is the second edition of this benchmarking standard, which means that for the first time, Filene had its own national benchmarks to use for comparison.

Most notable: while the overwhelming majority of credit union members would recommend their CU to a friend, members who are in the prime borrowing demographic were less impressed with their credit union's lending-related services.

Surprises & Lessons

"What surprised me was the results were as stable as they were," said Dr. Harold Fried, one of the researchers. "There was much less change (from the 1998 study to the 2001 study) than I expected. They were remarkably similar. We had debated about whether or not we needed to update it because people felt like the original study was too old, but the results were very similar."

The idea behind putting together this study is that it can be difficult for credit unions to interpret their local membership satisfaction surveys without the benefit of knowing some sort of national standard for comparison.

"This is potentially a tremendously valuable tool for credit unions," Fried suggested. "Without it, you're operating in a vacuum. You can compare your survey results to your own previous survey results, but you have no way of knowing how you are doing relative to the rest of the credit union movement. And it's kind of exciting because not only is it a national standard, but it's a credit union standard, not a bank standard or a financial services standard. It's a credit union standard, and that's a high standard, indeed."

Researchers Fried, Robert Hoel and William Kelly, Jr., started out by asking credit unions to provide them with their own member satisfaction surveys. The analysts then created a survey form that most closely resembled the forms already being used by credit unions.

By including these questions in their own member surveys, credit unions can benchmark their results against national scores. The result is a more objective measure of member satisfaction, according to Filene.

The Filene-developed survey is designed to:

* Provide member evaluations of their primary CU's services, procedures, and personnel. The resulting evaluation scores serve as standards against which CUs can compare themselves to evaluate product and service quality.

* Measure the extent to which members choose their credit union as their primary financial institution (PFI).

* Investigate the extent to which members would recommend their credit union to a friend.

* ID the importance that the cooperative nature of credit unions has on member decisions to conduct business with a credit union.

One Note of Caution

"This research gives credit unions the ability to measure their performance levels against a national standard," said Hoel, who is also executive director of Filene. "We were gratified to find that in general, members are very pleased with both the products and service quality of their credit union, especially with staff courtesy and professionalism. Ninety percent of members say they would recommend their credit union to a friend. However, we also found that members age 35 to 44 are somewhat less impressed with their credit union's loan service than members in other age groups. This finding is noteworthy because members 35 to 44 are typically among a credit union's strongest potential borrowers. They are in the peak borrowing years of their financial lifecycle."

For an accurate comparison to national norms, the researchers suggested that credit unions use the full set of questions included in the national study, use them in the same sequence, and use the same rating scales. If a credit union wishes to ask additional questions, those questions should be added to the end of the questionnaire.

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