How Reliance On Systems Can Stymie Service

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MADISON, Wis.-Credit unions should make sure their systems don't "make them stupid" when it comes to member service.

That was the advice from Steven Little, a Wilmington, N.C.-based business consultant and author. Little used the story of a long and exhausting day of work-related travel to illustrate that technology should not be the excuse for a business not delivering what its customers want.

Little had established a tradition of enjoying a vanilla milkshake when he made it through a business travel day. On one particular occasion in Baltimore he was hours late due to weather delaying his plane, then endured a 30-minute check-in line at the hotel and a room key that did not work the first time.

After midnight, he finally made it to his room and immediately called room service to order a vanilla milkshake. The man who answered the phone, "Stuart," was earnest and eager, but was stumped by Little's order.

"No sir, we don't have a milkshake. Can I get you something else?" Stuart said.

Little asked if there was vanilla ice cream in the kitchen, Stuart said yes. Little then asked if there was milk in the kitchen, again the reply was affirmative. Little ordered a bowl of vanilla ice cream, accompanied by a large tumbler filled halfway with milk.

"Halfway? I'm going to have to charge you full price," Stuart said apologetically. "Whatever you have to do," Little replied wearily, asking for a long spoon as well.

After relating his tale to a virtual audience of CUNA Mutual Group's Discovery Conference, Little quickly stated that Stuart was not stupid.

"Stupid is too strong a word. Stuart was at a keypad and if it doesn't say 'milkshake' as one of his options, it doesn't exist," Little noted. "This is a case of the system making something stupid."


'Prudent Proactive Posturing'

Little acknowledged he is not an expert on credit unions, or on financial institutions. He is an expert on growth, he declared, and said CUs should be ready to take advantage as the economy comes out of the doldrums.

"This is not the time for timidity, it is time for prudent proactive posturing," he said.

CUs should ask what is their definition of "quality," Little continued, saying members are looking to their credit unions to be a leader.

"It is the credit union's job to find innovation, to find new sources for non-interest income, to up its share of wallet. This can be done by humanization-by putting a face on a financial services transaction. How people choose to use the tools of their time has always been important, and today's tools can make money. The power of technology is strong, but make sure the processes serve the member.

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