Lessons In Why Channel Integration Really Matters

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Credit unions increasingly live in a "multi-channel" world. The job they do in integrating those channels will be the primary driver of success, according to one person.

That was the message from Steve Williams, who spoke at an educational session on the first day of the CUES Marketing, Operations & Technology Conference here.

Williams, the managing director of strategic operations at Scottsdale, Ariz.-based consultancy Cornerstone Advisors, acknowledged that "multi-channel" and "web services" are popular buzzwords. However, he said, credit unions must develop an in- depth understanding of what those terms mean so they aren't left behind.

A Contact Sport

"Technology is messy. It is a contact sport," said Williams. "Credit unions want better technology, and many are reviewing their core processing options."

One of the primary goals of technology is integration of the many channels credit unions use to interact with their members, he continued. This includes branches, ATM or debit cards, credit cards, call centers, voice-response systems, the Internet and the wireless web. If a credit union can link all of those pieces together, it will benefit in several ways.

Channel integration yields four main benefits: cost reduction, service and convenience, revenue enhancement, and risk reduction, Williams said.

"Electronic channels cost less, so moving members from physical channels theoretically lowers a credit union's distribution costs. Offering consistent capabilities across all delivery channels should improve the members' experience," he explained. "When credit unions increase the levels of convenience and personalization in their delivery channels, that should lead to increased cross-selling."

Developing a real-time systems environment should reduce the risks of fraud and errors in transaction processing, he added.

One Retailer's Lesson

Williams cited Eddie Bauer as an example of a business that does a good job of cross-channel integration.

Website purchases can be returned at any Eddie Bauer store, catalogs are promoted at stores, the website is promoted in the catalog, and store locations and the catalog are promoted on the website.

"Multi-channel users spend more at Eddie Bauer. Those who use all three channels spend significantly more than those who shop at one or two channels," he said.

Through technology and integration, CUs can make numerous improvements to their existing channels,

Williams explained. These include sales tracking in branches, secure e-mail and instant messaging in call centers, and personalized marketing messages for ATM/debit card users.

The online space has many potential growth areas, including instant loan applications and routing web contacts to branches for cross-sell opportunities.

"Make sure web loan applications get to a person, and are not lost in the pipeline," Williams advised. "And work on instant card issue in the branch."

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