Members Treated Like Guests

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Prospera CU has taken its "be our guest" philosophy and crafted an entire branch-and a brand new job position-around it.

"We have an invited guest philosophy," explained Keith Puiu, CEO of Prospera CU. "The idea is that you treat members as you would treat a guest in your home."

The credit union, like any number of CUs here in the U.S., has long had meeter/greeters in place at its branches to help smooth the way for members coming to a branch to do business.

But when Prospera embarked on putting a new branch in the upscale, artsy South Granville locale, Puiu decided to take it up a notch and created what he believes is the first full-service concierge at a credit union branch.

"We looked at some of the best hotels in the world to see how they treat their clients," he told The Credit Union Journal. "We thought the idea of a concierge was a way to enhance our 'be our guest' philosophy."

While the concierge at the South Granville location still serves as that meeter/greeter-a member's first contact upon arriving at the branch-Vicky Amyot's job description goes well beyond just pointing people in the right direction if they're looking for a loan.

"It's really a totally new concept," Amyot suggested. "This is a very funky, artsy, unique area. A big part of my job is keeping up with what's happening in the area."

Warm Feelings

That's because Amyot is as likely to make a reservation for you at the hottest new restaurant in town as she is to help you find the collections department.

"This meshes in with what we've done at all our branches-warm interiors with a fireplace, a TV, water features, it's all part of creating a comfortable and inviting environment. The concierge just takes this to another level. This is about providing excellence in service," Puiu related. "I came from the banking industry, and I don't believe banks do this very well. Many branches are so cold. I have horrible memories of what it was like in the banks in London. They were virtual fortresses. You were almost afraid to walk in with your cap in your hand. As a credit union, we can only survive if we provide service and a comfort zone that banks cannot because banks will always beat us on marketing dollars. We want our credit union to be warm. There's a fridge up front so we have bottled water and coffee on hand for members when they walk in the door. We know if they are comfortable here, they'll come back."

As concierge, Amyot has to have some basic knowledge of financial transactions, and since she came to Prospera with about 13 years of banking experience, she already had that. What was more important, she said, was learning the non-banking aspect of her job.

"I walk by the theatre every day so I know what's there. I've got all the bus schedules. I've got menus to all the new fancy restaurants," she related. "I've made sure that all the hip and happening places know who I am so they send me updates and tips about what's going on."

To get the word out to the restaurants and merchants in the area, Amayot has prepared gift bags that she distributes when she's walking up and down the street, on the prowl for news about special events coming up in the area.

Ready To Check In?

In fact, it would seem a good portion of her job is giving things away. "I have a silver snack tray with chocolates, energy bars, bottled water with the Prospera logo, chips," she noted. "Our waiting area really looks like a hotel, and it's my job to take care of you."

Because the job was a new position with a new concept behind it, it's still a work in process.

"We keep figuring out what things I can and can't do," Amyot explained. "What we've learned is that it can't be anything that takes me away from that front desk. It totally defeats the purpose if I'm not there. So, we'll try certain things, and then when we realize it's something that might take me away from my area, we drop it and try something else."

When she's not working with a member, Amyot manages the stationery ordering and making sure the water cooler is stocked and the brochures are all lined up.

She handles a lot of e-mail correspondence and does some outbound calling to members whose loan or CD terms are coming up.

Amyot also handles the applications for corporate sponsorships.

After having taken the time to create a singular branch for a singular area, Puiu knew he had to back it up with a singular person for this singular job.

"It's about having the right person. She has to be a good listener and very presentable in every way, the way she looks, talks, acts, and it has to be someone who will listen more than talk," he related. "It has to be someone who can diffuse a problem when someone has a complaint."

And that means the concierge position is not an entry-evel job.

"This is not a training position for someone who wants to move into a different position," he explained. "We want someone who can make a career in that role. We are very careful about who we put in that role. This is not an entry-level position, it's a position you work toward."

Amyot, who was hired specifically for this position as she brought 13 years of experience as manager of customer service at a bank, agreed.

"The banking knowledge is still something you need, but at the end of the day, it's all about service," she noted. "I'd look for someone with experience as a hotel concierge or in retail or a server in a restaurant. A strong service background and the right personality for the job is the key. We can train you on the financial side."

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