Metamorphosis Of A Giant

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When a caterpillar metamorphoses into a butterfly, it has the benefit of privacy, wrapping itself up in a cocoon, but when you're a $14.6-billion organization employing some 6,000 people, there's no chrysalis or cocoon in which to hide.

So rather than keeping the process secret, CUNA Mutual Group is offering its credit union clients a look into how the mammoth credit union insurer is transforming itself into a sleeker, more CU-centric organization.

Ever since Jeff Post took over as CEO at CUNA Mutual, he has made no bones about the need for change at the company. At the firm's Discovery Conference this week in Las Vegas, it will be highlighting some of the changes on the horizon, the most prominent of which is its effort to transform its customer service: the Customer Operations Center pilot, to be located in Fort Worth, Texas.

Breaking Down The Silos

To break down the "siloed approach" to customer service CUNA Mutual had been using, the company asked its customers what was working-and what wasn't.

"There were several key themes. The first is that our service is inconsistent. We'd get high marks in some areas, and then not in others. Because credit unions typically have multiple products and services with us, this inconsistency was readily apparent to them," said Rick Roy, who is in charge of CUNA Mutual Group's Customer Operations unit-marking him as the leader of the organization's customer operations transformation effort. "We are very complex, and that complexity was spilling over to the customer. We were not doing a good job of shielding the customer from that."

And that complexity, Roy added, has led to high delivery costs for the company.

"We are changing the way credit unions can interact with CUNA Mutual Group, giving credit unions more options to self serve when they wish, or speak to a generalist who can help them across multiple product lines or get them in touch with a specialist," he offered. "Call centers are the very front end of the customer experience. We want to give them a more streamlined, positive, consistent service experience."

But accomplishing this will be no easy task.

"This is not a simple endeavor," Roy observed. "There were a couple of challenges early on. One was to bring customer feedback back to the staff and sharing it as unedited as possible."

One of the hardest things, he noted, was helping staffers, who were used to seeing just their one piece of the puzzle, to see and understand that feedback from an institution-wide perspective.

Another challenge: changing processes without disrupting the current service being provided.

"One of the ongoing challenges is making sure we continue to always start all transformation action with the customer service experience in mind," Roy added. "Still another challenge is that we have had operations activities going on throughout the country, and we have to determine is that the right model, or should we consolidate to a smaller geographic footprint."

Consolidation Is Clear

It is clear CUNA Mutual Group intends to consolidate its customer operations-currently housed in 11 locations across the country-under one roof at the Customer Operations Center that is being created in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Not so clear is exactly how the company is going to get there.

It is not, of course, going to happen over night, and Roy said over the next 30 days, CUNA Mutual Group will be determining exactly how those operations are going to be rolled over to the new center.

Testing It Out

To test out how this transformation is going to work, CUNA Mutual is going to start out with one of its most successful product lines: collateral protection insurance.

"The collateral protection product is very successful in the market today, and yet there is still room for improvement," Roy related. "It's an attractive investment for us because it's an opportunity to improve our service both for credit unions and for the credit union members."

Consolidating CPI customer operations out of one location will help drive the consistency of the customer experience while also creating greater economies of scale, Roy offered.

Going forward, the insurance company plans to add other product lines to the customer ops center, as well.

The pilot temporarily will be based out of an interim facility in Dallas while CUNA Mutual Group builds a new facility in Fort Worth. The existing facility is on track to be staffed over the summer and open for business in the fourth quarter of this year. The new building is expected to come online in the second quarter of 2007.

The LoanLink call center, of which CUNA Mutual has a majority stake along with a variety of state leagues and credit unions, will also be housed in the new ops center.

"We will keep some separation there initially," Roy suggested. "But we will look to see if there is a different opportunity for synergy there."

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