Old School Strategy Pays Off-Humans Answer Phone

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SAN FRANCISCO-San Francisco Fire CU has responded to member requests and changed its phone system so that in the event a live representative doesn't answer immediately, the automated phone system immediately presents the opportunity to "press 0 to speak to someone."

"It was a step back in time to when there was no call center and members never got into a phone tree," said Darren Herrmann, EVP of member experience and COO. "Members simply called someone they knew and the problem got solved. Our goal is to answer every call and not have a phone tree at all."

San Francisco Fire CU made a "mistake" seven years ago, he acknowledged, by putting its automated system on the same telephone number as its phone center. Today, management is "on the fence" about splitting those numbers into two.

"We don't want our members having to remember two numbers, but while some members want to talk, sometimes people just want to call the automated system and they don't want to speak to someone."

Members Asked For It
The driver for the majority of the changes made at San Francisco Fire CU is member feedback, Herrmann said, adding it is a "strong believer" in the net promoter score-which measures whether members would recommend the CU to a friend or relative. For example, as a result of numerous surveys and comments, SFFCU now rebates all ATM transaction fees members incur for withdrawals at foreign ATMs.

"Members said we weren't convenient and it was hard to find a CO-OP ATM to get cash," he said. "We decided we could put in 10 ATMs and still not solve the problem, because not all of our members live in San Francisco, they work in San Francisco. We could put in 10 or even a dozen ATMs, or we could refund surcharges and the cost would be about equal. But it came from member feedback saying it was difficult to get cash from the credit union."

SFFCU is part of a group of 25 CUs that work with the CUSO Member Loyalty Group. San Francisco Fire has opened up all of its systems to the call center staff to make possible 80% to 90% of calls to be handled by the first contact.

"Wherever possible we try to eliminate barriers and give a lot of training so the staff does not have to reroute the call to the credit card department or the mortgage department," he said.

Another change is extending call center hours to 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. Herrmann said members regularly comment that they like the fact the CU is available later. In the morning, the phone starts ringing at 6 a.m. from members who are traveling and have a problem. "But in the evening they are pleasantly surprised we are open, either for phone calls or live chat on online banking. We might not get a high call volume on Sundays, but people really appreciate being able to reach someone without waiting for Monday."

Within online banking there is a big button for providing feedback, both complaints and suggestions for improvement, and on the main web page there is a place to "Ask Diana" for leaving comments or questions. "Diana" refers to former CEO Diana Dykstra, who recently departed to take over as president and CEO of the California and Nevada CU Leagues.

CUSO Cuts Survey Costs
The Member Loyalty Group CUSO has worked with Filene Research, Herrmann reported. He said the credit union's survey costs have gone down from what it was paying on its own. "We were one of the six founding members of the CUSO. All six were using the net promoter methodology in their own credit union in different ways," he said. "We found software that allows us to slice and dice survey results in hundreds of different ways, including age groups or geographically."

Each CU submits the same types of data, which allows Member Loyalty Group to do benchmarking. "It has been very valuable to us for improving our service over the years. Not only do we get a lot of ideas, it sets the business priorities for the credit union to dedicate resources to."

SFFCU focuses on member service first rather than ROA, Herrmann said, when asked how it measures return on its various changes. "ROI is a little different, but we focus first on service and second on being profitable, without sinking the credit union, of course."

The CU has seen member growth of 20% and deposit growth of 30%. Member retention rate is just shy of 98%."

The first time San Francisco Fire CU checked its Net Promoter score was October of 2004 and the score 52.63. In June 2010 it had improved to 77.67. Herrmann said the high marks indicate members "are appreciative of what we are doing."

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