on Branding: The Great Myth Of CUs & Service

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When I start working with a credit union to strengthen their brand we use various methods to identify the credit union's CORE offerings. Every single credit union I have ever worked with has the same answer to what sets them apart: they offer exceptional member service.

While I would love to believe that credit unions universally provide exceptional member service, it's tough to buy for a couple of reasons. First, the same managers who rave about their service have tough answers to what the credit union needs to do better. They raise a lot of service issues: better accuracy, the need to up-sell more services to each member, better products, etc. Second, if credit unions have such amazing service why aren't members abandoning banks and moving all their accounts to credit unions?

I've given this service question a lot of thought and talked to many people in the industry. Following are our combined observations. These may help you take a second look at your service excellence:

Offering exceptional customer service takes a lot more than being friendly and knowing the names of members when they walk in the door.

Having the nicest employees in five states doesn't count if you can't maintain your membership or increase your most profitable product and service penetration. Hint: if your service per household ratio is under 3.5 your service may not be exceptional. Community banks shoot for a ratio of nine!

If you don't use mystery shops and/or nonbiased member feedback studies what makes you think you're doing such a great job? For help, contact Neil Goldman at MemberResearch.com

If you think service is what happens when members come into branches think again. Service happens any time you touch the customer: in person, by mail, online, over the phone, when they receive account statements. Do your members receive exceptional service everywhere, every time they contact the credit union?

Back in the days when credit unions had narrow fields of membership many members considered credit union membership a job perk. Today credit unions are expanding fields of membership and competing more actively in the financial services marketplace. It's time to ask ourselves honestly if credit unions need to reevaluate service and get more in tune with the latest member needs and opinions.

Do you really have the best service if your members don't notice and don't use the many value-added products your CU offers? Building a stronger brand identity can help members and prospective members understand what sets you apart. Then you must live up to your brand promises with a strong internal service culture.

Paul Lucas is a marketing and branding consultant specializing in credit unions. For info: www.pauljlucas.com.

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