Smiles May Go Miles, But It's Research That Delivers

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In the yesteryears of credit union service, successful service-oriented transactions were completed with a smile and a personalized greeting. Today, the bar has been elevated for service expectations with consumers expressing the importance of specific service attributes. Friendliness and niceties have their place, but not at the cost of accuracy and timeliness. Order taking has been banished to fast food establishments. Tellers and loan officers are being replaced with relationship cultivators. Times are changing. Is your credit union creating a dynamic service environment or merely operating with a status quo mindset?

If credit unions intend to retain members in today's ultra-competitive banking environment, it is critical for management to understand and to deliver the appropriate mix of service qualities. The best way to create a service- oriented culture is to identify member expectations and manage the improvement process. Understanding the gap between current and desired delivery quality can be achieved with a thoughtful research strategy. Here are some ideas:

Identify and Deploy Appropriate Research Methodologies

While general member surveys can provide a global barometer of service levels, it's helpful to understand specifically how different areas can be improved. Select research approaches based on what you want to know. For instance, a failure analysis can help identify weak points within the credit union, yielding opportunities for change or improvement.

Transaction surveys are used to pinpoint the performance details of individual departments. This type of study generally has a single focus and is tailored to the functions of different departments- lending, new accounts, call center, etc. Transaction quality can also be measured through a branch intercept program. Since the transaction has just occurred, members are usually candid and forthright when asked to define their experience with a department representative.

Understand How Your Members Define Superior Service

The demographics of a credit union's membership can often dictate service preferences. In many instances, mature members want a level of service that is highly personalized where they are greeted with a smile and by name. Younger segments will forgo friendliness for timely transaction processing while high-income groups identify quick problem resolution as the highest priority.

Quantify the specific service attributes that are most important by surveying your members regularly and consistently.

Involve Everyone In The Improvement Process

By sharing the findings with all areas of the credit union and creating action plans that are specific to each department, accountability can be shared among employees, management, and executives. One way to give employees ownership of the service quality process is to allow individual branches and departments the opportunity to create their own action plans, based on the research findings. For instance, if Branch A rated low on the length of teller lines and Branch B needs to improve responsiveness, each branch could implement strategies relevant to their own goals.

Reward Success

Many credit unions have integrated research results with performance reviews and incentive plans. Generally, this strategy can work for any credit union that regularly surveys its membership, whether it's annually, bi-annually, or quarterly. Most employees are motivated by money thus providing cash rewards for better ratings can inspire motivation throughout the organization.

Embrace Total Quality Management

The most successful research-driven service strategies do not have a starting and ending point. Rather, the process is ongoing, requiring a commitment to total quality management. High performing credit unions view service quality improvement as a multi-phase cycle with specific, action-oriented tactics:

Set A Course By Identifying Research Objectives.

* Create an action plan with the findings.

* Keep momentum behind the plan with visible management.

* Measure progress with a follow-up research initiative.

* Re-evaluate the action plan.

Improving service quality requires long-range vision. Most credit unions cannot transform into member-centric organizations or even realize significant gains without a steadfast commitment to the process. Today's actions can be tomorrow's improvements. Propel your credit union into the future of service quality by acknowledging the importance of the process now.

Neil Goldman is president of Member Research, Los Angeles. Mr. Goldman can be reached at (888) 2-Research or ngold1 Mr. Goldman will be among those addressing The Journal's SEG & Business Development Conference in San Diego. For info, see page 3.

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