Your Service May Be 'Legendary,' But What's The Legend?

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I was having a conversation the other day with a good friend about great customer (member) service and he asked me, "Why is it that whenever you hear a conference speaker talk about that subject, you are almost guaranteed to hear a Nordstrom story?"

I thought about it for a nanosecond and replied, "Because they have done so many great things with customer service that they have created their own 'urban legends?'" He replied, "But there are lots of companies who have great customer service and we never hear about anyone but Nordstrom."

That got me to thinking about consistency and member service, and how, if at all, we practice it (consistency, consistently) in credit union land. But before I continue, allow me to share my own recent "urban legend."

One of the gifts I purchased for my wife this past Christmas was an under-counter radio/CD player for the kitchen. Call it procrastination or blame it on busy weekends with two kids, but for whatever reason, I did not get around to installing the thing until the second weekend in April (She was annoyed with me, but said she still loved me). The installation went much smoother than I thought it would as I had never attached anything more than a towel holder to a kitchen cabinet in the past.

Well, everything was going fine until I tried the CD unit-it wouldn't open, and nothing I did would make it open-so, I unplugged the dang thing, took the dishes back out of the cabinet, and unscrewed the screws holding the unit in place. I boxed it up and on a suggestion from my brother in-law decided to try and return it to Target (I was convinced that I would have to send it to the manufacturer and never see it again as it would invariably end up in Return Hell.)

Keep in mind that I had thrown away the receipt eons ago. Nevertheless, I went to the Target where I originally purchased the gift, stood in line for a moment, and when my number was called, I was fully prepared for howls of laughter and complete humiliation and/or rejection that was about to come. A very pleasant young lady greeted me, asked "How can I help you?" I responded, "I hope you can, but I bet you can't." I explained my story, showed her my credit card, which she then used to verify that I did purchase the unit from Target, told me to go to home electronics and bring the new unit over to her. In utter disbelief, I did so and five minutes later I'm walking out with a new, in-the-box unit; a very happy camper (with a reminder to hang onto my receipt this time). I'm was so impressed with this customer service from what has to be an entry-level position, that before I'm even back to my car I'm drafting a letter to Target's CEO.

Still in my post-return state of euphoria (due in no part to the fact my expectations were so low), I shared that story with friends and colleagues-and very soon found a new target-me. As their stories seemed to make apparent, apparently not all Target return departments operate so smoothly. In fact, several people told me they dread returning stuff to Target. I wonder what impression Target senior management has of their customer service consistency. Did I just get lucky, or are all the other return centers doing their job wrong? Are they saying "NO" too often?

So what does this have to do with credit unions? I'm convinced that generally speaking, this lack of service consistency among Target return centers exists at most credit unions, as well. As managers, we must take the time to teach the value of consistent, above-expectations member service, especially to entry-level front line staff who can make us or break us-not just in the branch, but at every member touch-point. Yes, I know we all have our individual stories of superb member service, but do we (meaning all staff) do it every day of every week? And let's keep in mind it's human nature to want to believe the positive anecdotes, just as it is to reject the negative stories as some type of anomaly. How often does a staff member deliver loan documents to a member because they "can't" make to a branch office. How easily (and agreeably) do we reverse fees? Does every exception to policy and procedure have to get approval from a superior? Would you allow a staff member on credit union time to drive a member home when his car won't start?

Is your credit union creating legends everyday? If not, why not implement a legend campaign with staff, with an extra emphasis on frontline staff that actually see and speak with our potential legend-spreaders (members)?

After giving my Target experience and that of others some thought, I think I recognize why it is that Nordstom has become the stuff of urban retail legend. I had a positive Target story, but as I came to learn not everyone did. On the other hand, had I shared a positive Nordstom story (apparently the only kind), would I have heard from others eager to refute my experience? Most likely not.

Still doubt the power of consistently making amazing legends? Chances are you've heard this one: A customer goes to Nordstrom to return a tire he purchased. Nordstrom gladly refunds the money. Why is this story told and retold? Because Nordsrom doesn't sell tires. For the $40, $50 or even $100 dollars that this might have cost Nordstrom, imagine the mileage from that legend they have gotten in return. Personally, I don't believe the story, but I share it all the time with friends because it makes for a great legend (and a great testimonial for Nordstrom). For what it is worth, a former VP at Nordstrom has confirmed that this story is not true and is just a "legend."

The question you have to ask is what stories are members sharing with other members or prospective members of your credit union? And if those members use the word "legendary" in their description of your CU, in just what context do they mean it?

Roy MacKinnon is Vice President of Marketing with First Entertainment Credit Union, Hollywood, Calif.

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