Adding Members Is Half The Battle, Becoming PFI Is Next Step

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Once a credit union has been able to acquire a member, it must do whatever it takes to keep them as a repetitive user of its services, and ensure "PFI" (primary financial institution) status.

As mentioned in several of my previous articles, money, as many products, has become a commodity that is readily available on a global scale and through many different media, such as the Internet.

Therefore, it is imperative that credit unions strive to find a way to distinctively set themselves apart from the competition. The best way to accomplish this is through delivering great and memorable member service. In many cases, providing superior member service comes down to just good business, and may prove to be the only thing that sets an organization apart from the competition.

How To Deliver World-Class Service

The foundation to understanding how to deliver "world-class" member service lies in understanding what members expect and their mindset when engaged by an employee of your organization.

Many "customer" surveys have identified similar traits and qualities possessed by most customers, and credit union members are no different, for the most part. As a general rule, customers are self-absorbed and expect an organization to meet their needs immediately, and without complication.

When engaged by an employee, the customer expects complete and total attention, and expects to have their needs met by the employee as they wish.

Therefore, the key to delivering a high level of service lies in the ability to understand the expectations of members, and be able to deliver on their expectations in a timely and efficient manner.

The irony is that walls throughout corporate America are inundated with mission, vision, and value statements that highlight the importance of customer service and the promise to deliver it. Customer service is one of the most talked about and promoted issues in every business sector, but rarely is it delivered in a consistent and memorable fashion. The lack of appropriate service is one of the most common complaints of all customers.

The simple fact is that most of America's service businesses just don't provide a consistently high level of service satisfaction. Some examples include airlines that are constantly overbooked and lose luggage, restaurants that employ poorly trained staff, and financial institutions that keep customers on hold for an inordinate amount of time, or transfer them until they hang up.

These examples help to prove the point that it is not enough to talk about customer service; it must be delivered consistently, and at a very high level in order to be effective and set an organization apart from the competition.

One often overlooked aspect of member service delivery in credit unions is organizational consistency. That is, delivering a high level of member service at all levels of the organization in all locations.

This aspect of member service delivery becomes even more important in a multi-branch situation. Standardization of service has become an expectation of customers. Multisite services (such as a branch services) that are likely to be accessed at more than one location, present a strong case for standardization, especially in the quality of products and services delivered.

A good example of this can be found within the Ritz-Carlton organization. Very few organizations are identified solely based on the exceptional customer service that they provide. A notable exception however, is the Ritz-Carlton Hotel organization. Hotel customers throughout the world know that no matter what Ritz-Carlton they stay at, they will encounter an unforgettable service experience.

The Ritz-Carlton name has not become synonymous with exceptional customer service by accident, but rather by making customer service the main focus of the organization.

In many cases, service expectations are actually set by the organization, not the customer. This can be inadvertently done through an organization's marketing and advertising efforts and their promise of certain service results. The key for an organization is to promise reality and refrain from instilling unrealistic expectations in customers.

Messages that promise unrealistic service delivery, in order to attract new customers, may actually serve to undermine the customer acquisition process due to the inability of an organization to meet customer expectations.

Wants, Needs And Expectations

When a member is engaged in your credit union, it is imperative to completely understand his/her wants, needs and expectations. This will better allow you to deliver the expected product or service in a manner consistent with the expectations of the member.

Rather than viewing increased member expectations as an onerous challenge, good management and leadership can translate these expectations into a competitive advantage for the organization.

Evolving consumer expectations present an enormous opportunity for organizations to differentiate their services from those of their competition.

In a challenging economic environment where it is getting more difficult to provide budgeted/funded solutions for increased market share initiatives, accurately and efficiently addressing member service expectations can prove to be very cost effective.

Visionary Leadership

Visionary leadership can, in a cost effective manner, create a system of organizational expectations that will lead to enhanced member service satisfaction. This will in turn manifest itself in the form of increased product usage, increased membership, and added competitive advantage.

Member service expectations should be addressed in a credit union's strategic plan, and should include and be driven by goals that allow them to be more responsive to member expectations.

A comprehensive and effective member service strategy should include metrics that proactively address issues relating to member expectations and include a process for review of their effectiveness.

Many organizations today claim to have service standards in place, and even advertise them in the form of mission, vision and value statements. However, very few organizations actually take a proactive approach to exceeding service expectations, defining and executing documented service strategies, and institute ongoing follow-up in conjunction with board-approved service delivery metrics. As you can see, effective member service delivery on a consistent basis can provide an organization a competitive advantage.

Exceeding member expectations requires extensive planning and implementation of member service strategies across all levels of the organization. Delivering "world class" service requires a plan, not just good intentions or a desire to do so.

Dr. Anthony L. Emerson is president of the Connecticut Credit Union League.


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