Three Simple Principles For Upping Memberships

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While today's volatile financial environment offers opportunity for credit unions to build their memberships, the challenges are twofold:

* How can we add new members and still maintain our financial performance?

* How can we keep these new-and our existing-members really satisfied, so they'll stay with us?

We believe the answer is simple: listen to your members, then respond to what they're saying. There are two basic principles at work here, and a third that many will likely find most important:

* When asked, members will tell you what they need and want, helping you focus on what's really important.

* When you respond, you earn their loyalty. As a result, you'll get more of their business. And, they'll refer you to their friends, family, neighbors and colleagues.

And the one that may be the real deal-clincher:

* The cost to do this will be far less than that of conventional marketing activities. It can be done quickly, usually without burdening existing staff. But, how? How does a credit union select the right way to get reliable feedback from its members? Our suggestion is to: (a) first rank the criteria (from among the list below) you consider most important, then; (b) see which approach best meets these key criteria: Tailored to credit unions; Get immediate results; Measure multiple member touchpoints; Manage/respond to feedback; Can be customized; Get trend data; Compare to other institutions; Easily implemented, Affordable.


Alternative Approaches To Feedback

Comment/report cards and mystery shops are traditionally used by many credit unions. They're easily customized to include relevant issues, simple to set up, and relatively affordable.

However, compiling and reporting their results takes time, and responding to members is cumbersome. Since results are usually compiled sporadically, reliable trend information is unlikely. And, these results from your credit union can't be benchmarked against others.

Branch intercept and phone surveys by professional interviewers are also widely used. Although questionnaires can easily be customized, compiling results can take days, even weeks. In addition, surveys taken at the branch usually focus on the branch experience; phone surveys are concerned with phone service, and, the web experience is typically excluded. This means it's impossible to compare results across these channels.

While branch and phone surveys can get good, useful ratings and comments from members, they typically are not designed to help staff respond to feedback. Moreover, since they're relatively expensive, they tend to be administered infrequently so that getting reliable trend data is unlikely.

Do-it-yourself electronic surveys are now easily available on-line and employ technology that deliver results almost immediately. Some can include custom questions, and are sufficiently inexpensive so that surveys can be conducted regularly, yielding reliable trend information.

However, there are disadvantages. Most employ generic templates, so getting answers of particular interest to credit unions is difficult unless outside research expertise is utilized , which can prove costly. These surveys are typically designed to capture results from only one, rather than all channels. Finally, it's impossible to benchmark results of one institution against others.


Two Other Approaches

The two remaining approaches are Custom and Standardized Enterprise Feedback Management (EFM) systems. Both encourage members to submit surveys on-line or on the phone. This feedback is then organized into a series of reports, immediately available to management and staff. Reports can also identify members who ask to be called back, as well as those who are highly dissatisfied (and specify why).

Custom EFM Systems are designed for a single institution, so results from one cannot be compared to others. The major disadvantage, however, is cost. For most credit unions, the expense of setting up these "custom solutions" is prohibitive.

Standardized EFM Systems incorporate the sophisticated technology of EFM, but questionnaires are designed to probe issues of specific concern to a single industry (such as credit unions), rather than a single entity. This means that they can incorporate the advantages of EFM systems-without the disadvantages. For example:

EFM Systems standardized for credit unions are designed to improve their members' experiences. Results are available immediately and can be compared across channels and over time, since surveys are offered to members continuously. These systems can improve retention rates by enabling managers to easily contact members who are dissatisfied and have asked to be called back.

Since these EFM Systems are standardized, results from one credit union can be benchmarked against other institutions. Although most of the questionnaire is generic, a few questions can be customized. And, because they're standardized, these EFM Systems can be implemented quickly and easily, and are highly affordable for credit unions.


Which Approach Is Best?

Which approach is best, obviously, on which criteria you think most important. If you're a staunch traditionalist and want to minimize costs, comment/report cards or mystery shops may be best. If you believe your credit union has many unique issues that must be explored, consider custom branch intercept and phone surveys, despite their relatively high cost. If you want to get started quickly, do-it-yourself electronic surveys can be a good choice, despite some disadvantages (noted above).

If cost is not a controlling factor (and you have a relatively large number of branches), explore Custom EFM systems. If cost is important, a Standardized EFM system may help your credit union add new members and retain existing members using an approach that's fast, easy to implement, provides reliable feedback, and is minimally disruptive to staff.

Yet, no matter which approach you ultimately select, we offer one final piece of advice: listening and responding to members is not just an interesting and informative activity. It's an essential and actionable tool to strengthen and build membership in a manner that's financially prudent-especially crucial in today's environment.

Evan Juro and Tom Zayko are principals with Core Marketing Associates, which offers Standardized Enterprise Feedback Management systems. For info:

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