Making customer service cool at River Valley

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Robin Hegg is always looking for new ways to amp up employee engagement at River Valley Bank in Wausau, Wis.

At one point, the $1.3 billion-asset River Valley had two separate groups that focused on different aspects of the bank's culture. The Incredi-League was responsible for party planning, while the New Employee Ambassadors welcomed new hires.

But Hegg, the bank's chief human resources director, thought all of this activity could get taken to the next level.

"We wanted to make sure that the employee advocacy group was tied to providing a culture in which employees voices can be heard as to what they want in their work environment, as well as being an employer of choice," Hegg said.

That led to the founding of the ICEBreakers last summer. The name is a play on a concept central to the bank's core values, "incredible customer experiences," which is known by the acronym ICE internally. The group's mission is to support outstanding service and foster a positive workplace culture for employees.

River Valley tries to provide that exceptional service through small touches, such as giving customers refreshments when they walk into a branch, and bigger gestures, like accommodating someone after hours when possible, Hegg said.

The first 15 members of ICEBreakers were selected from across the organization by nominations from senior leadership based on certain qualities, such as being a positive role model. In the future, the nomination process might involve employees at all levels.

The group meets at least once a month to come up with ways to improve the workplace and incorporate new volunteer opportunities. Overall, three central components help guide the group: connect, engage and lead.

The "connect" part — a nod to the old New Employee Ambassadors group — helps newbies adjust to the River Valley culture. After an employee logs 90 days on the job, they attend a program called Break the Ice, which includes ICEBreakers introducing themselves and sharing the bank's core values. River Valley actually uses a graphic of an iceberg to illustrate that what an employee sees of an organization during the recruitment process is only "the tip of the iceberg," Hegg said.

River Valley's owners, Ron and Kay Nicklaus, also make an appearance and share the history of the bank. CEO Todd Nagel also by to discuss River Valley's future.

The "engage" component involves the committee hearing from co-workers. Five of the ICEBreakers are dedicated to gathering and analyzing feedback, including through one-on-one meetings, so they can improve the overall quality of life at the bank, Hegg said.

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"Part of being an ICEBreaker is being approachable and reachable," Hegg said. "So when we want to gather feedback from employees, we can have them meet one-on-one with an ICEBreaker and provide input on various topics."

Lastly, the group tries to "lead," both in the bank and in the community. Last year, when the ICEBreakers were tasked with coming up with recommendations for Employee Appreciation Week, they had to present their ideas to a team of executives.

Most recently, one of the ICEBreakers led a 5k run to support the Never Forgotten Honor Flight organization that collects money for veterans to travel to Washington, D.C. Overall River Valley employees volunteered 130 hours with the event in addition to the 83 hours that the ICEBreaker spent managing it, Hegg said.

The ultimate goal of the ICEBreakers is to ensure that both customers and employees are happy.

"At the end of the day, it's really simple: Happy employees equal happy customers," Hegg said. "That's what we're driving toward."

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Community banking Employee benefits Employee engagement Customer service Recruiting Best Banks to Work For