Advocates For The Members

Staff has to believe the credit union’s products and service are the best around; then they can sell the members on the benefits of the credit union’s offerings.


Henry, we at Unitus have gone through a conversion ourselves, and it has been very positive for us.

The most critical aspect is to have the staff think of themselves as advocates for the members and not as sales persons selling widgets. This perspective supports a staff attitude of “Why wouldn’t you want to tell members about these products?” All of our training was structured to this objective.

On the member side, think about engaging your members in an interview process. As new members about the financial products they believe they will need in the future. To the extent possible, glean this kind of information from the existing members as well. Then staff has something to work with, knowing what sorts of products and services individual members are looking for.

Here’s another critical part: the staff should believe the credit union’s products and services are the best around. Accordingly, review your products and services, and think about them with respect to members. Solicit staff input on how to improve the products and services. Redesign them if necessary. When the products and services are the best they can be and when the staff sees them as the best in your region, it is easier for the employees to advocate for their use. When you redesign and improve products you are likely to get public recognition; make sure the staff is aware of such recognition. Staff will take pride in the offerings and will be more likely to recommend your products and services.

Set up a comprehensive training program. You might want to bring in an outsider to help at the beginning and write guidelines for training. When we began our own shift to a sales culture, we took on the job ourselves and for the most part did not use much outside help – our training staff and managers did most of our work. Given your size this might not be possible, but do as much as you can with inside resources. This should lend credibility to the process. Part of the training can be role-playing. Your staff might not like this at first, but most will likely get comfortable with it. It gives the staff a chance to become comfortable with the process and instills confidence before approaching a member.

Emphasize to staff that once you begin there is no going back. When you develop the program take into account the people, the products, the compensation philosophy, and the processes. Make sure the program aligns with everything in the organization. Have total focus on it; you can’t halfway implement a sales culture. Your program will require constant management and updating to remain relevant to the staff and member. This is a journey, not a destination. Send the message this new advocacy culture is here to stay. 

Don’t spend much effort worrying about structured timeline goals. Bring intensity to the effort when you start it, and tweak the process as you go along. It will evolve within your own culture at its own pace. To evaluate how we were doing, we began a Net Promoter Score program a year or so ago. After a time, the NPS can tell you if your new approach is having a positive effect on the membership. It lets us know how the membership is reacting to our efforts and is helpful in our incentive plan as well.

With respect to incentives, keep an open mind and don’t necessarily adopt a system developed for use elsewhere. At Unitus, we worked out our own system of incentives that is not based solely on individual “widget” sales. The problem with such a system is employees will game it to increase their own paycheck. For us, there are individual goals, but the reward is based on a mix of individual and credit union performance. Front line staff is rewarded more for achieving individual goals; managers are rewarded more for credit union goals; everyone is focused on meeting the same credit union goals. Come up with your own mix that works with your staff.

The key to overcoming resistance is training, training, training. And then some coaching. Roll-playing can be a big help. It will take time, perhaps a year, to see who is comfortable with a sales culture and who is not. You will be surprised; some people you think will not be good with a sales culture turn out to be stars. When employees feel they are doing good work for members, they become eager about it. For example, once an employee has “sold” a member on a credit card or new loan that has saved that member lots of money, then they see the value of what they are doing. On the other hand, some staff you think will be good in sales might surprise you and not embrace the overall advocacy-driven approach. They might prefer hard sales and individual rewards or goal setting. Spend time to coach them for success, but if it is not working out, then look to match their skill sets to another position in your organization to allow them an opportunity to excel. 




Feb. 25, 2013


  • This is an outstanding article. All credit unions can benefit from this approach. This is truly a monumental change an organization will undertake to move to a member focused culture. It is not something you take lightly. You want to make sure you are changing the culture as well as training the staff on the new way of looking at their job. As credit unions, the member focus should be our primary objective. We have moved from a strictly service culture to a sales and service culture with the aid of MNA – Michael Neill & Associates ( Having a frame work for the change made an institutional culture shift possible. We wouldn’t have been able to make the transition without their collaborative approach.
    Sara Zimmerman
  • Great information flow from Culture Shock: Jump Start to Member Advocacy. The consultative sales/service experience is a true labor of love, and a must do for every credit union. Moving from a service to sales/service environment is an Enterprise Risk Management Program, Project and Process. It is truly about knowing your members - internal team and your membership served (and potential ones too) - The Discovery. Next comes the methodical, smart Design and ongoing Development of your people and programs. This leads to Delivery - consistency for habit and consistently assessed for improvement across all brand channels. The enduring result? Successful Purpose is the "team member experience" when it is believed in, practiced and performed collaboratively by the credit union's entire team. Bravo on this written series!
    Lisa Kuhn Phillips