Credit unions field complaints; it’s part of running a financial institution. But the context of these complaints is different from those of other financial institutions. These complaints come from owners and their resolution remains critical to member satisfaction.
When Patelco Credit Union ($4.01B, Pleasanton, CA) first experimented with a complaint resolution program four years ago, it started small. It designated one employee the Voice of the Member and made her responsible for resolving high-level problems that had escalated beyond the scope of the branch or department managers. She fielded problems reported to the Better Business Bureau, problems that came to the attention to the CEO, or problems that internal managers were unable to resolve on their own. She drafted responses or reached out to members directly. And although she was successful at turning angry members into happy owners, at a $4 billion credit union with more than 275,000 members, many complaints went unresolved or, worse, unheard.
“There was no forum to give the average member an opportunity to express his or her problems other than going to the branch manager and hoping [they] fixed or escalated it,” says Alison Jones, vice president of marketing at Patelco. “There was no capturing the issue or tracking its resolution.”
A Manual Approach
In early 2013, Patelco revised its member surveys to ask members if they would like the credit union to contact them. Through these redesigned surveys, and member feedback on sites such as Twitter and Yelp, Patelco discovered it had enough contact requests and member problems to necessitate resolving, tracking, and improving internal processes. Now, the institution has a team of internal employees who reach out directly to the members. This team is composed of department heads, regional directors of branches, and product managers. Team members are notified when a member complaint comes in and immediately reach out to the affected member to offer them the opportunity to speak directly with a manager who is able to assist them. Only the most critical issues are elevated to the Voice of the Member.
Patelco employs an administrative assistant to log each complaint — noting variables such as the problem, who owns the problem, and the problem’s resolution status — into a spreadsheet. Patelco then reviews the spreadsheet to find negative patterns or recurring issues.
“It’s a very manual process,” Jones says. “It’s not ideal, but it is a step in the right direction. We’re trying to categorize the problems and reach out to members before we lose them.”
Because complaint resolution involves turning a negative member experience into a positive one, evolving internal processes help credit unions better address complaints. For example, Patelco recently had a Twitter follower tweet a negative reaction to a product issue he had with the credit union. Through an alert system that monitors social media activity, Patelco picked up the tweet, privately messaged the disgruntled member, and resolved the issue almost instantaneously.
“Seconds later, he tweeted about how happy he was with Patelco and why he’s so happy to be a member,” Jones says. “When we see things like that happen, we know the efforts are working and that it’s important to improve the processes and shine a spotlight on it.”
According to Jones, in 2014 Patelco will take a deeper look into internal processes and into preventing problems before they occur. She wants the credit union to focus on technological resources for complaint resolution, knowing that, once in place, they can positively affect Patelco’s bottom line.
“Can I quantify the bottom line impact at this point?” she asks of Patelco’s manual process. “No, but if we can identify the source of problems and improve processes internally so that we pre-empt future problems, we will have an impact on both retention and member loyalty. As a result we will see greater participation in the credit union from our member base and that translates into the bottom line.”
In addition, she hopes to see a boost in member referrals and evidence of deepening member relationships, both of which can benefit Patelco’s bottom line.
Patelco has identified two other ways in which it believes it can improve internal processes. First, the credit union will look for more ways to say “yes.”
“The bulk of the member frustration comes from hearing ‘no,’” Jones says. “So if we can get people to look for ways to say ‘yes,’ then [our employees are] looking for solutions to problems before they become problems.”
Second, the credit union is trying to better understand the factors that cause complaints in the first place. And that starts with a review of its manual approach to complaint resolution, which succeeds more at resolving problems than preventing them.
“Because it’s a somewhat ad hoc review of our tracking spreadsheet and because it’s manually and humanly created, it’s not as efficient or as effective as it could be,” Jones says. Although according to Jones, the credit union has identified organizational weaknesses as a result of several complaints.
To improve the speed at which it identifies, addresses, and resolves complaints, the credit union must invest in additional resources.
“We need to invest money and staff to automate [complaint intake] or use software to streamline the process,” Jones says. “But, we are looking at making some improvements in 2014.”
A streamlined process would enable Patelco to catalog and organize the problems as they come in, track responses, set reminders, and record resolutions. An inter-departmental team that meets on a regular basis, sorts member feedback, and identifies areas in which the credit union could improve its internal processes would also improve Patelco’s complaint resolution. Currently, the team that runs complaint resolution does so in addition to other responsibilities.
“We recognize we need more people focused on the member experience and all the various touch points and making sure that we are finding the source of issues before they become huge problems,” Jones says. “But we’re not quite there yet.”