“You know the saying, ‘Don’t let a good crisis go to waste?’” asks Doug Samuels, CEO of Space Coast Credit Union. “We don’t want to let a good complaint go to waste either.”
The 2009 merger between Space Coast ($3.1B, Melbourne, FL) and Eastern Financial Florida Credit Union made it the third-largest credit union in Florida; however, as happens with any transaction of this magnitude, apprehensive and dissatisfied members did not hold back on negative responses.
Every year, Miami-based banking analyst Ken Thomas publishes a study that analyzes complaints at the Florida Division of Financial Institutions. In 2011, according to the study, Space Coast generated the highest ratio of complaints to deposit market share. In 2012, Space Coast once again held the highest ratio. For Thomas, the density of complaints to market share is a mar on Space Coast. For Samuels, complaints are an inevitable byproduct of change from which the institution can, and does, learn.
“We did expect there to be some dissatisfaction because we had to change things,” Samuels. “The [Eastern Financial] model had failed. It’s difficult to go in and adjust that, but we had to make this work. We had to make it efficient and change some things. So there was some drama from the membership.”
Instead of falling back on easy excuses and blaming the merger for unhappy members, though, the institution challenged itself to pay attention to the underlying problems behind each complaint. Far from being complacent about complaint resolution, the credit union, at Samuels design, implemented a process that allowed it to stop and assess the underlying problems.
Consolidating And Tracking Complaints
Soon after the merger became official, Samuels created an internal complaint resolution process that tracks and funnels all complaints into his office. From there, Samuels reads the complaints, determines the best course of action, and assigns the complaint to an executive who is then responsible for its resolution. The institution tracks the nature of the complaint and the way in which it is resolved. At financial institutions, as with other businesses, says Samuels, that which is tracked is improved.
Once a month, the institution’s executive team evaluates each resolved complaint with an eye toward uncovering a possible process or procedural issue that caused the complaint in the first place. If they find one, the executives implement the necessary internal changes to improve or eliminate the problem area.
“We’re not running around all day with our hair on fire stamping out complaints,” Samuels says. “But complaints are a learning experience, so we want to stop and learn from every one of them.”
For Space Coast, each complaint tells a story the credit union wants to hear. Complaints are indispensible, Samuels says, because they represent a viewpoint not represented in member survey feedback. In surveys, members passively answer the questions the credit union asks. But a complaint means a member was dissatisfied to the point of action. So Space Coast tries to resolve complaints quickly, learn from its mistakes, and make sure they don’t happen again.
“I’m happy I’m not seeing the same issues over and over and over again,” Samuels says. “Oftentimes, we’ll call the member and ask them to tell us more [and they say], ‘Well, I called three different times and one person gave me this answer, another person gave me another answer…’ Okay that tells you we are missing something in the operation. We can fix that. We can do some training and some different performance measurements or even use workflow goals.”
No Complaint Suppression
Space Coast has no interest in suppressing complaints. To Samuels, complaint suppression is a dangerous strategy that might influence managers to implement dishonest practices to meet particular goals. If someone or something has a problem, Space Coast does not want to sweep the issue under the rug.
“You find people who say ‘we don’t want complaints,’ so they are suppressing complaints,” Samuels says. “If a member is unsatisfied, I want to hear about it. I can learn from that dissatisfaction and oftentimes we satisfy them.”
The credit union owns its mistakes and, if necessary, offer members a mea culpa.
“I find that a member is okay with [mistakes] as long as you own it on their behalf and you help them find the answer to the problem,” Samuels says.
In the past, the credit union has responded to member complaints in ways that haven’t fully addressed the issue or spoke around it entirely. But with Samuels’ new complaint tracking process, Space Coast is improving and providing better resolution.
“You react, you respond, and you recover, plus one,” Samuels says. “That’s how you provide service recovery.”