First impressions matter. So when executives at Educators Credit Union ($1.4B, Racine, WI) discovered the quality of service for new members needed improving, they took action, implementing a member-driven restructuring of their business operations.
“The members just weren’t getting the wow experience at account openings,” says Julie Loyo, the credit union’s regional branch operations manager. “It wasn’t bad; we just had a lot of room to grow.”
In particular, the credit union wanted to strengthen its relationship with new members so that they used more products and services. At the same time, Educators hoped to impress its members so they spread the word about the credit union to other people. When neither was happening to the credit union’s satisfaction, the credit union began formulating a member engagement program it called Mission Possible. Although the credit union has 17 branches in southeastern Wisconsin, Educators chose to test this program at just two of its locations beginning in 2011.
CU QUICK FACTS
Educators Credit Union
HQ: Racine, WI
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 6.25%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 7.64%
“We didn’t want to do another organization-wide presentation,” says Bob Walleser, Educators’ vice president of branch operations. “We wanted to get into the trenches and work with a couple of branches.”
A Natural Opening Dialogue
Mission Possible personalized the process of opening an account by engaging members in conversation naturally. Educators is a closed-chartered credit union serving healthcare, government, and education professionals. Instead of immediately asking about a member’s eligibility to open an account, the program called for establishing a dialogue that led to the person revealing that information voluntarily.
“We wanted to stay away from scripting it, and we wanted to involve everyone at the branch in the process,” Walleser says.
The idea was to give new members a thorough understanding of the services offered, while simultaneously making them feel valued no matter what their level of involvement. Because customer convenience is an essential part of Mission Possible, Educators focused on creating a member-driven solution to any problems the member encountered when opening an account.
“Instead of responding with, ‘This is our policy,’ we started asking, ‘What can I do to make this better for you?’” Loyo says.
To teach the staff how to serve the membership better, Educators set up training sessions for all employees. At the sessions, employees discovered which practices were best for orientating new members with all the various aspects of the credit union as well as with the specific branch that would serve them.
“We make sure that the member is familiar with the branch, so the person knows where to go for teller transactions, how to pull into the drive-up, all of those things that we sometimes take for granted because we know them so well,” Walleser says. “We put ourselves in the members’ place so that they’ll want to come back and bring their friends.”
Educators also tested the quality of service its employees gave using a metric called a Net Promoter Score, which gauges customer loyalty by determining how likely the person is to recommend the service to a friend. Customers are asked to provide a rating from one to 10, with a one indicating they are not at all likely to recommend the service and a 10 indicating that they absolutely would recommend it. People who give a nine or 10 rating are considered promoters, those who rate the credit union an eight or seven are neutral, and those who rate it six or less are detractors. The score is the difference between the number of promoters and detractors.
After testing all its employees, Educators discovered that managers routinely received the highest scores, proof that they built the strongest relationships with new members. As a result, Mission Possible required managers to work closely with staff members, sitting in on account openings with a new member, answering questions, and later offering advice to the employee.
“It wasn’t punitive. It wasn’t, ‘You did this wrong,’” Loyo says. “It was, ‘Here is how you can do this better.’”
Once the new practices were in place, the program’s architects stressed the importance of following up with new members after they opened an account to build on that initial 30-minute experience.
Educators used surveys to determine whether the program was working and followed up with members 30 days after they opened an account. That length of time gave members the opportunity to interact with the credit union on a few more occasions and establish an opinion about the service they received. The surveys not only asked standard Net Promoter Score questions, such as whether the person would recommend the credit union to a friend, but also if the representative made the member feel valued.
When Mission Possible began in early 2011, the percentage of detractors for the two branches was in the double digits, with 12% of members saying they were unlikely to recommend the service to their friends. A year after Mission Possible was instituted, that percentage had been cut in half.
“Everyone in the organization should know what his Net Promoter Score is and what the branch’s score is,” Walleser says. “Management should be available at any time to answer questions about what employees are doing well, what their score means, or how they can improve their numbers.”
Between January 2011 and August 2012, members with checking accounts at the credit union increased from 52% to 56%. That increase was higher than all of Educator’s other branches, where checking account penetration went from 55% to 58%. But the leadership at Educators wanted to see growth over time, not just in spurts at the beginning and end of the program.
As of 4Q 2012, Educators’ average member relationship stands at $20,585, which is almost three times more than the average for other credit unions in its peer group. Its 12-month member growth is 9.61%, while those in its peer group grew just 4.40%.
Walleser and Loyo attribute part of the program’s success to the transparency the credit union now has with its employees. Educators has since expanded Mission Possible from two branches to four. According to the credit union, employees who were uncomfortable with the new, more personable demands of the job have left of their own accord. Now when managers consider a new applicant, they look at the person’s behavioral traits rather than technical skills.
“We are less concerned with cash handling and computer experience,” Loyo says. “It’s much more dependent on how you talk to somebody. We can teach you the other things.”