First impressions are critical. So when executives at Educators Credit Union ($1.41B, 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.”
Educators used a metric known as a Net Promoter Score to determine if new member services were up to par. The score is a management tool that 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 that they absolutely would recommend it. People who give a nine or 10 rating are promoters; those who say eight or seven are considered neutral, and ratings of six or less are detractors. The score is the difference between the number of promoters and detractors.
“We wanted to see that we were meeting the members’ needs and that right from the beginning we were able to identify with them,” Loyo says.
When that wasn’t happening to the credit union’s satisfaction, the solution was a member engagement program called Mission Possible that Educators instituted in 2011. Although the credit union has 17 branches in southeastern Wisconsin, Educators chose to test the program at just two locations.
“We didn’t want to do another training session or 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.”
The new program 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 Mission Possible program recommended establishing a dialogue that naturally led to the person revealing that information.
“We wanted to stay away from scripting it, and we wanted to involve everyone at the branch in the process,” Walleser said.
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. The program’s architects stressed the importance of following up with new members to build on that initial 30-minute experience.
Because customer convenience is an essential part of the program, 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,’ the question became ‘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 the entire 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 member’s place so that they’ll want to come back and bring their friends.”
When all employees were tested and given a Net Promoter Score, Educators discovered that managers routinely received the highest numbers, 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, Educators then used surveys to determine whether the new strategy was working. The credit union followed up with members 30 days after opening 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 a 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. After a year under Mission Possible, that percentage was cut in half.
Walleser and Loyo attribute part of the program’s success to the transparency the credit union now has with its employees.
“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.”
The results are in at the two trial branches. Between January 2011, when the program began, and August 2012, members with checking accounts at the credit union increased from 52% to 56%. That increase was higher than that for all of Educator’s 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.
Educators Credit Union 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.”