As an industry, we know a lot about our member experience. Credit unions conduct mail surveys, make follow-up calls, and time how long members wait in line in the lobby and in the call center queue. We hire mystery shoppers and monitor online "clicks" to make sure members can easily navigate our Web site.
But few credit unions know just how many prospects are lost every day.
If a potential member walks into a branch, the credit union is ready to seal the deal. We're people people, after all. No one outdoes us in face-to-face interactions. But what if--and this is much more likely--a nonmember calls about a marketing offer or visits the Web site to gather information? Do we ask for the sale? Do we have an easy online process to enroll new members? Too often, a disconnect occurs, and we lose those prospects without ever knowing it.
Here's how I stumbled on this conclusion. We helped a credit union market the launch of a new Rewards Checking product. When we followed up to ask about the response, we heard, "It's good, but not as good as
we had hoped."
Naturally, we reviewed the marketing strategy, but we also decided to test the response mechanism. We wondered what happened when prospective members called the credit union to ask about the checking account or visited its Web site to get more information or try to apply online.
So, we conducted an informal nonmember audit. We called the credit union to ask for more information. We also requested more information via an online request form. We played dumb and said, "We got something in the mail about a new checking account." We had different people call--one who sounded like a retiree with a lot of money knowledge and another who sounded young and uncertain about how to manage her finances--to see if they would receive offers tailored to their perceived needs.
What happened next was surprising.
What happened next was...nothing.
We received no response to our online inquiry and no brochures in the mail. When our callers connected with credit union employees, they were polite, friendly and answered every question. But no one asked for the business. No one said, "I can sign you up right now if you'd like," or "So, can we get this started?"
We purposefully made one call just before closing time and were transferred to voice mail. A few minutes later, our phone rang. Here's the message we got: "Hi, this is So-and-So returning your call from XYZ Credit Union. We're open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow, and you can reach me at this number." She left a local number, which was out of our calling range, not a toll-free number. When we called the number after hours, it rang and rang. It didn't even go to voice mail!
I was hoping to get a message like this: "Hi, this is So-and-So from XYZ Credit Union. Thanks for your call. I'm calling because you requested information about our new Rewards Checking account. That's excellent. You left your e-mail address, so I'll e-mail you information right now. You can open the account online by going to our website at www.xyzcu.org. I'll give you a call again tomorrow at 9 a.m. to answer any questions as well as open this account for you."
That full-service response doesn't take much longer than the first call. In my "dream scenario", she e-mails me the information requested, tells me how to sign up, and lets me know when she'll call back--instead of making it my responsibility to follow up.
Instead, the MSR left everything up to me. She made it too hard to conduct business with her CU, so we never called back. Another prospect lost. How many others?
The debriefing about our informal audit clearly got our client's attention. The managers were appalled. They said, "We had no idea." We told them how we had shopped, under what names and on what days. Only then, after we'd given ourselves away and management had time to implement change was our e-mail answered--nine days later.
Today, the credit union has made a lot of changes. For one, the response time on its Internet contact form is much improved. It originally promised a reply within two days (and took nine). Would you expect someone to wait in your lobby for two days? Would you put someone on hold for 48 hours?
The prospects that credit unions are losing by letting their online connections slide are highly desirable--working people who are too busy to stop by a branch during business hours. Not everyone wants to handle their finances online, but for those who do, we ought to make it easier.
I have business and personal accounts at both credit unions and banks. I love credit unions for their friendliness but I make a point only to do business with banks electronically--and they make it terribly simple. I can open the accounts online, and if I have any questions, I get quick answers with a phone call or e-mail.
A lot of credit unions are tentative about permitting nonmembers to apply for membership and open accounts online. They're concerned about potential losses and worried about complying with the Patriot Act. But if our bank competitors can make it easy to sign up via remote channels, why can't we?
We can open accounts preliminarily and then follow up to get new members' signatures and verify their identity. When we give prospects the option to sign up online, they can complete and submit the forms and then they're done. They're members. We know there are a couple more steps before it's official, but we've gained a new member instead of losing a prospect.
What should we do? First, credit unions must identify and correct the deficiencies in the channels that connect them to potential members. Nine times out of 10, they probably don't even know what a poor first impression they make on prospects.
The next step is to make it easy to join the credit union and open accounts via remote channels. If prospective members call and ask for an application, take just a couple minutes to interview, qualify and complete the forms and send them out so all your new members need to do is review them and sign. Put their contact information in a tickler file so you can follow up if they don't return the forms.
And, finally, employees must be trained to ask for the business, to follow up every inquiry with a simple question: "Can I open this account for you now?"
After our prospect audit, we heard several comments from our client:
-A manager told us, "Without these shops, we just wouldn't know. I think this information is priceless."
-A member service rep said, "This information is very helpful in my coaching, and I'm learning as well."
-And the CEO said, "We are much better prepared today than we were a year ago."
By auditing the nonmember experience at your credit union, you may discover deficiencies--and opportunities--you never know existed. If the credit union captures half or even just 20%, of the prospects you may be losing now, just think of what that might mean for your member recruitment and new account goals.