"If you think about it, the frontline staff is the credit union's most direct communication channel for interaction and communication with members," said Doepke. "Unfortunately, they aren't immune. They too are struggling to meet goals, deal with panicky members and many are facing their own personal finance problems. So now more than ever, the role of employee education is vital to helping build the member relationship and the credit union's bottom line."
In an anxiety ridden economy, Doepke says there are five member questions the frontline must be able to answer: How solid is my credit union? What can I be doing to better manage my finances? How can I increase my savings? How can I regain control over my debt? How can I build stronger credit?
"Everyone is being bombarded with the doom and gloom from the media, and if a few credit unions or banks are in trouble, the industry as a whole takes a hit for it. Invest time in educating your staff, so they are let in on what is going on in the industry and then spend time on the strength of your particular credit union," said Doepke. "Once they understand the foundation you can blend it into your brand as a way to reassure members that credit unions have been around for 100 years and survived other economic dips, the Depression, war and they are still strong."
From there she said frontline staffers can springboard into how long their particular credit union has been around and build from there. The key is to have frontline staff buy in, so members can believe as well.
"If, for example, they can say to potential members we've been around for 60 year, we're strong, stable and have a great plan in place to be optimistic about the future. That is more powerful than any awareness campaign," said Doepke. "Share some of those numbers with staff, be honest about where the organization is today. If the case is that a credit union can't financially support certain positions, be upfront and walk them through why and provide a clear picture of the plan to get to where the credit union needs to be."
She said credit unions run into problems when they keep staffers in the dark. Then rumors can spread, and the real concern is that those suspicions and doubts are what get relayed in one way or another to members.
"That is when you hear the general response to member concerns that 'they decided' to do xyz," said Doepke. "Who is 'they'? Everyone should feel as a part of the same team and that is what builds consumer confidence by creating a different mindset. I cringe when I hear the frontline say, 'Oh, I'm just a teller.'"
She adds that is where the culture of the organization comes into play. Why not recognize and reward tellers for how they help the members and share those stories throughout the credit union?
"If the CEO knows what the tellers are doing, perhaps not on a daily basis but maybe weekly or monthly reach out to those teller doing an outstanding job." Then they realize that senior management is paying attention and that they are valued, said Doepke. "The frontline staff sees about 80% of members, so its time to evaluate if your credit union is providing them the right tools and resources because they make or break the member experience."
She said there has to be ongoing training that helps reinforce a cultural connection, not just for new hires but existing staffers as well so the honeymoon phase never ends but evolves.
"The way we bring new hires onboard sets the tone from the start, and you want them to be excited about being a part of this great organization," said Doepke. "Take the time to reinforce and energize your existing staff, too. It is important to review your reward and recognition programs and relate it back to the big picture that tellers matter. Not every teller may be interested in a different career path. Some people want to stay a teller, but they still need ongoing education and feel connected to other people in the organization."