I spent time in Scottsdale, Ariz., last week at CO-OP's THINK 2010 conference. CO-OP didn't become the largest CUSO by accident, and credit unions could take a lesson or two from the organization.
At the event, CO-OP announced its THINK Prize: $10,000 for the most innovative and replicable idea that will have the greatest impact on credit unions. It has partnered with Filene to choose three finalists who will share their ideas at THINK 2011, and the conference attendees will vote for the winner. With this one effort CO-OP is spawning innovation that's not a one-and-done deal; encouraging collaboration among credit unions; doing their own collaborating with Filene; fostering a sense of community with the audience voting; and putting its money where its mouth is. In addition, CO-OP has committed to funding a position to expand opportunities for credit unions to support Children's Miracle Network. CO-OP is not only making a smart business move to invest in the industry that supports it, but it's also striving to create something bigger than itself.
The whole idea behind THINK is just that: to get credit unions thinking beyond their four walls. This year's conference was the third THINK-fest, so the conference was started just prior to the entire financial meltdown. This was no accident. But while CO-OP and some other vendors and credit unions had a whiff of what was coming, most credit unions were largely in the dark. But once it did hit, many just hunkered down and thought they would be unaffected because their shops were well-run. Credit unions quickly learned that's not how the financial world works.
THINK 2010 brought in world-class leaders in business, offering credit unions insights into their own successful ventures. Kicking things off was Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, which has $1 billion in annual sales. Many credit unions get their noses out of joint: How could the CEO of that large a company say anything useful for me to take away. However, just like every other business, it didn't start out with $1 billion in sales; it began with a guy sitting in his house, waiting for orders to come in, and then he'd run to the shoe store down the street, buy the right pair and ship them.
Hsieh (pronounced Shay) had one main point. Focus on one thing, in his case customer service, and consistently exceed expectations. Zappos offers free shipping and return shipping, but on top of that, the company frequently upgrades the shipping to surprise customers.
In order to get employees to buy into this philosophy, corporate culture has to be the No. 1 priority. While most of its sales are over the Internet, customer services reps are trained to not only listen to and create a conversation with the person on the other end of the line, but if an item is not in stock, the reps will look at competitors to see where it is available. The reps are not only well-trained, but they also work in a corporate culture where individuals are respected. Zappos has a Culture Book, available free to anyone if you email firstname.lastname@example.org with your physical address, that is an unedited collection of employees' writings on what the corporate culture means to them. Employees are encouraged to Twitter throughout the day; they're encouraged to hang out together after hours. Fully 50% of the Zappos employee job review is about living and inspiring the company's core values in others.
New hires are offered $2,000 to walk away after several weeks of training in order to weed out those who are in it strictly for the money, rather than to be part of something great. In 2008, Hsieh said 1% took the money, and by 2009, 0% took it. Hsieh also gave out his new book at THINK, Delivering Happiness, which will be out in stories in June. It's a good read, and next time you're in Las Vegas-perhaps for The 1 Conference-you can take a tour of Zappos' headquarters to get a feel for it.
If a large scale operation like Zappos can pay this much attention to maintaining a corporate culture, which obviously has contributed to its success, so can credit unions.
The presentation by Tim Sanders, former chief solutions officer for Yahoo!, played well off of this. "You can either make yourself affordable or you can make yourself attractive," he said. As financial services are a commodity and credit unions often lack scale, a pricing war may not be the best bet. So again, it's back to creating that member experience. Sanders pointed out that there's a false impression that in a recession, consumers just want a deal. Instead, he suggested staging an experience based on services. Companies that do this have high income with low turnover, according to Sanders. The experience of the employees bleeds over to the experience of the clients.
Segment the customer experience, Sanders said. Don't just assume you know what your members want. Break up a member's entire experience into small segments, whether it's online or in the branch. Was the member greeted when they walked in the branch? Was it clean? Were pens available at the counter? Online, is the credit unions' site based on the visitor's preferences? Is it easy to navigate? Is there a lot of unnecessary clutter?
The experience has to be consistent whether in the virtual world or the real one.
Sanders also told the audience to stop giving employees personal recessions. Continue to invest in your employees. "Love people. Use money," was his mantra.
Bob Herbold, former chief operations officer at Microsoft, provided an example I found particularly poignant to many credit unions. Italian automaker Fiat was founded in 1899. It was family owned and 100 years later, more than 100 family members were working at the company. In 2002, Fiat lost $700 million; it went through four CEOs in four years, most of whom were related. Then Sergio Marchionne came in, focused the company, streamlined processes and put the strongest players in key jobs. No more doing things because that's the way we've always done them. No more nepotism.
Herbold noted that the financial services industry is at a key inflection point, and the time is ripe for someone to step in and take over. My thought: That could be credit unions if more people were aware of them.
For those who attended, hopefully the experience got you thinking. CO-OP CEO Stan Hollen said he believes THINK is so important, the company has offered it free-of-charge for the last two years despite the hefty price tag. Attendance for THINK 2010 was up 30% from last year, which I find an important recognition of the need to break old patterns and seek out new ideas.
And for those who did not attend, I hope this recounting will open up your eyes to new opportunities.
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