ANAHEIM, Calif. — CO-OP Financial Services' annual THINK conference has become known for bringing speakers from outside the CU industry to share a different perspective on credit unions and how to solve CU industry challenges. This year was no exception.
But where other THINK conferences have sometimes left attendees floundering for how to apply the ideas they have heard at the meeting to their problems at home, this year's meeting included sessions meant to help bridge those gaps.
At several times during each conference day, presenters and credit union leaders met on stage, at a round table or on high seats, to take questions from attendees and reflect on ways the credit union industry and individual credit unions could take the ideas they had heard and apply them to their own organization and structure.
The “Think It Out” sessions were new this year, according to Caroline Lane, senior vice president for business development at CO-OP Financial Services. She explained that CO-OP added the sessions to help people take the concepts they were hearing and gather solid takeaways from them.
CO-OP hosted THINK 2011 at the Grand Californian, a Disney hotel, and the CUSO announced it to be a record-setting success. The ATM and shared branching CUSO reported that 550 executives from 240 credit unions registered for the conference this year, leading the organization to close registration two weeks early due to the demand.
While the ideas the speakers presented were new to credit unions, most of the problems they were seeking to confront were not. As of this writing, THINK speakers have addressed the role of process in building a brand, how organizations can get their customers or members to love them and not merely appreciate them, why it is that so few Americans really understand what credit unions are, and how credit unions can help their members.
“You are hiding your light under a bushel, and I really don't understand why,” remarked Nancy Lublin, founder of Dress for Success and current “chief old person” and CEO at dosomething.org, a social impact website for teens and young adults. Lublin and Susan Packard, longtime leader at HGTV, each discussed different aspects of process in building brand.
Lublin spoke about the way having no money can force an organization into a process of building a brand based on structure and values rather than just throwing money at trying to build a brand through hiring a research firm or using big bonuses to drive employee behavior.
“Not having much money helps keep us sharp,” Lublin said of working in the not-for-profit sector, an industry she admitted to favoring strongly, and one she contrasted with nonprofits, which she called auto companies and many financial institutions other than credit unions.
She also made the case that working to achieve goals without money can force a boost in creativity, using as an example an approach to hiring they were beginning to use at dosomething.org. Based in part on the popular television program “The Apprentice,” Lublin said dosomething had begun adding tasks to the hiring process, asking potential candidates to complete a task as part of the interview process.
“Don't say ‘you’re fired’ to anyone, that's mean,” said Lublin. But use the task to evaluate work ethic and creativity and passion from this person.
Packard discussed how using humor, focus and core values can help an organization build a culture that in turn builds process which then in turn builds a brand.
She used the example of a medical center that made patients first to such an extent that it completely changed the way it treated patients. Instead of patients going from doctor to lab to therapist, the hospital kept the patients in very beautiful rooms and the doctors and the technicians and therapists came to the patients. The hospital changed its practices so radically that some doctors left, Packard said, but the ones that remained absorbed the change to such an extent the hospital has become a nationally known medical facility.
At one point, both Lublin and Packard came up against an abiding problem at CUs: boards of directors at some credit unions that have not changed in years and are not in touch with current membership needs, attitudes or approaches.
“I don't mean to put my foot in it, but I think boards are something that credit unions need to really focus upon,” Lublin said after her presentation. Lublin at one point drew strong laughter from attendees when she described her earliest board members at Dress for Success–some older nuns she had turned to help her bring to fruition an idea that she had launched with a $5,000 inheritance.
Other speakers discussed how credit unions can build stronger relationships with existing members.
Jeanne Bliss, founder of Customer Bliss, an expert on customer service and helping companies move from being average companies to being “beloved companies,” discussed the ways companies or credit unions can interact with their members in ways that will make them truly love and become evangelists for their CUs.
Porter Gale, vice president of Virgin America, described in vivid detail the ways that social media can both underpin and develop those techniques and interactions that Bliss discussed.
Gale told a story to illustrate the immediacy of social media. A traveler on a Virgin Atlantic flight tweeted (all Virgin Atlantic flights offer wireless Internet access) that he had been trying to get a sandwich on the flight but had not been successful. Someone at the airline following the Twitter feed saw that, called the pilot and the traveler got the sandwich. That traveler will be loyal to Virgin Atlantic forever, Gale said.
Bliss made it clear that what she was talking about were things CUs could do to make themselves truly member-centric and not just claim to be focused on members. One of the key things about beloved organizations was the way they handled saying they were sorry and acknowledging they had done wrong.
It was not enough for an organization to take responsibility for having made a mistake or even setting it right, the organization needed to put itself in the shoes of the customer or member and seek to heal the emotional relationship he or she had with the organization.
“Think about what it feels like when an organization really communicates to you that they get it about whatever it was they did that disappointed you,” Bliss said. “And think about how it feels when they don't do that,” she added.