So what can a credit union learn from a deli?
For starters, we’re not talking about just any delicatessen. We’re talking about Zingerman’s, an Ann Arbor, Mich., institution that draws not only University of Michigan students and local residents, but has also earned national attention and rave reviews from people such as Oprah Winfrey, who once rated a Zingerman’s sandwich 11 on a scale of 5.
Zingerman’s was also listed by Inc. Magazine as one of the coolest companies in America. Its various operations employ more than 500 people and generate annual sales over $35 million.
In addition to its reputation for outstanding food, Zingerman’s scores so high on service that other companies have turned to it for training. The list ranges from medical offices to major manufacturers and credit unions such as Michigan State University Federal Credit Union and Credit Union One.
What are credit unions looking for?
“There’s really no pattern, but in general the topic where we do the most work is customer service,” said Maggie Bayless, managing partner of Zingerman’s training function, ZingTrain.
Bayless is very comfortable working with cooperatives. While a student at Oberlin College in Ohio she was associated with co-ops, including a dining cooperative. Eventually she moved to Ann Arbor, and through a job waiting tables happened to meet the two men who later founded Zingerman’s.
As she looked for ways to become involved in the community, she discovered Feminist FCU. Bayless talked to the manager, the credit union’s only employee, and explained she had financial experience working at a bank in Chicago.
She was hired as what she describes as “a very, very part-time assistant manager.”
“A credit union appealed to me because it is a co-op,” Bayless said. The credit union later moved into the basement of University of Michigan Credit Union and became Women’s Federal Credit Union. After it merged into UMCU, Bayless worked there for a couple years before returning to school to earn an MBA.
She’s still a member of the credit union.
“In general, credit unions represent the idea of having members, not just customers,” Bayless said. “The mindset of credit unions is about member service and being responsive to members. But like every organization, there are gaps between the way we say we do things and what we really do. Part of it is actively working to close those gaps.
“Credit unions may be more enlightened than some other businesses in looking for solutions to improving communications for internal customer service. Our approach to customer service at Zingerman’s is that we not only need to provide good service to the customers that are walking in and buying from us, but we also want to give great service to each other.”
What’s the big challenge today in delivering great service?
“There are lots of challenges,” Bayless responds. “Most organizations don’t have a clear vision of what great service means. Every individual has a vision of what great service means to them. If you don’t have an organizational vision of what great service is for your credit union, for our deli, then however many employees you have you have that many separate visions.
“As a leader you may have something in your head, but you must document and communicate that vision. It’s incumbent on us as leaders in the organization to say, ‘This is what great service looks like.’ If you don’t put any detail behind that, then you’re asking employees to interpret it on their own.”
Service needs to be measured and rewarded, Bayless continued. Document complaints and compliments. Where are you doing well? Where do you need to improve?
Bayless distinguishes between services and service. Services, she specifies, are what we offer. Service is person-to-person interaction. Today there is less of that interaction. For example, for decades at gasoline stations nobody has come out to your car to pump the gas and check the oil.
Opportunities for personal connection that used to be there have disappeared. But for savvy businesses, that provides an opening to offer such relationships. If people have a positive interaction when they come to a credit union, it can be a reason to return.
“In terms of measuring customer service, one thing that we’ve been doing for 12 or 13 years now is documenting complaints and documenting compliments, and tracking that to identify where we’re doing well and where we need to focus some organizational resources,” Bayless noted.
“Even though we are a very service-driven organization and we were doing a very good job of following up on individual complaints from individual customers, we weren’t gathering information to know whether that was an isolated incident or the tip of a bigger iceberg. When we started regularly documenting complaints, we discovered there were some problems that were relatively small in and of themselves but were coming up a depressing number of times.
“The more time we spend interacting the more we understand. Figure out what the customer wants and what would make them happy. Go the extra mile.”
Bayless also emphasized the need to identify and reward good service, and cultivate a culture of appreciation in which people recognize when somebody they’re working with is doing something extra for customers. She believes peer approval is one of the most powerful motivators.
There’s also what she calls the 10/4 rule.
“My experience as a customer is that one of the biggest improvements an organization can make is eye contact and acknowledging customers as soon as they walk in the door,” Bayless said.
“At 10 feet you make eye contact and smile, and at four feet you greet. Obviously the distances have to work for the particular building or whatever.”
People have asked why Zingerman’s is willing to share such knowledge in a highly competitive world. Bayless' reply sounds like what a credit union might say when asked why they’re willing to swap ideas with other credit unions.
“We’re proud of the things we’ve accomplished, and we have nothing to hide,” Bayless said. “If someone can take what we’ve shared and make their businesses better, that’s a good thing, and it challenges us to stay at the top of our game.”