I celebrated my 20th year of marriage this week. While I could go on and on about how wonderful my wife is to have put up with me for the last 20+ years, I would rather spend a little energy pulling some lessons I have learned about healthy relationships and sharing them here.
Whether you love them or hate them...there are good lessons to be learned from relationship books. I’ll try to be a little more to the point than those but still show how good personal relationship practices are just as valid in member relationship building.
Be stable but change. A good relationship is built on trust, which is developed over time by staying true to certain established patterns. Break an established pattern without mutual agreement and you break the trust. On the other hand, if you only always do what you have always done, the relationship stagnates or deteriorates for one or both parties as changing needs go unmet (or worse, are met by an outside party). You have to grow as the relationship grows, developing new skills to match the growth of your partner, but within the bounds of the relationship’s rules (and both parties have their own set of rules).
Lesson for CUs: Understand what expectations you create with your members (good and bad) and be sure you like the relationship patterns you are establishing. If you want to change established patterns, make sure you communicate them properly or expect bad reactions from those whose trust is low. Also, keep an eye on the changing needs of your members and you market and be ready to meet those needs when the time is right for them. In other words don’t force a new online only account on a member who just got their first computer.
Show appreciation constantly but appropriately. Genuine appreciation goes a long way in a relationship, but it is tricky to show it properly. It really depends on the partner’s style. Do they just want a nice note or small gift at random intervals, or do they want a big show of affection for every relationship milestone big and small. In the book The 5 Love Languages, author Gary Chapman details five different ways that people communicate and understand love. The better you match their preferred “love language” the easier it is to make them feel loved. It is a remarkably simple concept, yet tricky to practice well.
Lesson for CUs: Marketers understand that each customer responds differently to incentives and rewards, but do a very poor job customizing offers by customer. Mass customization is the key to improving ROI of loyalty/reward programs. Don’t make it work in only one channel, either. Your program has to make them feel loved in the branch, on the phone and online.
Know when and how to apologize. Let’s face it. In any long-term relationship you are going to make mistakes. If you are a guy, you are going to make lots of them. That’s OK. Mistakes allow you the opportunity to learn where the boundaries of the relationship are. You must learn from your mistakes and apologize appropriately for the situation. In How to Be an Adult in Relationships, David Richo said that sometimes the appropriate response to diffuse a fruitless argument is a simple “you may be right”. The key is to understand when and how to apologize to show you genuinely want to keep the relationship healthy.
Lesson for CUs: Study after study shows that how you recover from a problem (whether caused by the member or by you) can either strengthen or weaken the customer relationship. I could go on and on about this one. More relationships are lost by not properly handling the challenge presented by members with a problem. Become a problem resolution expert and make sure your staff is trained in a problem resolution process that creates ownership of the problem and includes a sincere apology... or at least acknowledgement that the member has been negatively affected by the problem.
These aren’t all the lessons I have learned over the years ... just some of the biggest ones that I see credit unions could learn from as well. Maybe it is time for managers and executives to put down the management books and start reading a few relationship books. You could try one of the ones I’ve mentioned if you feel you just need a little help, or if you feel you need a lot of help maybe it is time for Relationship Rescue by Phil McGraw!
Jim Craig is a former credit union marketing vice president who now heads up the new Interactive division at Geezeo.