Highway engineers often say you can’t out build traffic. Expand a two-lane road to four and more vehicles come. Add two more lanes and still more motorists arrive.
If Michigan State University Federal Credit Union in East Lansing is any barometer, the same thing is true when it comes to increasing member contact options. In 2006, the credit union had 3.5 employees handling member inquiries. In 2011, Michigan State FCU hired 95 employees, 44 of them for newly added positions, to field e-mail, chats and phone calls. That worked out to 26.5 FTE positions. The number of transactions per employee has remained the same.
The pace isn’t expected to slacken this year. In fact, projections show e-mails to the $2.25 billion credit union soaring past 80,000, compared to just under 60,000 in 2011. Online chats should total 20,000, up from the 2011 count of some 15,000.
April Clobes, executive vice president/chief operating officer, noted that in 2006 MSU started a department to handle electronic service to members–e-mails, online applications and other electronic interaction.
“Since then, we have seen year-over-year growth that has been about 40% a year,” she said. “We’re at 38% growth already this year. If we annualize the rest of the year, we figure about 115,000 e-mails and chats this year.”
What has spurred that growth?
“A couple things,” Clobes indicated. “Serving the university, we have a young membership population. Each year, we open new accounts for young people who are used to conducting conversations electronically. Other members discover it, and learn they’re getting personalized responses quickly.”
Approximately 20% of members live outside Michigan. Surveys show they’re pleased questions can be answered through an e-mail or chat. Clobes believes when a member in Michigan who has used on-line contact moves out of state, that member realizes they can still maintain their relationship. She said that has definitely improved retention.
All this must mean traffic at traditional branches has slowed. Not so, Clobes said. Use of on-line contact has not cannibalized other channels. Many members, including young people, use all available channels.
“What they are looking to do with us drives how they interact with us. If they want to know their balance, they look that up themselves. But a member may review an account on-line and think, ‘I don’t remember doing this transaction. I’ll send a message.’” “Somebody explains it, and they’re good. Some people want to apply for loans on-line but come into the office to pick up their check. Other people have a complicated situation, or it’s the first time they’ve ever applied for a loan, so they want to talk to someone in person,” Clobes noted.