In 2010, the Filene Research Institute conducted a study, “Customer Experience and Credit Union Opportunities.” One of the key takeaways from the report centered on a perplexing fact. Consumers continue to love credit unions, especially compared to banks, but member satisfaction has not driven increases in market share. In a service-based industry, more satisfaction should yield more sales, right?
As desirable as member satisfaction may be, it turns out that what generates sales is, well, selling. While credit unions have historically focused on a satisfaction at any cost approach to doing business, banks have focused their resources on generating new business. “I have never found a specific industry so averse to selling,” said one expert in the report. ‘You're not selling tobacco. You're selling financial solutions for people and making their financial lives better.”
The study suggests that credit unions are over-investing in initiatives that support only member satisfaction and under-investing in moments of truth that yield member satisfaction and sales, the account opening process, problem resolution and home-loan processing. A needs-based selling approach that focuses on delivering sound financial advice and proactive proposals appropriate to members' needs can do exactly that.
The need, then, is two-fold. Hire high-performing staff that can deliver effective need-based consulting to members and then nail the moments of truth that drive new business. The key is listening. Without understanding the individual needs of members, it is impossible to demonstrate the personalized consulting that members, and credit union bottom lines, crave.
So how can credit unions do a better job of listening? How can you analyze efficiently the countless varieties of financial situations that members need help with? How can sell become less of a four-letter word, while maintaining high member satisfaction?
One answer is technology. Filene’s i3 program created an online financial assessment tool called Debt in Focus in 2009 to help consumers understand their debt and discover ways to improve their financial lives. We have never been more proud of an innovation idea from our program. More than half a million financial assessments have been delivered by the tool in the past three years.
Still, we were missing something. We collected tons of information about Debt in Focus users, created customized budgets for them to use and coached them on how they could improve. But we didn't go far enough in need-based consulting. If someone has a 18% APR credit card with Bank of America, and a credit union has a no annual fee credit card that charges only 12%, isn't that information the user would appreciate? If it's clear that a member is digging himself into a hole of high-interest debt, shouldn't we suggest a consolidation loan that will reduce his expenses?
If a member is earning too little on her deposits, shouldn't we tell her how she can improve that?
We've fixed this problem. Our partnership with SavvyMoney has upgraded Debt in Focus to more of a need-based consulting tool for credit unions, providing a powerful step two in the assessment process, an action plan.
If Debt in Focus is the bathroom scale, SavvyMoney is the workout plan that sculpts consumers' financial lives. An either, or strategy, we have discovered, is not enough. If you are going to help consumers transform their financial lives, you must listen, analyze, and propose solutions.
The other answer is talent. If listening, analyzing and proposing appropriate actions/services is at the heart of effective need-based consulting, it is imperative to find staff that deliver. Hiring for results means finding good branch managers, important swing votes in terms of sales performance. It means engaging employees and prioritizing metrics that drive business results. It also means creating an appropriate compensation program.
"At a best-practice organization," explains the report, "the bottom performers make far less than anybody else in the industry, and the top performers make far more. That way, the pressure is always on low performers, and top performers will have little incentive to look for other work."
While we are all excited about member satisfaction, the sustainability of credit unions relies on our ability and willingness to ask for new business. By leveraging the appropriate technology and talent, credit unions can have what we have always desired: a delighted audience that actually wants to do business with us.