Don’t look to Tammy Gallegos to ever toss up her hands and give up. For the vice president of marketing, communications and service quality at America First Credit Union in Riverdale, Utah, there is always a solution.
“There is always a plan B or C, and as a team we will figure it out and make it happen,” said the latest Women to Watch honoree. “It's just a matter of how we’re going to get it done, and that's possible because of the amazing people we have working here.”
A shared member-centric focus has helped the $5.9 billion credit union not only grow but also build its reputation within the communities served. A credit union member since she was a child, Gallegos got her start in the industry and America First CU when she took a part-time job while going to school thinking she’d be a nurse.
“I always wanted a career where I could help people so this is not so far off,” she said. “I wake up thinking every day we have an opportunity to try to make a difference and leave things better than we found them. At the end of the day if a member benefited because of our efforts then we have accomplished what we set out to do.”
Some 25 years later Gallegos is still thrilled about her choice and credits the many opportunities available across various areas for keeping her at the credit union. She likened the learning experience to building a puzzle and seeing how the many pieces connect and work together to form a beautiful picture.
“I think what I’ve found out about myself over time is to trust my instincts,” she said. “When I first got into management I was nervous and the best advice I got was to take the time you need to understand and educate yourself so you can make good choices and decisions. But shame on you if you’re not up to speed within a defined period of time. It's an individual learning curve. The lesson stayed with me to never sit and be complacent, because you have to venture out and better the credit union world.”
As someone who is passionate about what she does, Gallegos believes in further fostering an open environment where employees feel comfortable enough to voice their opinions and ideas.
“I once heard a quote, ‘Hire the best people, give them the resources they need, and get out of their way,’” said Gallegos. “I absolutely trust people to do their job well or they wouldn’t be in their position, and the same is expected of me. We are accountable to each other. We have to be willing to try something new and see what works. I think good leaders listen, mentor and coach working in the trenches beside you, not just giving orders. Every step along the way I’ve been fortunate to have someone who I’ve looked up to or who changed my life in some way.”
The America First vice president added that transparency in clearly articulating the vision combined with a trust in staffers can translate to an environment where teams feel empowered to challenge and question the status quo. The results are not only a team driven to support and bring out the best in each other, but also to find solutions that improve the member experience.
To that end in 2002, Gallegos was charged with developing and enacting a defined service culture, which could help staffers better understand, embrace and measure accountability across the organization. After implementing service surveys, member feedback channels, and secret shopper programs, within a year the Net Promoter Score measurement became a benchmark. Today on average some 40,000 surveys are returned and pushed through to the branch level. Staffers respond to those who request feedback and with a score of 83%, America First is close to reaching its goal of 85%.
“When we started this we realized our members wanted to talk to us and we put a program in place asking the right questions to help us learn from our past, evaluate our present and look forward to determine how we can grow in the future,” said Gallegos. “For us, the Net Promoter Score is a simple, easy-to-understand metric that tells us where and how we can improve.”
To Gallegos, within that space of improvement lies the heart of innovation.
“I think innovation is reinventing processes currently in place or identifying what's missing in the process or what can we do better to evolve with the member – that's the lifeblood of any organization and what sets you apart,” she said. “Competition is everywhere, from traditional players who want to stay in the game to nontraditional players trying to get in. A concern for every credit union is how to stay top of mind, keep members interested and engaged.”
Given the clutter and noise within the financial services space, finding what resonates with members boils down to being aware, listening and taking risks, the Gallegos added.
“Years ago we had passbooks and today it's mobile banking. Consumers will go where they can get that immediate information,” she said. “The challenge is to constantly look ahead and find ways to let members and the community know we are more than just another financial institution … but a real partner.”
She added that also means that to remain relevant, credit unions cannot be content to simply check off products, services or technology offerings. It's an ever-shifting and constantly evolving challenge, but she believes credit unions are well positioned.
“I’m excited about technology and the opportunity it provides in terms of what we can put in members’ hands to make their lives easier,” said Gallegos. “As an industry we need to ask more often what is best for the member. Sometimes people are so busy doing the day-to-day we can forget to do our job, which is keeping an eye on the member. Are the products and services what's needed, are we meeting consumer expectations, because that's why we are in business.”