4 Ways Credit Unions Can Be More Like Zappos
At CUNA’s America’s Credit Union Conference last month in Las Vegas, some attendees had the chance to feel like grade school kids again by hopping on a bus and going on a field trip. There were four excursions (which CUNA called “community safaris”) to choose from at the conference, and without hesitation, I picked the tour of Zappos’ zany headquarters in downtown Las Vegas – home of a corporate culture that is the envy of many HR departments.
There are good reasons to be envious of life at Zappos. First, the benefits are killer. Aside from a generous offering of medical, dental, vision and financial benefits, the perks include an employee library, life coaching services and luxurious onsite facilities like fitness centers, cafes and nap rooms. Second, to encourage employees to think creatively and vocalize their unique ideas, all employees are considered to be on a level playing field and traditional managers don’t exist (the kooky, colorful décor encourages creativity as well). Plus, working there means a built-in social life – the activities calendar is always full and employees can even be promoted based on the effort they put into making friends from other departments.
It’s the perfect fit for a social butterfly, but I’m pretty sure introverts (or really anyone who wants to keep their work and personal life separate) would be miserable joining what appears to be a grown-up, working-world version of a coed fraternity. Zappos encourages socializing during customer calls, too – our tour guide bragged that the longest Zappos call lasted more than 10 hours. (My first thought: Did they at least put the customer on hold for bathroom and meal breaks?)
Whether you find the Zappos culture attractive or a turn-off, it appears to be working for the company. Founded in 1999, Zappos quadrupled its annual sales from $1.6 million in 2000 to $8.6 million in 2001, according to its Wikipedia page, and has been repeatedly named a Best Company to Work for by Fortune. In 2009, Amazon bought the company for $1.2 billion.
Some credit union executives are taking note of Zappos’ success. After the tour, I interviewed Maria LaVelle, president/CEO of the $69.5 million Westmoreland Community Federal Credit Union in Greensburg, Pa., who said she came on the tour because she’s specifically looking to incorporate elements of the Zappos culture into her credit union. Here are four things she and other credit union leaders can learn from the online retail company.
Make members fans of your brand. At Zappos, the focus 100% of the time is on making customers as happy as possible. For example, our tour guide explained that one of his customers, a bride-to-be, received an off-white dress when she in fact ordered white. After sending her a dress in the correct shade, he arranged to have a bouquet of roses sent to her wedding in the Bahamas. Ask yourself: What are we doing to make our members feel extra special? If you get to know them on a personal level and treat them like you would a dear friend, they’ll keep coming back and spread the word about you.
Give your offices a makeover. The look inside Zappos screams fun – colorful wall murals, a disco ball, a colored ball pit and old Pac-Man game machines were a few things I spotted on the tour. Also, an open office design that allows employees to see each other’s faces encourages interaction and collaboration. So tear down those cubicle walls, forget drab coloring reminiscent of a doctor’s waiting room and let employees decorate their workspaces how they like. It may foster creativity and spark new ideas, and if it doesn’t, it’ll at least make employees smile and feel more at home.
Tear down those invisible departmental walls. When members of each department keep to themselves and are unaware of what other departments are doing, a disconnect will begin to build and employees may become less engaged. Think about it: Why would an employee truly care about making an impact if they can’t see how their contributions affect the credit union as a whole? To break down those barriers, consider creating cross-departmental teams and encourage communication across the organization.
This concept applies to the occupant of the corner office, too. Employees who see the CEO as off-limits or intimidating may be less engaged than those who believe the opposite is true. So if you’re the CEO, be approachable. LaVelle mentioned she was impressed by the fact Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh was outside playing musical chairs with his employees and takes 10 hours of customer service calls himself during the holidays, for example.
Cash in on employee satisfaction. When employees are happy at work, they stick around, saving companies the time and resources it would take to hire and train new individuals. According to Forbes, only 13% of Zappos employees leave on a voluntary basis annually, 7% are let go on an involuntary basis for various reasons, and more than 30,000 resumes are submitted each year to fill only 300 roles.
Obviously, most credit unions can’t afford the lavish perks offered by Zappos. But consider what you could be doing to make employees feel more appreciated and achieve work-life balance. This could be something like recognizing birthdays and work anniversaries, allowing employees to bring their dogs to work or implementing a work-from-home policy.
Credit unions and Zappos may have very different business objectives, but they both share the goal of providing top-notch service (or as Zappos calls it, “delivering wow”). If credit unions can bring that wow factor to both members and employees, only good things can follow.
Natasha Chilingerian is managing editor for CU Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.