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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – When it comes to retail banking, credit unions must look beyond the new branch to focus on culture. Experts agree that training alone without a shift in culture results in wasted time, effort and money since most of the information “will go in one ear then out the other”. John Nicola, senior vice president of sales for Norcross, Georgia-based design/build firm IBT says a great sales culture is the energy behind successful retail results. “The big myth is that there is a huge difference between sales and service,” said Nicola. “The reality is that they work hand in hand because you can’t have a long term relationship with a member without offering services that meet their needs or providing quality service at every point of contact.” Nicola says that it is not about “pushing a product of the week” and credit unions looking to switch to a retail environment need a culture in place to support that environment – and that commitment must come from the board and management down to every employee. “The infrastructure must absolutely be there in order for staffers to take sales and service to the next level,” said Eric Bierman training solutions manager for Cincinnati-based design/build firm DEI Incorporated. “We call it a `Relationship Culture’ where every single interaction lays the groundwork for members to look to credit unions for help with all their life events like getting married or preparing for retirement and the hundreds of events large or small that occur in between.” According to Bierman credit unions looking to make a massive change in culture should dedicate at least 12 to 18 months to build just the framework. Time must be spent on everything from assessing the current state of the credit union’s culture to developing a blueprint for propelling the organization to a more retail oriented environment. “It doesn’t happen overnight and it is something that is always changing and ongoing,” said Bierman. “It is not as easy as it sounds to convince employees and management that world class service must be provided at every single member interaction.” Nicola adds that other keys to a successful retail environment include hiring the right people who have the personality to find out the members total needs and work down into a specific product; creating a proactive sale culture with incentives and activities; developing frequent creative marketing promotions; streamlining operations so that staffers can focus on what they need to do; and of course training. Bierman agrees that credit unions should never underestimate the importance of incentives and coaching. Prior to the training sessions management is encouraged to take an active role in defining their future culture and becoming role models for their employees. Input should also be taken from front-line employees who interact with members most often to use their knowledge of member interaction and operations. “A lot of managers don’t know how to deal with certain types of employees, especially those that are not performing well and allow those with poor performances to skate along and still receive 3-5% raises,” said Bierman. “It sends a very bad message to those employees that go the extra mile. You want to keep your best employees happy by recognizing their efforts. So teaching managers how to be more effective coaches and positive reinforcement helps encourage every team member to improve.” Bierman says structured coaching sessions should be scheduled with staffers at least once a month to not only reinforce the importance of the relationship culture but also improve employee-manager communications. Nicola adds that weekly sales meetings recapping and comparing goals can also help keep the team focused and energized. In addition, credit unions can benefit from quarterly training on different products and core competencies. “It is important that whoever is doing the training has a world of sales experience to bring to the classroom,” said Nicola. “Retail sales training is most effective in small groups with a live instructor that incorporates not just the philosophy but also multiple role play scenarios and practice in a controlled environment. That way employees are better prepared when they are face-to-face with a member assessing their needs.” [email protected]

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