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Credit Union Times Publisher Mike’s Welch’s column in the April 6 issue, “Time for a Potpourri Look Around the CU World” sparked discussion among the news paper’s editorial staff sharing woes of trying to drill through credit union phone systems. Correspondent Eileen Courter volunteered to place some random calls to credit unions and report on her experience trying to reach CEOs for a follow-up story. Eight geographically dispersed CUs were randomly selected to represent varying asset sizes. The next step was to check each credit union’s Web site to find a phone number and the name of the CEO. Starting on a Thursday afternoon, calls were placed to eight credit unions. Here’s what happened. WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – A credit union’s phone system is really only as good as how easy it is for a caller to be connected to the person or department they want to reach, to leave a message if necessary, and get a call back in a reasonable amount of time. The Credit Union Times staff learned long ago getting through to a source depends basically on three things – identifying the source, tracking down a phone number, then getting a response. In this case, the CEO was designated as the source. The credit unions selected were: Alabama State Employees Credit Union (www. asecu.org); Greater Cleveland Firefighters Credit Union (www.gcffcu.org); Dallas Telco Federal Credit Union (www.dallastelco.org); First Credit Union of Gainesville (www.1stcu.com); Mizzou Credit Union (www. mizzoucu.org); Tucson Federal Credit Union (www.tucsonfcu.com); University of Virginia Community Credit Union (www. uvacreditunion.org); and Wyoming Employees Federal Credit Union (www. wyo.org). Tracking down a phone number started by checking a credit union’s Web site. The goal was to find the name of the CEO and a direct phone number. Some Web sites were very helpful, others yielded only minimal information. A clear winner was the Web site for Greater Cleveland Firefighters CU. The site listed Ben Lorendeau as CEO, and provided his extension number. When the round of calls began on a Thursday, I got right through to his voicemail. He was out of town at a convention, but I reached him first thing the following Monday morning and he was very cooperative. Dallas Telco FCU also earned points. The Web site featured a President’s Column providing the name of Bert Beal. The bad news was there was no direct phone number. However, after just under a minute I was transferred to his voicemail. Then, to my delight, he called back within less than two hours. Shortly after the brief phone interview he called back again, this time to ask about our experience with his credit union’s phone system and any improvements they might make. Although the Wyoming Employees FCU site did not indicate the name of the CEO, it did provide a wide list of direct extensions including 400 for the operator. It was easy to call the number, punch in 400, ask for the name of the CEO and be transferred directly to her extension. When her voicemail answered it indicated she was out that day, but would be back Friday. A good example of using voicemail effectively. All credit unions that failed to respond within 24 hours were called again on Monday. At least one that failed to respond did earn a point. First CU’s Web site provided an organization chart with the name of Patsy Lindawood as president/CEO. When the automated system offered the option of reaching someone by name, I punched in her name and was given her extension number and immediately transferred. Having the extension number made a follow-up call much easier. What’s more, at least the all-too-familiar “using the keypad on your touchtone phone, enter the name of the person you want to reach” worked. That wasn’t the case at Alabama State Employees Credit Union. Another that earned a point or two, even though we never reached the CEO for an interview, was Mizzou Credit Union. The Web site clearly identified Harold James as president/CEO. What’s more, a real person answered and both times I called put me through to his assistant who willingly took a message. The bottom line. After contacting eight credit unions two times, we succeeded in talking to four CEOs over three working days. A number failed to return my calls or forwarded my request to someone else who never called. That’s a 50% hit rate. Hard to give credit unions in general a passing grade. There was a delightful irony in one case. Late Tuesday morning a call came from Mizzou Credit Union. The CEO’s very pleasant assistant informed me the CEO was “pretty busy” and simply didn’t have time for the interview. The irony comes in the fact the credit union was founded to serve the University of Missouri, home to the world’s first, and considered by many the best, journalism school. The instructors there would probably suggest a delay of three working days in returning a reporter’s call is not a good public relations move. BERT BEAL PRESIDENT DALLAS TELCO FEDERAL CREDIT UNION $135 MILLION ASSETS, 26,000 MEMBERS We’ve had our current phone system less than a year. We think the potential is great. One important thing is how call volumes are distributed during peak times. We want to make it quicker for members to get through. We want the system to search for other phone lines that may be available and put the caller in touch with someone who can help. I absolutely get frustrated myself trying to deal with automated phone systems. That’s what we’re trying to work through. I think our business is going to the phone and Internet. We want to make them user friendly. BEN LORENDEAU PRESIDENT/CEO GREATER CLEVELAND FIREFIGHTERS CREDIT UNION $105 MILLION ASSETS, 9,500 MEMBERS The current phone system was here when I joined the credit union in January. We don’t get many complaints. A fair number of calls go through to the operator unless otherwise routed. I would like to have all calls answered by a human, but with the size and complexity of credit unions today it gets more and more difficult. I absolutely get frustrated myself with automated systems. Sometimes there are nine different options, but they hide the option for an operator. BRAD SOLAND PRESIDENT/CEO TUCSON FEDERAL CREDIT UNION $210 MILLION ASSETS, 38,000 MEMBERS We’ve had our system 10 years or more. It seems to work out well. We used to have a receptionist, and all our members recognized her voice. The problem was every employee had a direct line. Members got in the habit of calling their favorite teller or member services rep. Those employees had no time for other work. So we went to a call center with Telephone Services Representatives. It was the smartest thing we ever did. Ours is not really an automated system. You go to a live TSR. If they are all busy, you are placed on hold. We send survey cards to keep in touch with the level of service at the call center. We get 85% positive response. KIM WITHERS PRESIDENT/CEO WYOMING EMPLOYEES FEDERAL CREDIT UNION $134 MILLION ASSETS, 17,100 MEMBERS All calls to any of our five branches go directly to a central phone system, which we’ve had for five years. It’s working very well. It had a woman’s voice, and we changed it to a man’s voice. We customized it, and used local talent. Yes, it can absolutely get frustrating dealing with automated phone systems. It actually delays the process. But you’re punching buttons all the time, so people think it’s faster. I ran into difficulty just this morning trying to reach the CEO at another credit union. They have several offices, and I had to guess which office the CEO was at. -

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