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No second chances at first impressions

Credit unions' focus on service excellence presents opportunities and challenges

credit union first impressions

Every prospective member who walks into a credit union presents an opportunity. Like a hostess with a new dinner guest, you will want to show off the entire menu of financial services – and urge the diner to sample them all.

After all, credit unions are known for their hospitality. In the 2013 Ipsos Best Banking Awards, Canada’s credit unions earned the top spot for service excellence for the ninth consecutive year. This personal approach has always been a factor that sets you apart.

Find a balance

However, the pressure to cross-sell a slew of services during this important first meeting presents a challenge for managers not wanting to appear as aggressive as other financial institutions. The best approach is a balance: making newcomers aware of products while not sounding like an infomercial. “We try to keep it succinct and as short as possible,” says Mary de Sousa, vice president, marketing at FirstOntario Credit Union, with $2.3 billion in assets and 90,000 members. “We are respectful of their time. We don’t want them feeling like they are being held up overly long.”

Here are some suggestions for improving onboarding practices.

Listen to staff suggestions

“We got frontline feedback saying that we’re not really focused on our customers,” says Bill Whyte, senior vice president and chief member services officer at Meridian Credit Union, with branches throughout Ontario and about 263,000 members. Those assessments caused the $8.1-billion credit union to redesign and automate its whole onboarding process.

Explore new software options

Robust IT systems can accelerate business processes and allow staff to focus on the soft side of client relationship management. For example, Meridian introduced a new onboarding program called WelcoMe (welcome me) in 2013. By simplifying the steps and eliminating the duplication of collecting facts from new members for numerous forms, WelcoMe has greatly improved the process of opening a new account. “It allows us to focus more on them than data input,” says Whyte. He estimates that onboarding used to take as long as an hour. The new program has cut the time in half. You can choose to invest in proprietary software development or select one of the new programs now available, such as OpenAdvantage by Canadian companies Doxim Inc. and CGI. These programs can streamline the entire CRM strategy down the line.

Offer ongoing staff training

Maintaining best practices in service means lots of training and updates for staff so they are comfortable and confident when presenting to members. Meridian has a robust training culture, says Whyte, who used a series of webinars for training and a WelcoMe pilot program. Staff was also given time to practice using the tool before it was officially launched.

Set goals with the member in mind

Offer service that emphasizes needs, such as retirement income or monthly savings plans. For Meridian, WelcoMe has saved time for more meaningful conversations with members. Follow-up phone calls are also important, but the first face-to-face meeting is critical. Back up the pitch with some well-designed materials. In 2012, FirstOntario won one of two gold medals at the CUES Golden Mirror Awards for its booklet: the Owner’s Manual. It accompanied a campaign suggesting that people weren’t just members, they were owners.

Remember the personal touch

Once they sign up, members appreciate time-saving options such as mobile banking. Your challenge: engaging those who seem to want to do everything online. When they come in to complete their application, a simple conversation about family, or a chat about travel can go far to create a bond. “We are trying to put humanity and value into sales,” notes De Sousa. “To ensure loyalty in the future, we need a human element.”