Oh Customer Service, Where Art Thou?



This article first appeared on CreditUnions.com during the week of August 25-31st. This was one of the most thought-provoking and popular 'Sponsored Content' articles submitted to us for publishing from an industry consultant. In a rapidly changing world where technology drives many of our decisions it's sometimes important to take a step back and look at what really matters.




Have any of your members ever said this to you or anyone in your credit union? Well, maybe one or two when they got ticked off enough. But guess what? I'll bet many, many more think it each day when they either call in or walk in to our credit unions.

How do I know this? Because every single week I walk into 10-12 credit unions and guess what I find in many, many cases?

NO ONE IS VALUING ME! Oh, I know everyone says they have good customer/member service as a core value. But lets truly give our credit union a reality check.

Let me ask you if some of this is happening in your CU. Here is what I have experienced in the past 4 weeks visiting a number of credit unions:

Situation #1-The receptionist was on a personal call when I walked in and did not even take time to nod a greeting of recognition! The hushed conversation and giggling went on for 2-3 minutes until she told her friend, can you hold a minute? She then looked at me without a smile and with a hint of irritation said, what do you want sir? What do I want? I want to be valued and recognized for walking into your credit union. A young man sitting in a nearby chair said, I have been waiting for her to get off the phone from before you walked in! Do I have a good feeling about my credit union? When I mentioned it to the person who came to take me to my appointment she said, Oh, don't mind her. She is just in one of her grumpy moods? Oh, Customer Service Where Art Thou?

Here is my question. How many other members or visitors came in that day to do business with someone and received the same type of customer/member service?

Situation #2- I called in to the credit union to tell my party I was having a problem finding a parking place and I was going to be about 5 minutes late. The first voice I heard was an announcement for 3 different financing programs now available at the CU. This was followed by a message telling me that if I knew the extension to enter it and push pound. I did and I was told that this call might be monitored,…well, you know the rest. I never did get my party. It ended by saying that a MSR would be with me shortly. I was caught in VOICE MAIL JAIL!!! Will I ever get out? How long is my sentence? Can I get an early release for good behavior? Well, I was on my cell phone so I decided to find out just how long I would be in the slammer until I got a real live person who could get me released. I parked my car. Walked a ½ block. Waited for the light to change. Walked across the street. Entered the lobby, and I was still in jail when the receptionist, with a big smile, said, can I help you? I wanted to throw myself down in front of her desk and shout, PLEASE HELP ME GET OUT. But I didn't. I just cancelled my call and calmly looked into her smiling face and said in a shaky voice, will you help me? Thank heavens she was not a Miss Grumpy, who I referred to earlier, or I might have really went to jail for disturbing the peace! I was released for good behavior and my appointment was still waiting. When I told them the story they said, Don't you just hate some of the new telephone systems!!!

Situation #3- I returned a call to my friendly credit union. The caller said it was urgent as she leaving the office in 20 minutes and had to talk with me. I was again on my cell phone. I responded within 3-5 minutes. First I heard the marketing slogans, the great auto financing program, and a low interest VISA, and I was then told that if I knew the person's extension to please enter it and push pound. I did. It didn't. I waited. It waited. I continued to wait. Finally, I pushed 0 for the operator/receptionist. Guess what? Apparently they thought I had forgotten about all the good deals in the opening announcement and they started to give them to me again. Stress was building…my hands were shaking…no, it couldn't be…I was being sent back to….no, wait…a live person came on. This is Jim, can I help you? Yes, I said, while holding back the frustration. Can you connect me with Yada Yada Yada. Of course, one moment, sir. The phone rang. I was excited. It rang again. I was less excited. It rang again and then I heard her voice. This is Yada Yada Yada, and I am away from my desk. Please leave me a voice mail or you can call Margie at 2222 or Pat at 3333. I decided on Margie because I remember in football the P-A-T formula for making it through 2-a-day practices. P=pain A=agony T=torture. All of which I was experiencing now. I called Margie and guess what??? She was away from her desk and asked me to call Pat at 3333!! NOT THIS FOOL! So I hung up. Desperate I called the CFO who I can always get. Yes, he even eats lunch at his desk. I asked him if there was any way he could get a message to the CEO with my telephone number? He said, of course. I told him my story to legitimize my interrupting him. He said, Yes, I have heard from some others we have a problem with our phone system, but we just can't seem to get it fixed. I can fix it in 5 minutes. Tear it out. Donate it to a competitor and get a live person answering the phone calls within 3 rings and have the party they want on the line or tell you why not. Ask if they can help. And do all of this within 30 seconds. Guess what? It can be done. The members expect it. They don't want problems, they want solutions. They don't want voice mail. They want to be able to get to a live person. They want to BE VALUED!!

I am going to put all three of these credit unions in my daily prayers. Maybe God can help! It seems no one else can.

In all but 2 of the credit unions I visited in the past 4 weeks I noted major customer/member service problems of some type. All with easy solutions.

If you are going to have a customer/member service culture, every member of the staff from CEO to part-time receptionist has to be on the team. Everyone modeling it everyday and in every way by valuing each other. Even Ms Grumpy.

We have gone from a product focus to technology focus, and we are forgetting what a customer/member focus is. And who is the first customer we need to focus in on?

As in the cartoon, Pogo once said, I have spotted the enemy and he is us!!!! It all starts with each staff member treating each other like customers. We are, you know. Unfortunately many times I see departments, teams, and branches in CUs treating each other just the opposite, almost like a competitor instead of a partner

It's each of us making ourselves personally accountable for practicing each and every day the basic principles of customer/member service, and then and only then it will genuinely roll out to our members and show them that we value them and deserve their loyalty.

Let me share with you 6 basic building blocks that we use to train CU staff for providing exemplary customer/service.

#1. Always take the time to GREET every person you approach and put them at ease

#2. Make sure you VALUE every person you approach as being unique and important. Even if they work at the next desk.

#3. Always start off by ASKING open-ended questions. How can I help? What can I do?

#4. Make sure you LISTEN to what people are saying to you. Listen to understand and NOT to reply. Listen with the eyes, tone of voice, body language, empathy.

#6. Your role is to HELP people meet their needs. Find out what it will take and how to resolve issues and concerns.

#7. Never let them leave without INVITING them back. Whether co-worker, supervisor, manager, and/or member, ALWAYS invite them back when they have needs.

Then, in the HELP phase, I use a simple 4 step problem-solving formula.

#1. UNDERSTAND their issues, challenges, problems, concerns, or for you…opportunities.

#2. IDENTIFY the fundamental issue. Do not assume. Determine expectations. Remember, the primary cause of all human conflict is unmet or un-clarified expectations.

#3. DISCUSS possible solutions to their issues, challenges, concerns, and, for you, opportunities.

#4. SOLVE & FIND solutions that satisfy all parties. Remember that in 99 cases out of 100 there IS an acceptable solution. You just need to take the time to identify the options. Remember what Dr. Maxwell Maltz said in his groundbreaking book titled, Psycho Cybernetics, that which has the most options is in control.

I have been training Credit Union staff for more than 15 years in this customer service model. It has never failed to create an exemplary internal customer and an external customer service. It only takes about 3 hours to teach followed by 8 weekly follow-ups to keep everyone accountable. Then sit back and watch the changes that occur in your customer/member culture. And 35 years of consulting have taught me that you can't build a successful sales culture without first having a successful customer/member culture.

Remember, make sure you don't have a Voice Mail Jail operating in your credit union. If you do, remember that your members may take the 3 strikes and I'm out approach. Meaning, put me in 3 times and I may decide to move my account out!!!

For more information on this program, Hey, I'm the Customer, contact Dick Wilson, Sr. Vice President of Integrity Consultants, A div of NITC, Inc.
1-800-238-6844 or e-mail www.dwilson@integrityconsultants.com




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Aug. 25, 2003


  • I'm a new receptionist at a credit union. I vow to NEVER be Miss Grumpy!
  • This is very funny, but truthful.
  • Interestingly enough, our senior management meeting this morning centered on exactly the issues addressed in this article. We even discussed what our philosophy should be for our phone system. It is nice to know that someone is paying attention to these issues (as trivial as they might seem to some) because, as the article makes clear, these "trivial" issues can be huge in the minds of our members. Thanks for the reminder!
  • It is very helpfull and interesting article
  • Too simplistic
  • I wish all institutions would have a live person on the phone, and leave off all the time consuming commercials. If Credit Unions would do that, it would enhance the business they are competing for. It could be advertised, and the public is fed up with that. On the other hand, Corporations try to cut costs this way, but people will go elsewhere. The cost of telephone time for the company must be vast also.
  • Go to www.personnelinsights.com and take a look at the Customer Service Perspective...it works!
  • AMEN!
  • Right on! It's so simply, but we don't do it...we let time, long lines, short staff, and employees who either don't "get it" or don't care, carry on. Managers must show them the way and hold them accountable. Service has to be the culture...where everyone's doing it....not just a few. If we all sent our employees on a service inspection where they could get out of their box and look back in they may be motivated to change their behavior as long as they know specifically how. We can't assume they know how.....more and more younger people are being taught basic values.
  • Extremely wordy...didn't hold my interest
  • So true...we (the entire credit union) need to focus on our members...CONTINUOUSLY!
  • Great thoughts for creating/changing customer service cultures. Additionally, perhaps Management should first acknowledge responsibility for: 1. the current situation; 2. ability to create change if they're not happy with the present culture; 3. participate in the change process.