The “virtual branch” is increasingly the focal point of member service and transactions in the 21st century. A quick look at the recent success of ING Direct shows how a simple consumer-friendly website can help a credit union significantly grow its core businesses. The lesson: the more effective the website, the greater the impact it will have on the credit union’s overall performance.
A recent Forester Research study found that 42% of consumers prefer the online channel when researching a product. While member relationships are increasingly virtual, the core financial needs of the online member are not inherently different than they were before the Internet. A member on the credit union’s web site looking at product information pages, or using educational calculators, is similar to a member standing in your branch saying, “I’m interested. Help me.”
Research vs. Transaction
Still, the vast majority of credit union websites focus primarily on providing basic product brochure information and conducting final step transactions. As a result, members who are merely beginning to research options, and not necessarily ready to apply, are largely left alone to navigate the range of decisions themselves. The hope is they will still take their own initiative to come back to complete the transaction at a later time. But, will they return when faced with the range of alternative choices they are likely discover through their research? Shouldn’t the credit union seek to engage with these members as a clear demonstration of the service value of credit union membership?
Contrast this online experience with traditional brick and mortal or call center service offerings. Most credit unions have built their organizations over many years on an active service engagement with the member – understand their needs, answer questions, and follow-up to assist in completing a loan. In the online “self-service” world of home banking, the questions of how and when to provide service remains a challenge for most credit unions.
The Online Decision Process
Many credit unions set-up websites with an assumption that the member sales cycle is: Interest then sale. This is similar to having a 1st date then having a wedding. The chart below compares the financial services sales cycle with the marriage process.
To be successful in driving online transactions and increasing member participation, credit unions need the tools to help members successfully navigate through the “considered purchase process” without losing them along the way. Just because a member is looking at the website’s mortgage rates today, it does not mean that they are necessarily in the market today. However, the chances are good that the member will be in the market in the next few days, weeks, or even months. It is critical that credit unions be able to recognize those coming member financial needs, capture their interest as important “leads,” and create processes to actively engage the member when they are likely to have questions or appear ready to take next steps.
In recognizing the time it takes for many to make informed financial decisions, a key challenge is how to successfully open a communication dialogue with the member after they leave the website. E-mail would seem to be a natural and less-invasive way to start this process, however, a member still needs some way to let the credit union know that they have interest and want more information. Today, most credit unions still schedule mass deliveries of e-mail based on the marketing department’s calendar, not the member’s calendar. In the online channel this is the equivalent of fishing for member leads as opposed to leveraging relevant communication opportunities with individual members when they have already expressed interest.
Free Educational Webinar
Appropriate use of web tools embedded in the member’s research process can help credit unions meet this service opportunity. Join Callahan & Associates for a free educational webinar exploring a new way some leading credit unions and other financial institutions are leveraging new web strategy tools to help members, close leads, and return a positive ROI.