No Megaphone Required

How unfiltered communication strategies can help credit unions proactively address member and employee issues.

In the politically charged streets of Washington, DC, it’s a common to see protesters, street-corner preachers, and impassioned individuals blaring their message to the masses via megaphone. The same logic is frequently on display in playground disputes, TV talk shows, and political hearings if you feel you’re not being heard, just speak louder.

Credit union members and employees are no exception to this rule. If they feel their concerns are not being addressed by the cooperative, they too will turn to electronic channels such as online review sites or even the new CFPB hotlines to broadcast issues. That’s why credit unions need a strategy that solicits and addresses feedback before their shortfalls outweigh their successes.

Communication pipelines that validate user submissions and ensure actual results help cooperative institutions ramp up their brand equity and create more trust among members, examiners, and the general public.

Never Underestimate The Power Of A Name

It can be tempting to sacrifice authenticity for the sake of efficiency, as is the case with bland, auto-generated email responses that have little or no relevance to the actual inquiry or concern submitted. Speaking to attendees at the 2013 BAI Retail Delivery conference in Denver, YouTube co-founder Steve Chen advised financial institutions of all sizes to steer clear of this practice.

I really hate getting an automated message that someone will get back to you in 24 hours, Chen says. As a result of this pet peeve, Chen personally answered all of the emails coming in from YouTube users until the company was approximately seven months old.

Whether automated or answered in real time, institutions also frequently make the mistake of attributing correspondences to a general group like the Member Service Team. Chen suggests taking the mystery out of these communications and creating a more distinct sense of ownership by having employees sign emails with their name.

The CEO As A Sounding Board

At Granite State Credit Union ($324.1M, Manchester, NH), CEO Denise Caristi takes that ownership a step further and provides her personal work email to all members. Since 2008, the credit union has actively promoted members’ ability to Talk To Our CEO on its website, in the quarterly newsletter, and on the front line.

Caristi started with Granite State as a teller more than 30 years ago, and that constant face time with members still influences her leadership style today.

When the banking system was falling apart, we began looking for more personal ways to reach our members and reassure them that this was a truly open institution all the way to the top, she says. The Talk to Our CEO option is just one of the many ways we do that.

Caristi receives three to five member emails every week, with content ranging from praise and suggestions to complaints and problems that need resolution. Caristi acknowledges each of these personally within the hour, no matter what time she receives them.

Oftentimes, a member has been charged a fee or denied a loan and they want me to take a closer look at their situation, so I will do that myself, she says. If it’s a more complex issue for example, a problem with an electronic channel I’ll still respond to them personally, but I’ll let them know that I’m assigning someone else to help them.

Although Caristi sometimes needs additional employees to help with the legwork, she keeps email chains active until the member or an employee confirms the issue has been resolved.

Even when a problem arises that doesn’t necessarily have a fix, or we have to say No, we can’t do that,’ just knowing they were heard is a big deal for these individuals, she says.

From Idle Chatter, To Positive Action

Granite State also has a series of anonymous Voice Your Concerns email accounts for employees. Some of these are linked to the heads of different departments, but the general inbox goes directly to Caristi as well as to the credit union’s vice president of HR and marketing, Karen LaPlume.

Many of the submissions are things employees are already discussing one on one, so the credit union tries to respond to each inquiry within one business day and shares its responses across the organization. This shotgun approach not only serves to answer the anonymous submitter but also ensures that anyone else who has the same concern will benefit from the information.

We sometimes think that staff are aware of every single thing the credit union is dealing with, but they aren’t, Caristi says. So [Voice Your Concerns] is a great opportunity for us to go over the regulations and why we do things a certain way.

Approximately 50% of the employee submissions revolve around individual concerns such as a personnel issue or clarification for a certain procedure, LaPlume says. But the other half typically consist of actionable ideas such as the addition of an incentivized referral program or the need for more pronounced signage at an ATM location that can help the credit union serve its membership better.

Who You Gonna Call?

In a world where governing bodies and mega corporations demonstrate a persistent inability to police themselves, credit unions can differentiate themselves by encouraging their memberships to be guardians of culture and monitors of employee behavior.

For example, Unitus Community Credit Union ($948.1M, Portland, OR) partners with a third-party service to provide a free ethics hotline where members can report experiences that fall short of expectations, violate credit union values, or even violate the law.

Contrary to working against credit unions, these proactive efforts augment compliance by helping institutions weed out issues before they become full-blown regulatory or legal matters that have a lasting effect on the organization’s reputation.

November 18, 2013

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