How Do You Sustain Good Member Experience? (Hint: Think Marathon Training)

By Sarah Lietz12.11.2017

Think back to the last time you prepared for something really big. Maybe it was training for a physical contest, like a 10K run. It could be you were studying for the GRE or another certification, which in itself often feels like running a marathon! Or perhaps your goal was working on your core for better balance and stability. All of these require training, assessment, improvement and endurance . . . . Just like ensuring a satisfying member experience.

So, What Is the Big Deal? Credit Unions Are All about Service

Let’s stop here a moment. Yes, anyone in the credit union community for longer than 15 minutes knows about our tradition of friendliness and building member relationships. But instead of seeing member experience as a discipline that needs continual practice and improvement, some think it’s just a dressed-up way to say “good service.”  I’ve heard credit union leaders make comments like these:

  • “Oh, sure, we did a training session on member experience a while back. We offer that.”
  • “We’re a very friendly credit union; we don’t have time to do another staff-training program.”
  • “Member experience is just the latest buzz phrase.”

The problem is, credit unions’ historic focus on member service doesn’t mean we can dust off our hands and proclaim a job well done. We have lots of competitors willing to apply the new rules of serving customers, and they aren’t just banks and other financial service providers, or even fintech startups.

What World Is This?

We’re in a different world now than when most of us began our credit union careers. Like the travel, entertainment, telecommunications and news industries before us, digital technology is disrupting the financial industry. Our competition is literally anyone who gives sustained, consistently high-quality customer experiences because that’s the standard today.

Whether it’s online, in person or by phone, we can thank digital disruption for raising consumers’ expectation for simple, satisfying experiences however they transact business. Forgot your boarding pass? Download it onto your phone. Driving up to the Starbucks window and realize you left your wallet at home? Show your phone. Don’t want to carry a passport? Yes, even U.S. Customs will scan your digital passport.

Living in a digital world means fewer opportunities to meet with members face-to-face, making it harder to gauge how well they’re being served. To keep our members-first reputation, we need to train like athletes. First, set goals. Next, learn what to do and create a practice routine. Then, review what is and isn’t working, often with the help of outside feedback. This leads to making adjustments and continuing to refine practices – just like any other back-office process improvement.

Can We Make It to Maturity?

For the past three years, an initiative by MEMBERS Development Company’s owner credit unions has focused on various components of member experience. Our analysis and observation has helped define “member experience maturity”— the extent to which an organization routinely performs the practices required to design, implement and manage member experience in a disciplined way. Working with MDC consultant Kurt Schroeder, we have developed tools to help credit unions assess their progress in offering consistent, satisfying member experiences and identify where more work is needed.

Evaluating its member experience maturity can help a credit union’s management team gain perspective on its current level of progress, as well as help identify broken processes that detract from a successful member experience. Our analysis identified six key aspects of member experience practices in the areas of strategy, member insight, design, measurement, governance and culture that are important to study.

1. Strategy.

While it’s common sense to want members to have a “good” experience with their credit union, defining what that means is paramount to success. Laying out the criteria will serve as a guide for all member interactions, as well as the overall goal for member experience efforts. Ask, does our stated goal align with the overall credit union strategy? Is this goal shared by all staff members? Are they enthusiastic about supporting it?

2. Member insight.

Observe your credit union’s procedures for gathering and tracking member feedback, both solicited and unsolicited. For example, is there a formal mechanism for employees to share comments they hear about a member’s experience, particularly about what could be improved? Is someone assigned to regularly observe member interactions for insights into experiences? Does the credit union share perceptions with employees, especially front-line staff, to build awareness of improvement opportunities?

3. Design.

When developing a procedure, include a clear design process that uses research and member feedback to determine requirements. Then ask, does our process development consider interdependencies within all areas of the credit union? Are we encouraging members, service providers and employees to collaborate in the design process? Do we use rapid prototypes to allow fast deployment to test and refine ideas?

4. Measurement.

Establish a framework to measure member experience that goes beyond Net Promoter Scores. Is the credit union measuring member perceptions about specific experiences? Is it collecting and correlating operational metrics against the member experience metrics to pinpoint problems? Be sure to share member experience metrics within functions and departments.

5. Governance.

All departments should follow a consistent set of member experience standards to define and innovate new experiences. Ask, are we considering the impact on member experience as decisions are being made? Does our credit union fund member experience efforts  as a separate budget allocation? Do we use a prioritization model to allocate project funding? Do we keep a running list of member experience improvement projects that are being reviewed, revised and reported at least quarterly? Are we reviewing member experience metrics regularly and using insights gained to adjust procedures? Are we coordinating member experience design and reviewing across all functions within the credit union?

6. Culture.

It’s important to regularly communicate member experience goals and recognize success stories and achievements. Ask, are we stressing the importance of these goals to all teams? Are we screening potential staff members’ skills for alignment with member experience goals? How often do we provide staff training on member experience skills?

Armed with an understanding of the six disciplines of mature member experience, it’s time to look at practices in each area, rating them in the following manner:

  • Missing – there is no existing practice to address this issue
  • Ad-hoc – there is an existing practice, but it’s followed inconsistently
  • Repeatable – there is an existing procedure and it’s followed most of the time
  • Systemic – there is an existing procedure and it’s followed all the time

Analyzing existing norms can help a credit union identify and adjust broken member experiences. And using metrics to track member experiences can help ensure that delivering high-level member experiences becomes the norm.

Through regular physical (or mental) fitness programs, we can improve our current and future level of health with the goal of reaching optimal well-being. Similarly, taking member experience to maturity means striving to enhance every interaction. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says it best: “We see our customers as invited guests to a party and we are the hosts. It's our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better. In highly competitive environments, brands are judged not for product price or quality, but for the experience they build around it."

Sarah Lietz is director of projects and marketing for MEMBERS Development Company, a research and development company owned by credit unions.