The core of good service – teamwork

One of the most important aspects of the credit union is the environment in which we work. There is no sense in fooling ourselves, without the best people we don’t have much of a hope of being a healthy credit union. All of our own work histories can easily point to jobs where it wasn’t much fun coming to work because the place was full of jerks and jerkesses. A key element in any workplace is teamwork. This is what makes the organization great instead of just good.

We speak of product, price and service with a sense that all three are commodities. Price certainly is the attribute of a commodity, product I will leave for another blog entry and service is what can really set the credit union apart from anyone else.

What makes an organization? The people. And service is the people who put that human envelope and character on your product. They deliver the product in the most vital of fashions, with the human aspect. The delivery of the product, the timing of the delivery of the product, the atmosphere in presentation of the product, the setting and the venue all point to peripherals of service. And teamwork is at its core.

With all great ideas come great execution. The ability to get things done for people in this business is very important. The execution comes when people work together for that common goal, to deliver great service. The ability to work towards that collective goal out of a sake of service and caring is a challenge to the “sales culture” which in fact by it’s nature of competitiveness can erode the “service culture”.

Our motto at work is “Where neighbours bank”. We work hard at making a difference. For example, and forgive me as this is a pet peeve of mine. line-ups. Ask anyone what they hate and it is a line-up. So why do we credit unions who pride ourselves as being member focused and service orientated allow habitual line-ups? I think it because we don’t have the teamwork in place to get rid of the line-up. We need to focus on the member and by making sure the line-ups are minimal or non-existent this gives adequate proof that we are. That is the ingredient that seems to be missing. People working together can accomplish much and there is a beauty in not being afraid to try something different. That difference in what you do will define who you are. That difference is teamwork and the delivery of great service. No job is too small or too unimportant for anyone in any organization to do. People notice that and isn’t that what the delivery of service is all about?

I love this picture of a group of employees at a high tech company. They look like a team. Maybe our next staff picture should be taken like this one.

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DemoCampVancouver

Went to the DemoCamp this evening and like Nancy twittered, half the blogging meet-up was there. It was enlightening to hear and meet so many people with a true passion for what they are doing. There was such a positive tone set with each presentation. And the questions to the presenters were quick and to the point. And it all happened in Gastown. Boris and Kris announced the next one will be July 7th with possibly a different format. Boris promised a write up of the event, something Rebecca has already done an excellent job of.

James Sherret, Vince Hodges and I had a quick discussion on managing ones cash flow by incorporating different accounts into one projection. We arrived at a similar ending, every finanical institution has some different gatekeeping method to make it almost impossible as a one-click method. Account aggregation is like the never ending story.

Rex = King

Here is something new that I have not seen before. Rex & Co. have an agreement where you convert home equity into cash. The “loan of cash” is paid back when you sell your home or in 50 years whichever happens first. You pay no interest or make any payments, you pay at the end of the agreement. You are selling a portion of your equity in the home. That could amount to much more than what you received in cash at the start of the agreement. What would you call that?

William brought up Seth Godin’s “Blow up your homepage” entry. What do people expect when they click a URL? First and foremost it would have to be information. Either that page sign.gifmoves them through an entry point or they can click/search for further information. It would seem to be like an encyclopedia. You look up the entry, get the volume and start scanning the information to see what is relevant, look at the acknowledgements and proceed. Using the Oxford English Dictionary on-line gives you a similar experience without turning pages. You can just search and click. There are two keys here.

  • A focus on what you want, exactly. They say that to get the answer you have to form the proper question.
  • A good search facility for your site. The best sites have search results highlight the phrase when you move to the different pages.

All of that said Seth has said something that won’t go away easily. What should a homepage look like?

The eternal quest for an algorithm

There is an interesting article on Improving New Account Opening that has some great points, all valid. But we seem to be talking in circles at times. We develop something and the bad guys develop something that defeats what we have built, then we develop something and the bad guys develop… well you get the message.

Maybe we need to step back a bit. We are always attempting to develop some solution that is a complete algorithm for our problem. If we can synthesize or boil down the problem into a totally logical fashion then we can program it and this technique will solve the problem. Most times this works but then the problems occur with the exceptions. Those things that we haven’t thought of in a totally logical fashion. There is always the random point of existence. That is life. Personally that is the beauty of life. Business wise that may be the problem you end up dealing with.

Can we handle problems only through algorithms? Yes but only to a certain point. For larger organizations it is vital to do this, for smaller ones they have an advantage in using the human factor. We need to use our human facilities to handle what the algorithm can’t. Now if we are dealing with costs we choose the least cost method, business is business. But if we are building a business on relationships, on word of mouth marketing, on giving service that one can be proud of, then the least cost method doesn’t work. We need to be able to manage those situations on a personal basis. Without the intervention of a person when needed, people will say you are just like the rest of the businesses that they have had to deal with and don’t care. And that doesn’t make them very happy. Maybe that new account doesn’t have a great credit rating but instead of summarily rejecting the application call the person and ask the reason. I remember asking a young person that question. Her answer was that she broke her leg at work and between Employment Insurance, Workers Compensation and the insurance company she didn’t receive any money for close to 6 months. Her credit was “bad” but all her reasons were “good”.

So when you begin to build your model to manage risk consider this — include the human component in the process and in dealing with the exception. It may cost you a little more but you will be building something that people want, appreciate and respect. And they will tell their friends.

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Saturday stuff

Verity Credit Union has a great blog with a new look. I can see this being a model for other credit unions. They also have a flickr site. Ingenious! Open Source CU has a podcast #8 done by Shari Storm who explains in detail Verity’s blog. This has some very practical advice to give to CUs about blogs. I haven’t heard anything better. But you know what will happen in some circles. It will be viewed as a fantastic idea, then the sudden fear begins to occur and the naysayers will start and the idea about have a CU blog will slowly die. Death by risk aversion.

Today went over to Foto Fun in New Westminster and picked up a Nikon 50 mm / 1.8 lens. This is a beautiful lens. After using so many zoom lens you have to realize there is a bit of a change in the way you are going to take a picture. It reminds me of the old rangefinder setup. Attaching it to the D50 and snapping away brought great results.

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Good news

It has been announced that a BarCampBankSeattle is currently being planned sometime later in the year.

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Credit Union Central of B.C. has announced its proposed new name for the entity that would be created later this year between the Centrals of BC and Ontario. Central 1.  Different but not very original. One can be an adjective, verb, pronoun or noun. Which is it to be?

Control and balance

Mitch Joel from Twist Image made a presentation recently speaking about customers and control. Businesses control the message, product and channels with consumers controlling the rest. This is the healthy balance that really needs to be apparent in our credit unions. Nothing is worse than being called ‘arrogant’. Then he moves into stating that trust economies have to be built.
I think trust is more than building. It is created, and it is created at the person to person level. I have always found the name Customer Relationship Management a bit of a farce. Quick question– how long have you been married? Is that how long you have managed that relationship? It is not management. It should be called Member Relationship Building. (We have members, not customers). This is the long term focus. This is a dynamic focus and one that is created, nurtured and kept careful watch over. It is the opposite of a sales culture. MRB will allow you organic growth and it will make you distinct and different.
And here is the key and pivotal point. You can talk about it, you can do whatever you want with building a trust economy, you can even market it. BUT you must live it, your actions must speak louder than the words you say. Talk is cheap but the “doing”, the action of creating trust, now that takes time and a lot of hard work. Everyone has to actively think to the point of honestly being a relationship builder.
I forget what course that was at university. Anyone remember?
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Surveys, are they satisfying?

There is an excellent post at the blog modern marketing today. I agree that the word ‘satisfied’ is not a very good description when you are talking about “experience” being your differentiator.

I thought about some surveys so here is a list of 5 choices on a survey and what a person really means when asked:

How has the service been when dealing with the credit union?

  1. Great – which usually means – I don’t want to tell you the truth or offend you.
  2. Normal – which usually means – Why are you asking me this? Do I get to win something if I say it’s better?
  3. OK – which usually means – I put up with you guys but boy if I found a better place I am out of here.
  4. Not very good – which usually means – This place sucks! I don’t know why I am still here, probably because my mom opened an account here when I was 3.
  5. Bad – which usually means – I am a disgruntled ex-employee and want to make you guys pay or I am getting paid for some competitive intelligence from the guy down the street.

The Filene Report Denise mentions is excellent and is a great starting point in measuring the Net Promoter Score which is the benchmark we all should be paying attention to. At the end of the report it talks about the next steps for improving member experience. You can spend a lot of time measuring, you can view and chart the results but what are you going to do to improve? One suggestion is that any effective strategic plan will require “Leadership practices that instill customer focus, passion, and values.” Voila! A key ingredient. Leadership.

So in large part bad service can easily mean bad leadership. Not paying attention to something that is hard to measure in any realm. But instilling customer focus and passion and values? That doesn’t happen overnight. Leadership needs to create the ability of the people working in the organization to what I call “make meaning” in their workplace. The environment must be right. Values statements are a long and arduous process. Values are discussed, debated, argued. Values must in some way be part of the individuals own personal make up. (You’ve arrived when you can say to everyone that when they make any decision that is true to these values they have always made the right decision). And when you do arrive at a common, published values statement made up from all individuals, there is a commonality that as a consequence begins the passion. When someone can make some meaning in their job they are quick to become passionate. Now, how do you measure passion?

The bridge has been crossed!

This morning we brought up the QA site for the XML bridge and it worked! It was amazing to see data updated from a secure web page to your SQL Sybase server both ways. This creates a myriad of new products, enhanced products, member management of products and services 7/24, with much cheaper and quicker development times and unbelievable possibilities.

Any member interaction through the web can now be made in a completely secure fashion without touching the banking system. No security breaches. With our MemberNote product (text message alerts whenever you use your plastic at a merchant or ATM) our enhancements that are completely member controlled are:

  • Turning MemberNote on and off
  • Not getting messages between certain times (then getting all stored messages after your latest time)
  • Choosing a value minimum value for messaging i.e. don’t send any messages less than $10
  • Adding the balance of the account as part of the message
  • Etc.

The beauty of this is that the member controls all of these variables. They can play around with them making the product fit to what they want. Sort of like DIY (Do It Yourself) account alerts. The staff don’t manage any of this. We are calling this MemberNote 2 and have kept the choices simple in order to keep development times to a minimum. There are a ton ideas for MemberNote 3.

What’s next? By combining text message alerts, a secure internet banking site and the creation of DIY products it will probably be left to whatever you can imagine. What does this cost the members. Nothing, gratis, free. The benefit? Creating a niche with products and services in a highly competitive market. This establishes a stronger relationship.

So how can a $38M credit union with 1832 members do this? That’s something for another blog entry. A key point is this — with all the reasons for merging (see The Tiger or the Monkey?) there are just as many reasons for not merging. I always thought monkeys were smarter than tigers? And that is something for yet another blog entry.

Donations

It is always interesting to read the year end statements of companies and credit unions. Lots of PR in those pages.

Last night at our AGM we presented information about where the credit union gave most of it’s money. It just happens to be the 3 local elementary schools that receive the largest percentage. Our total giving is about 8.8% of our net earnings. An interesting benchmark and one that most people consider as an adequate mearsurement. But I got to thinking, what other means could be used to view this. Westminster Savings gave $950,000 to their foundation which does not include other contributions. Given their member numbers that is a whopping $18.58 per member at least. North Shore CU gave $1million from their foundation not including other contributions this year. Their membership numbers would put them at $27.42 per member! These are fantastic amounts. Our CU is only at $7.41 per member. But then compare that with the 1% guideline that is so often touted as the necessary level of giving. Westminster Savings would be $2.05 per member, we would be 84 cents per member (sorry I couldn’t get North Shore’s figures). It seems either as a percentage or a per member basis credit unions are giving institutions. So you wonder why we look at the banks a little suspiciously.

Blogs and blogging

Great news. Scott Baldwin from North Shore Credit Union has a blog. A remarkable person from a remarkable credit union.

William Azaroff from Vancity also has a blog going. William’s blog links to a posting by Ron Shelvin from Epsilon titled “Dear Credit Union: If You’re Going to Blog…

I always enjoying reading lists. Simple and to the point. Ron has a list (which he readily opens with the phrase “At the risk of overstepping the boundaries of my expertise…”) which points to some pretty practical recommendations. Remembering that blogging is an art and not a science it has been a slow evolution of information written about blogs and blogging. There is no codex so don’t bother looking for it. I remember talking to Matt Mullenweg a few years ago at Gnomedex. What was amazing about Matt is that he didn’t talk about WordPress but spoke of blogging and the passion he and others had for it. That is really the key more than anything else to writing a blog. And it shows time and time again with a variety of bloggers.

When you think of the core elements of this medium (reading and writing) you realize that text and literary skills are as important as pictures and videos when conveying messages. Short, distinct messages that are well thought out carry the day. Post regularly is the standard. If people like what you write they want to read what you write. They don’t want to wait long periods of time before the next posting. There are some excellent blogs out there that for some reason become dinosaurs. It is appreciated when someone who is blogging decides to hang up the keyboard and tells you such. Links are important and should be used generously. That is what makes social networking actually work. You could never plan what is going to happen to any extent because it just happens. There are always surprises out there. And that is what makes you blog and entices you to read blogs. One final thought, never let fear or ignorance govern what you write. Nobody wants to read issues drawn from that.

Payday lenders

So the Government of B.C. is going to establish a licensing system for payday lenders. Ottawa plans some changes. But is this going to be enough? MoneyMart welcomes the news, supposedly. But licensing does not mean regulating to much of any extent. This is possibly the key to managing this ‘industry’. Loan rates of 60% are nothing but usury. They are allowed but really do the math. No notice of how the interest is calculated or charged. Once you compound the math how long does it take to double the loan?

The most interesting point though, and one that is not mentioned, is the disgusting methods these companies use to collect their debts. I have seen examples of individuals cashing a cheque which had a legal stop payment put on it. The means of recourse is the payee not the drawer but they insist on going after the drawer and they will use any means to get their money. It borders on the savage to say the least. People should know their rights in regards to issuing cheques and cheque cashing but when these organizations abuse these rights where do they go to lodge their concern and complaint? Their only course is a court of law when it should be an government agency that monitors and regulates. Banks, trusts, and credit unions have these but not the payday lenders. It does seems strange that the weakest and most vulnerable have so few avenues left to them. Payday lenders remind me of that small, vicious, South American fish.


Sometimes a great meeting

Today I was down at the Vancouver Club in Vancouver with 5 other credit unions discussing solutions with a data processing supplier. Usually these meeting are boring. People ask questions and the answers turn into another series of questions and before you know it you are about a mile from where you started. The Desjardins Group were different. They talked about their banking system but they presented a very compelling reason for being a credit union — your competition is the banks, not other credit unions. In B.C. we seem to have lost this focus at times. We compete with each other not noticing that there are banks out there.

Desjardins is the Central organization for Quebec caisses populaires (credit unions). They are the 6th largest financial institution in Canada. By this time next year they will have the largest ATM network in Canada. The key is cooperation. It appears this system has grown by cooperating and doesn’t get sidetracked by anyone. It was refreshing to hear why things were actually working. It was refreshing to hear about solutions that were formed out of credit union needs, not because someone in a powerful position wanted it that way. I look forward to hearing more from this organization. I just wish all credit union could come to the table with this type of mindset.

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It’s Easter

Now the rest of the household is coming down with this flu. Time to go to work to stay healthy.

Doug True wrote a very interesting article for the Washington Credit Union League called “Applying the Gas Station Philosophy to Lending”. No it isn’t about a giant gas price hike and how you will be able to afford it. He talks about lending being a commodity which it is. Lots of borrowers, many more lenders it seems. So how will credit unions differentiate?

It is simple but in today’s world radical. You treat people the way you would want to be treated.

For example your car breaks down and the mechanic says it is going to cost an arm and a leg to fix. You can’t afford to buy a new one but someone at work has his father’s car for sale. You call them up, get to see the card and need the money yesterday. You phone up your credit union who answer the phone in person. Now there is a difference – no mechanical talking voice. They transfer you to the loans officer who listens to your story. You have had a previous loan with them. She says if you come in by the end of the day to finish the paper work you can take a cheque to the guy tonight. Make sure you bring the serial number, make and model of the car in order that the credit union can do the registration check. You get down to the credit union, get the cheque, pay the guy that night, get it insured and the next morning are driving to work in your new ‘used’ car.

Not an unusual story. Simple in what was done but difficult to deliver because a key element is making sure the human interaction is the focal point. That the relationship created is one of trust from the onset. That this is the way you would like to be treated in a similar circumstance.

Is that differentiation or just doing best what credit unions have always been doing.? We can never forget that or we loose who we are. And if that happens we become a ‘bank’.

MemberNote vs Clairmail/Telus/My-Spy

There is a post at The Bankwatch about a product that will alert a bank customer of transaction activity with their bank card. Earlier this week a product called My-Spy was on a local TV newscast with a similar service. It will be interesting to see how these products develop.

The credit union I work for developed a product over 2 years ago called MemberNote. It does the same thing but with a completely different method. It was built around the banking system and is totally an in-house solution. There are some differences.

These commercial products will have a price in order to implement them. That price will probably be passed on to the consumer. We have seen this as a necessary service and have implemented it from day one with no cost to the user. It is free. You will only pay what your telcom charges you for text messaging. That brings up a point. Is there any agreements between these companies and say Telus about revenue sharing on the messaging side?

The 3rd party solution is going to bang the @#$% out of anyones internet banking servers unless they can install the software/solution at the host site and deliver the alerts. What happens to website stats when the ‘bots’ are running let’s say every 5 minutes, signing into a banking internet page, pulling the info, and sending the alert (if there is a transaction)? There will be a lot of hits just to find out there wasn’t a transaction to report.

Security. Sorry but I really don’t want my PC running all day with a program to monitor my bank account in order to give me alerts.

These may be moot points. Competition is always great as it pushes us all to create something better. We plan on releasing a version 2 of the product in the next few months. New features will give another dimension to this service. We think it will be that much better.

Why cash is priceless

We have recurring incidents at work were we have to ‘hot’ a Membercard (this is a plastic card similar to a bank card that has a PIN that you use to access funds at an ATM or use on the Interac network to buy something). To ‘hot’ a card means to take away the card’s ability to transact any business. It won’t work anymore.
There are a number of reasons why a financial institution (FI) would do this. One is that there is reason to believe the card has been compromised, which means someone other than yourself has access to your account by means of a fake card. Given that this happens, the most secure means of transacting business is cash. Cash. $$$.
Simply put, withdraw your money at the FI from your favourite teller and pay for everything in cash. Simple, cheap, anonymous and secure. But for most, not convenient. Remember every-time you use your card an electronic record is created. That means there is a cost to do this either for you and/or the merchant. It also means that what you have done is not ‘anonymous’.
Using the plastic has a price. Using cash keeps everything you want in your domain. With cash your privacy remains priceless.

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In your face

Trey Reeme wrote me after posting a comment on Open Source CU. It got me to thinking about what a blog is and what it does especially as it applies to people and businesses. Someone once told me that small credit unions are a conscience for larger credit unions. We have this symbiotic relationship. As organizations grow larger it is apparent that their social conscience diminishes, not out of choice but because their size creates difficulties if not impossibilities on trying to maintain a focused and understood social conscience. That coupled with the new realization that marketing/PR is not appreciated when it is shoved in your face without any regard to who you are or what you think. It’s like most advertising in in ‘black and white’, absolute, with the agenda to BUY. We have changed. Blogs and the internet have begun a very different dialogue between the buyer and the seller -there should be an E-bay rating for all companies.

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This difference produces marketing/PR that is in colour with every hue available. You have to now prove what you state and you don’t get a second chance. You could call it coloured no chance marketing. Because if you are wrong, or if an employee takes a stance that is at odds with what you are trying to idealize and that party that you offended understands blogging then watch out. From their small network someone has started pulling the thread and everything your business has done begins to unravel.

Does it mean much? Absolutely. It is the lethal injection to the word of mouth buzz that is critical. It is permanent. What is posted on the internet is like something written on stone tablets. Pretty tough to erase and there for the world to see for a long time.

Punk Marketing

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This book is one of the most interesting you will read about marketing. Punk Marketing by Richard Laermer and Mark Simmons. From the very beginning they begin to make statements that you thought about but were too kind to say. Advertising agencies being ‘brand guardians’. Now there is a concept that needs no explanation. They discuss that TV is not the end all it once was. And that the shift in power to consumers (internet, blogs, wikis) is here and we had better take notice (those of us that are selling in the marketplace).

For example Daren Barefoot’s blog on Vancity has now moved into another realm, opensourcecu.com. And where are they? A small company in Piano, Texas just north of Dallas. That is what is happening and it is happening now. They go into pretty much the state of advertising as we are seeing it. There is very little historical information as they put what happened yesterday in context of why it doesn’t really work today. One of the best lines was on page 179 when it was talking about spending ‘Punk Marketers know that not having as much money means you think more than you spend‘. I picked it up at the airport and quickly finnished it. Now it is in the mail to our ad agency Currency. I am waiting for a long lunch discussion!