The ‘Sweet Spot’ of Member Experience

hands holding a red heart over a white wooden background
Stephanie Schwenn Sebring Photo
Contributing Writer
Fab Prose & Professional Writing

11 minutes

Understanding pain points leads to exceptional service and member loyalty.

Peter Drucker once said the purpose of business is to create and keep a customer. But is it still that simple?

In the broadest sense—yes. But when it comes to serving credit union members, it’s more than delivering a product, service or even a brand promise. It’s creating something exquisite, unique to each person: the member experience.  

According to Mike Neill, CSE president of CUES strategic partner ServiStar Consulting, Nashville, Tennessee, the member experience is the intersection of service and organizational culture, not based solely on product or emotion, but finding the sweet spot of both. “It’s not confined to a personal interaction or the adoption of a product, like a mobile app. Rather, it’s an experience that is intuitive and easy,” says Neill, who is a speaker at the CUES School of Member Experience. “Some call it ‘member effort,’ and it’s what you as a credit union want to ascertain and measure—even more so than member satisfaction.”

While member experience may mean something different for every CU, Neill says all credit unions must focus on three components: 1) meeting member needs through competitive products and financial expertise; 2) making it easy to do business across all channels; and, 3) creating a “wow” experience. “A credit union with an excellent culture will thoughtfully define its member experience: what it does well, how flexible it is, and how well it cares for the member as a unique and valuable person.” All can vary, he continues, but it is very important in how a credit union differentiates itself among all players.

Technology is an area where a smaller or mid-sized CU can invest to level the member experience playing field a bit, adds Neill. “In a commoditized industry, a credit union still needs to stand out with service and reduce the friction of any interaction. This friction can often occur with channel thrashing, where the member must move from their chosen channel to another to meet their needs.”

People Helping People

The credit union mantra isn’t fading; in fact, Frank Aloi, president of ath Power Consulting, Andover, Massachusetts, believes it’s ramping up. “Culture and how a credit union operates as an organization are integral to the member experience. Technology and competitive products are a necessity, but the essence of a credit union is still having someone to speak with, providing a high-end member experience. This experience is the organization. Every rep should be able to explain why the credit union is different from a bank and why being a member and part-owner is a distinction.

“There isn’t a ‘mid-range’ of good service,” adds Aloi. “Instead, focus on delivering a white glove, concierge level of service. Knock it out of the park to narrow the gaps in member effort.”

Frank Aloi
ath Power Consulting
There isn’t a ‘mid-range’ of good service. Instead, focus on delivering a white glove, concierge level of service. Knock it out of the park to narrow the gaps in member effort.

Tansley Stearns, CME, CSE, a longtime CU advocate, speaker at the CUES School of Member Experience, and chief people and strategy officer for $2.4 billion Canvas Credit Union, Lone Tree, Colorado, believes most consumers want to do business with organizations that do right by the world. “It’s especially relevant for millennials to know we’re financial cooperatives, created to help people. Doing right for those we serve is already in our DNA, and we have an amazing opportunity to differentiate ourselves. But as an industry, we’ve not always done a great job of telling our story.”

Another way to differentiate credit union services from the competition is through empathy. Stearns says that as CUs create the member journey and grow their product lines, the best place to start is by stepping into the members’ shoes, answering the questions: “What’s in it for me?” and “What are our members’ biggest challenges?” 

The Importance of the Member Journey

“By mapping their journeys and using buyer personas, including common behaviors, demographics and goals, you can learn more about your members and what it is they want,” explains Constance Anderson, president of MemberXP, a Denver-based company that specializes in engagement and feedback solutions for credit unions. “Some want a highly personalized, in-branch experience, while others prefer to do everything through self-service channels.” 

Consider these two very different personas: The first is a 25-year-old college graduate with her first professional job who wants to save money for her first house. She might want personal guidance on saving but also a robust mobile app that helps track her budget and real-time balances. The second is a married man in his 40s who wants a bill-pay app to save time and track household expenses. He also needs convenient access to online loan applications for his vehicle, mortgage and home equity loans.

There is no “monolithic member profile” that defines what every member wants from the CU, says Anderson, but there are prototypical personas within a member base that CUs must cater to.

Journey mapping enables a CU to follow every step of a process and identify what’s working and what isn’t. “Leaders can blend financial expertise with their understanding of member pain points to see the gap between the current and desired future state,” notes Stearns. “Credit unions can then craft a road map for long-term improvements and create new, meaningful member experiences.”

Finding Gaps in the Experience

Researchers are moving away from the net promoter score as the sole indicator of successful member service. Today’s critical measurements are market share and wallet share, says Anderson.

“While the net promoter score is good for determining brand affinity, it does not necessarily correlate with market share growth,” explains Anderson. “For example, a credit union can have negative net member growth but still have a high net promoter score—the members who remain love the credit union, but those who have left typically found it hard to do business with the credit union.” In addition to wallet share, she suggests using metrics like brand affinity (measuring emotional attachment to the CU) and ease of doing business.

The Filene Research Institute’s white paper, “Member Effort Benchmarking”, defines member effort as “the amount of effort a member has to expend to resolve an issue, open an account, get a loan, join the credit union or accomplish any other goal ... across all channels—including digital channels.” 

Anderson, a co-author of the report, believes that member effort is a better predictor of wallet share growth than other commonly used metrics such as member satisfaction or net promoter scores. She cites a study conducted by the Customer Contact Council, “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers,” published in 2010 in the Harvard Business Review. It revealed the ease of doing business trumps customer service as a predictor of customer loyalty. MemberXP’s own research also shows a strong positive correlation between the number of accounts per member and the member effort score—a numeric score between 1 and 7 derived from answering one question: “How easy did we make it for you to (complete your transaction, obtain your loan, open your account, etc.)?” According to the MemberXP Knowledge Base, “a score below 6.0 indicates that there is room for improvement for a particular member experience. Relatively seamless experiences score a 6.5 or better.”

Consumers, particularly millennials, are giving their business to companies that make it easy to do business with them, says Anderson. “Credit unions should strive to create simpler, frictionless experiences for members. Measuring, analyzing and mapping each member journey uncovers member pain points. Those pain points often represent opportunities for innovation that can lead to increased wallet share.”

For example, Anderson recently interviewed a “30-something” CU member. The individual likes to go into the branch because the “people are so nice,” but uses a large bank for checking, because, unlike the CU’s mobile app, her balances update in real time. This same member also used a mortgage broker to buy her first home, because the broker made it easy for her to navigate all the options.

Anderson adds that regardless of age, members stay with their CU because the service is superior, “and millennials are as adamant as any segment about receiving good service. However, as the above example reflects, they define good service differently. It’s more than friendliness; they want both an excellent in-branch and mobile experience.” 

The journey map can help a credit union to see its design processes in further detail and identify service gaps, says Neill. “Start by analyzing each step the member must take to complete a requested service—such as opening a new account or applying for a loan—and find ways to reduce the ‘friction points’ a member may face, to be mitigated or removed for an easier, simpler experience. The credit union can also see how it can better deliver a ‘wow’ experience, such as sharing how much money a member will save by making a specific decision.”

Tansley Stearns, CME, CSE
Chief People and Strategy Officer
Canvas Credit Union
The audit identifies the biggest pain points, allowing the credit union to create a road map for positive change.

Taking the Next Step

Listen to members. Find out what’s interrupting or interfering with their experience. But first, make it convenient for members to comment or ask questions relevant to their experience, advises Anderson. “Financial institutions are moving away from the comprehensive annual or semi-annual survey to real-time, in-the-moment audits that capture the experience as the member completes a journey.” Credit unions can use these audits to establish benchmarks and goals for improving the member experience over time. Try mini-online surveys by email, website or mobile links, by text and even in-branch tablet surveys, she adds, so that members can share their experiences conveniently.

Anderson suggests measuring the new member experience as well as borrowing, mobile or online banking journeys, but adds that every audit should include questions about the digital experience and employee performance. “Employees can do a great job of assisting the member, but if the online loan app is difficult to use or online banking is clunky, the member can have a less than optimal experience,” she says.  

A member effort audit can reveal pain points that are often very different from what an internal member (that is, a CU employee member) may experience. “We get tied to our processes or have biased experiences based on our role within the organization,” explains Stearns. “So, an audit may reveal challenges we didn’t know existed … that both internal and external members are facing.” 

Areas to examine in an audit, as identified by the Customer Contact Council study in the Harvard Business Review article, include:

  • the number of handoffs, either between people, between channels or both;
  • repetition, including the number of times a member must share their story or challenge; 
  • “channel thrashing,” when a member must leverage more than one channel to accomplish what they want to do; and
  • technical limitations within a digital channel (when a member expects to start and finish something using technology, but system limitations or risk concerns stop the process and require human intervention). 

“A trend we’ve seen is significantly poorer member effort scores from people under age 35 than for people over age 35,” says Anderson. “Another is how a third-party vendor, such as a mortgage processor or outsourced contact center, can either negatively or positively affect the experience. Unfortunately, many third-party vendors don’t have the same service expectations or level of ownership the credit union team has, and that negatively impacts the member experience. A good use of audit results is to hold the vendor accountable and negotiate a service level agreement based on audit metrics.”

Short, Sweet and Easy

Stay disciplined and keep audits concise, advises Aloi. “They can measure anything, ranging from four to 40 questions, but the ones with four are that much better.” 

Rather than exploring all the technical points of a member journey, Aloi suggests determining a metric or numerical score—perhaps for a branch or member behavior—to use as a benchmark before implementing an audit. “The point you measure ... should answer how the member felt during that moment. In person, by phone, online, in an app—was the member (and employee) engaged? Measuring small nuances is wildly important to the member experience.”

Stay member-focused, adds Anderson, and when possible, embed such variables as member age, deposit balance and number of accounts into the audit. This will help keep the length to just a few questions while still gaining valuable information. Also, allow for easy follow-up and consider software that can provide automated alert and ticketing systems to identify at-risk members. A thorough audit will include free text analysis (reading member comments) to determine key drivers of delight and dissatisfaction. Today’s best member experience relies on an ongoing system that tracks the tiniest of changes in member perception, Anderson continues, helping to maximize the voice of promoters and potentially save at-risk members. “The key is to create accountability and provide motivation by focusing on (and coaching) the behaviors that improve member experience metrics and processes.”

Achieving Scale and Growth

Scale and growth do matter to the success of a credit union, says Stearns, but not growth for growth’s sake. “As a financial cooperative, the more we grow, the more resources we gain, and the stronger options we can provide for more people. 

“What if we could positively change the percentage of people who are homeowners within our region? What if members were better prepared to retire? What if all our members were all ready for an emergency? If we can create those measurements and meet these bold goals, we can naturally harness a stronger share of the market.”

Stearns concludes that credit unions must exceed expectations. “We no longer compete against the bank or credit union down the street, but the ‘instant clicks’ of Apple, Amazon and Google, and we must build strong experiences that stand up to the comparison.”  cues icon

Stephanie Schwenn Sebring established and managed the marketing departments for three CUs before launching her business. As owner of Fab Prose & Professional Writing, she assists CUs, industry suppliers and any company wanting great content and a clear brand voice. Follow her on Twitter@fabprose.

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