Bring Member Preferences Into Focus

woman with blue eye staring through a digital lens
Bryn C. Conway, MBA, CUDE Photo
BC Consulting LLC

11 minutes

What is the future of member experience after the pandemic?

When we entered the first year of this decade, the amazing year of 2020, many of us did so with boundless enthusiasm. It seemed like such a fruitful opportunity to see our business with crystal clarity. It is with 20/20 vision that we all strive to see the world, after all. This year would be one filled with countless comparisons to bringing issues into plain sight, seeing a clear path to growth and achieving precision in focus as we looked to the next decade of serving members and growing our credit unions.

Instead the year unfolded in a way that was unforeseen and in which most of us were left feeling that we couldn’t believe our eyes. The strategic plans, budgetary projections and project lists that we’d so carefully crafted in 2019 planning retreats were gone in the blink of an eye. Most of us kept looking on the bright side and hoped for a speedy end to economic shutdown measures or the need to social distance and longed-for business as usual. However, by the end of summer, it became clear that the pandemic was going to have lasting effects on consumers’ financial behaviors, attitudes and expectations of the member experience.

Bryn Conway, MBA, CUDE
BC Consulting LLC
The pandemic has leveled the playing field for financial institutions on experience and processes. To stay relevant, make simplification your farsighted point of view.

Behaviors Remain Digitally Focused 

For years, companies have been offering consumers the option to do business both online and in person and have mostly left the delivery up to consumers and their preferences. But when the in-person option was eliminated, the move to embrace digital service delivery and contactless—or in most cases, less contact—delivery service emerged as the only way to do business. After partial re-openings and limited in-person options, we are learning that consumers’ shopping and behavior patterns continue to favor less contact. 

An FIS study asked consumers what they will do and how they will behave after the pandemic and found that 40% will continue to choose online shopping options over in-store, 38% will continue using food delivery and takeout services, and 29% will use grocery delivery or curbside pickup moving forward. Specifically linked to banking, the study found that 45% of respondents said interactions with their financial institutions have been permanently changed, with:

  • 31% reporting that they will use more mobile and online banking options going forward; 
  • 45% saying that they have used a mobile wallet; and 
  • 31% suggesting they would continue to use digital payments over checks and cash from now on. 

Consumers have demonstrated a clear willingness to utilize digital service after the pandemic.

Attitudes Are Divergent

Whereas consumer behavior shows a permanent change in preference toward increased use of digital service, how consumers feel regarding the pandemic and their personal financial health has two distinct camps. In a J.D. Power study, one in four Americans said their financial stress has increased a lot during the pandemic, and one in three said their financial stress had increased little. 

Another report, the MRI Simmons’ COVID-19 Consumer Insights Study, further explored those attitudinal differences and found that consumers had two defining viewpoints: nervous or accepting. Those who were nervous, 34% of participants, felt that the pandemic had forever altered their world and were uneasy. The accepting viewpoint group included 66% of the respondents, and they believe in fate, as in whatever is meant to be will be. 

Not surprisingly, the nervous group was much more likely to adopt the attitude of “live and learn,” and the accepting group was of the mindset of “we’ll bounce back to normal” when asked about the future. Asked about their actions post-pandemic, a majority of both groups—52% of the accepting and 76% of the nervous group—said they will change permanently. Understanding the difference in member attitudes will be imperative for credit unions as we position ourselves to meet members’ unique needs in the months and years to come. 

How consumers behave and their attitudes about the pandemic and the future offer us insight into the expectations of member experience moving forward. The opportunity is now for credit unions to become laser-focused on meeting and exceeding member expectations. Here are three focus areas that warrant effort:

Rethink Personal Service 

Before the onset of the pandemic, we typically viewed our branches as the primary channel and the means to provide personal service. Our branches were where members came to do transactions, meet with a loan officer, open an account and ask questions. Not anymore. Our lobbies, if open, are partitioned and have limited capacity, while we ask members to maintain social distance, wear masks and avoid contact as much as possible. 

The FIS study cited previously found that consumers will continue to bank at a distance, with 33% reporting that they will continue to use the drive-thru rather than enter the lobby; and 25% of consumers will continue to use the call center rather than a branch location. To meet member needs and provide a good member experience, we’ll need to shift from our view of branches being the primary delivery channel for personal service to looking through a different lens. As members have been forced to use more digital services in 2020, they’ve also seen how companies have utilized data to offer a personalized experience virtually. This realization has set the expectation that personal service can be done well digitally and not just in person. 

Think of personal service as personalization based on relevant engagement and connection rather than the need to be physically together. Before the pandemic, we relied heavily on the in-bound aspect of member experience. To see personal service through a different lens, look at how you can make connections with member behavior and attitudes and create outbound aspects to your experience. 

Use member data and put it to work helping you make relevant connections. It doesn’t need to be overly complicated to be effective. Reach out with a simple email survey, for example, and ask members a couple of questions about how they are feeling regarding their financial health. Next, ask them if they’d like to schedule a call or video chat with a credit union representative. Let them know you’ll follow up. Provide a simple, personalized and relevant non-promotional offer to help them solve their problems. 

Rethink and adapt member service across your delivery channels as well. Explore ways to connect members with the same representative every time, whether they call or make contact via email. If a member misses talking to Betty on the teller line, find a way to route that member to Betty on the phone or in a video chat. This will help build the member connection. Since there is already a level of familiarity, the representatives can ask relevant questions and offer more personalized solutions. Study your technology for how you can bring personalization into each delivery channel.

Bryn Conway, MBA, CUDE
Now that we’ve moved to a more hybrid model of in-the-office and remote work, don’t let your point of view regress to the old way of doing business.

Make Simplification Your Point of View

If it’s possible to find a silver lining from the pandemic, it’s that as financial institutions we were forced to upend our daily, in-the-office service focus. We had to find ways to serve our members and keep our operations moving in a new remote environment. Traditional means of opening accounts, taking loan applications and even processing payments had to be reimagined and simplified in very short order. Now that we’ve moved to a more hybrid model of in-the-office and remote work, don’t let your point of view regress to the old way of doing business. 

A PwC report of retail banking strategies advised that the top priority for financial institutions is to review processes from end to end. I suggest you do it now. Waiting to do this work will cost you more in the long term and put you at a competitive disadvantage. All financial institutions, big or small, credit union or bank, experienced the exact same disruption during the economic shutdowns. The pandemic has leveled the playing field for financial institutions on experience and processes. The only way to stay relevant is to permanently make simplification your farsighted point of view.

Start by looking at the fundamental member experiences that drive revenue for your organization. Take the time to examine the top three to five member journeys to understand where there are obstacles and hiccups. Find opportunities to digitize steps in the process and, even more importantly, reduce the number of steps members must do. Simplify their experience. 

For example, if you are looking at processing loan applications, understand what information is absolutely crucial for members to provide for you to process, decision and disburse the loan. Also, analyze how are you communicating with the member and how many times and to what end are the back and front offices needing to pass an application back and forth. If you established unique products and services to help members during the shutdown, use those as models to simplify the experience in the areas of the highest importance and those fundamental to growth.

The pandemic also forced a re-envisioning of employees’ roles and positions. For many years, credit unions have talked about the idea of more universal roles, and we’ve explored ways to better cross-train employees to expand their knowledge and depth of operational tasks. The pandemic pushed those needs to the forefront. Examine the role shifts and performance of your employees during the pandemic and find what worked well for them and for your members. Focus less on what a position does task-wise and more on what contributions the employee can make to the member experience and overall organizational success. The point of view for all employees should be based in seeking simplification.

Keep Trust in Your Line of Sight

Credit unions have always been different. Our members typically rate us highly from a member satisfaction standpoint, and many choose us because we are not-for-profit organizations that are perceived to be mission-, member- and community-focused. That focus of “people helping people” is even more important in the eyes of members and potential members in these times of uncertainty.

A PwC survey found that financial institutions’ actions during the pandemic have affected trust and loyalty as well. Of those surveyed, one in three said they had been considering a switch before the pandemic, but because of their financial institution’s actions in 2020, they had no intention of leaving. The reasons for staying include an increase in trust felt for their financial institution because of the community involvement and the personal communication during the pandemic. The survey also showed that credit union members were the most loyal and least likely to be moving their financial relationship, with only 8% of members saying they’d consider making a switch. We should celebrate that but not rest on our laurels, as we look for ways to keep trust in our line of sight.

As the economic shutdown measures took hold in the spring, we turned our focus to communicating our COVID-19 response to members. Now that we are past the initial months of the crisis, we need to maintain that member focus, keep communicating and position ourselves to help. According to NerdWallet three out of four Americans said that they would change their financial behavior after the pandemic. Also, a Phoenix Synergistics study found that consumers were interested in getting financial counsel from their financial institution, but only one in five had asked for help. 

Start providing content focused on information and education rather than promotion. For example, position your lending offers as a way to help members save. Talk about how refinancing an auto loan could put more money in their month and then add up the savings to show how much a lower monthly payment could save them over a year. Find a way to weave financial education messaging into all your communications so you are providing financial advice in a relevant way and maintaining members’ trust in your credit union.

Now more than ever, consumers are looking to do business with brands that put people over profits, according to an eConsultancy report. This does not mean that you need to show up with the big check. That’s not the expectation right now. But your members do need to see that you are supporting your community. Help spread the word if your local food bank needs help or there is a community-wide call to give blood. Provide your staff opportunities to volunteer and, as a CU, support your community where and how you can. 

Though our original vision for 2020 has been greatly altered, we have learned a lot about how our members behave and feel regarding their finances. It’s up to us to bring that understanding into focus to shape our member experiences and to construct meaningful relationships that will continue long after the pandemic has become hindsight. cues icon

Bryn C. Conway, MBA, CUDE, principal of BC Consulting LLC, is a long-time member of the credit union community and helps credit unions define their brands, develop their experiences and grow market share.

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