And while leveraging these platforms has widespread benefits for employees and members alike, ensuring that members are served well at every turn takes more than technology – it requires a holistic approach to member service that fosters relationships and considers the consumer experience at all times.
“Like most brands, credit unions have traditionally based their strategic plans and tech investments on internal goals such as growth and profitability,” said Uwe Hook, founder and principal, Hook Consulting, a media and strategy consultancy whose clients include CO-OP Financial Services. “However, this inward approach can cause credit unions to miss valuable opportunities to connect with their members. We recommend instead a more creative approach to problem solving that revolves entirely around the member experience.”
The Power of Empathy
Hook advocates a strategy known as “member-driven design,” which challenges credit unions to develop “empathy” for the members they are working to serve.
“Building a strategic plan from the member’s point of view allows credit unions to ensure that their products and services truly resonate with members and reflect what motivates them,” he said. Hook also advises credit unions to explore Clayton Christensen’s “Jobs to Be Done” methodology, which calls on organizations to look beyond demographic and psychographic attributes, and to instead customize the consumer experience with products and services tailored to the unique needs of an individual.
“When credit unions apply these principles, they frequently uncover new insights,” said Hook. “For example, we have found that credit unions are in a peripheral relationship with members, and that this has implications. While conventional wisdom might suggest it is best to spend as much time as possible with a member, the reality is that members are typically looking for the fastest way to get in and out of your branch, website or app so they can move on to other activities.”
Delivering on the Promise of Mobile
Which is why, Hook adds, it is so important for credit unions to invest in their mobile presence.
“Mobile is no longer part of the Internet; it is the Internet,” he said. “Research shows that 70 percent of all global Internet traffic today comes from mobile devices, and by 2018 that figure will jump to 90 percent. Every credit union’s strategic plan should lead with mobile. Everything else you do for members is secondary.”
And what he sees emerging in the mobile space is a shift away from apps and toward advanced texting functionality.
“Chatbots will very quickly – and very dramatically – transform the mobile experience delivered by financial institutions,” said Hook. “For example, if your credit union could embed a chatbot in Facebook Messenger, then members would be able to obtain their account balances from the same Facebook page in which they ‘live’ without ever touching a screen or keyboard. That is the definition of convenience.”
He notes that early adopters of the technology will also be well positioned to attract younger members. “Tech-savvy consumers, and especially millennials, are already routinely using chatbots to interact with financial applications,” said Hook. “We expect this trend to accelerate.”
Redefining Credit Union Culture
While successfully implementing such advanced technologies takes an investment in credit union time and resources, Hook notes that it also requires a shift in mindset. “Credit unions today have to start thinking like digital companies, which means they have to develop an internal culture that is much more agile than in the past,” he said.
As a first step, he advises credit unions to put aside traditional yearly planning models in favor of shorter-term, quarterly initiatives.
“It is so important for credit unions to be prepared to change directions at any point in time that the market shifts,” said Hook. “And this requires a commitment to ‘being nimble’ at every level of the organization, from the C-suite on down.”
He continued, “Investing in the right technologies is vitally important, but it is not enough. Credit unions need to be well versed in what their members experience – and expect – in order to recognize solutions that deliver real value. And they need to be able to move quickly to bring innovation to market. Toward that end, we encourage credit unions to shed their operational siloes and establish instead a more collaborative decision-making structure that spans departments and finds all employees working together to serve members at the highest levels.”