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The Trouble with Enigmas

Don’t assume members will figure out the CU difference on their own.

August 13, 2012
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One of the curses of my English major/librarian status is that I like to peruse the dictionary.  For fun.

An interesting word I considered recently is “enigma.”  According to The American Heritage Dictionary, an enigma is “One that is puzzling, ambiguous, or inexplicable.”  We may find that enigmatic entities initially create intrigue and curiosity, and perhaps warrant further investigation.

However, interactions cloaked in such mystique can also create confusion, frustration, irritation, and even weariness as riddles remain unsolved due to lack of decipherable data points, confusing communications, or inconsistent behaviors.

Lora Kloth is a research librarian at CUNA.
Lora Bray is research librarian at CUNA.

Are any of your business practices enigmatic?  Have you considered the importance of transparency in meeting members’ needs? How about among interactions of various departments?

Consider points made in a CMS Wire posting, “Social Business: Transparency is Good for Business.”    This article maintains that “Customers want increased transparency when interacting with companies because then they can make sure they really get what they want or need from the company.”

It also states, “Companies…should also want increased transparency… The information they exchange with the customer will help them understand the customer’s wants, needs and situation, as well as adjust the expectations of the customer to a reasonable level.”

A final point: “The information that is captured about the customer during this process can be fed into other parts of the enterprise, such as R&D and marketing, to help them learn how to make better products and services…” thus creating more positive interactions and efficiencies.

A post on the entrepreneurial blog, “Big Girl Branding” expands on this with seven transparency concerns.  Among them: the accurate disclosure of facts will create comfort and correction, and the admission of failures will allow customers to extend understanding and inspire confidence. Secrets alienate, and the disclosure of other companies with whom you associate will be appreciated.

All of these considerations appear to be important in creating and sustaining valuable relationships with your current and potential members.

Do you allow transparency to foster trust?

Other straightforward research tidbits this week provide clues to help you unravel some mysteries and facilitate positive and open exchanges.

Good versus evil

The Riddler of DC Comics said, “Riddle me this, Batman…” as he annoyed with vexing clues. 

For consumers, fraud-fighting strategy clues are revealed by the Federal Trade Commission in “Taking Charge: What to Do If Your Identity is Stolen.”

This handy resource provides straight talk to share with your members should any of them have to deal with this unfortunate reality.  It provides step-by-step guidelines for obtaining credit reports, filing alerts, and so on.

Marketing mysteries

Are any credit union staffers confused?  According to Gallup, “Your Employees Don’t “Get” Your Brand,” and “aligning employees with your brand’s identity is essential to a company’s success.  But too many employees don’t know what you stand for.”

This article illuminates the disadvantages of such a situation and provides three pieces of the puzzle to help make employees “effective brand ambassadors”:

* Knowledge of your organization’s uniqueness in the marketplace and what you stand for;

* Knowing your brand’s promise and ability to explain this brand identity; and

* Empowerment to “deliver on your brand promise.”

Another marketing clue is unearthed in Nielsen’s “Successful Brands Care: The Case for Cause Marketing.”

This report advises organizations interested in expanding their cause marketing initiatives to start with “a close examination of expertise and an assessment of how that expertise aligns with the expectations of both customers and society as a whole.”  Social media is important in communicating your efforts.

Speaking of decipherable data points... “Don’t Ignore Boomers—The Most Valuable Generation,” Nielsen warns.  This mighty economic demographic spends “close to 50 percent of all [consumer package goods] dollars, yet less than 5 percent of advertising is geared toward them.”

Boomers will “control 70 percent of the disposable income in the U.S.” over the next five years, and will inherit about $15 trillion in the next 20.  “It’s clear that taking their loyalty for granted, or forsaking them for being too loyal or set in their ways, are both risky approaches for marketers.”

Unemployment ugliness

Some news that hurts is found in “Identifying Those at Greater Risk of Long-Term Unemployment”  by the Urban Institute.  “Older workers, women, and those with more education are less likely to become unemployed than other workers but, once they become unemployed, they are disproportionately more likely to experience long-term unemployment.

“In addition, older workers, women, and unmarried adults without children have made up increasingly larger shares of the long-term unemployed since the recession’s end.”

The recession created a situation in which unemployment benefits have been paid for longer periods of time.  Some are concerned that those who may not be needy are getting more than they should.

In “Receipt of Unemployment Insurance by Higher-Income Unemployed Workers (“Millionaires”)”  by the Congressional Research Service, we discover about .02% “of tax filers receiving unemployment benefit income had [adjusted gross income] of $1 million or more in tax year 2009.”

Edgar Allen Poe said, “It may well be doubted whether human ingenuity can construct an enigma…which human ingenuity may not, by proper application, resolve.”

But, we know the financial services industry is competitive.  Consumers don’t have the time or inclination to solve riddles, decipher cryptic messages, or unwrap enigmas.

Why not let your members focus on the credit union difference that you make obvious?  Don’t assume they will “figure it out” on their own.

There will be no mystery in the resulting loyalty.

LORA BRAY is a research librarian in CUNA's business-to-business publishing department.

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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