To See Ourselves as Others See Us

June 21, 2010

“O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us. To see oursels as others see us!” says the character in the Robert Burns poem, “To a Louse.” The modern English translation: “Would some Power give us the gift to see ourselves as others see us!”

In Burns’ poem, the subject finds himself at church seated directly behind a woman who’s clearly well-off, well-dressed, and smug in her superiority. As he sits, he observes a louse emerge from her bonnet, crawl across her hair, and disappear under the bonnet again.

The message is simple: The image we have of ourselves often isn’t what others see. It’s dangerous to become comfortable in the belief that what we do is better than what others do.

If you haven’t actually witnessed this phenomenon, go to any bar on karaoke night. The vast majority of participants believe they’re good singers, but they’re so very wrong!

How does this apply to credit unions? In 1968, when I first began working with credit unions, I was told repeatedly by credit unions I examined that their lack of size and limited menu of products were more than compensated for by their superior service.

Today, credit unions can offer many more products and still firmly believe they offer much better service to members than other financial institutions. In some cases, this is true. But, in most cases, there is plenty of room for improvement.

Customers are the ultimate judges of service quality. This is the case with all businesses—from restaurants to department stores to financial institutions. Lately, I’ve received numerous follow-up requests from businesses to determine my level of satisfaction. I know these efforts to get my feedback make it more likely that I’ll do business with them again.

So take stock. Do you:

• Ask your members to evaluate your service?

• Look at your products, prices, delivery mechanisms, lobby traffic, communications, and office hours from their perspective?

• Conduct satisfaction surveys?

• Use secret shoppers?

The most important factors in achieving high levels of service and, subsequently, member satisfaction and accompanying loyalty are:

 Obtaining a real commitment from your credit union’s board and management team to deliver the best service possible;

• Communicating that service commitment to credit union staff;

• Providing ongoing staff training; and

• Holding everyone accountable for achieving excellent service.

Member satisfaction can be measured. A baseline, professionally designed member-satisfaction survey is a good first step, followed by subsequent annual or biannual surveys.

Making member satisfaction one of management’s performance goals also makes a big difference. Occasionally observing members as they transact their business and talking with them can be very helpful.

Credit unions obtaining regular member feedback and investing in training reap great rewards.

Training your staff to deal with members can lead to a significant payback. Employees trained to talk with members, fulfill their requests, determine their needs, and then sell to meet those needs create a high level of member satisfaction and new revenue as a byproduct.

The process is simple:

• Make your commitment to service a top priority.

• Analyze service quality. See yourself as others see you.

 Give staff the skills, incentives, and tools they need to provide superior service.

Hold everyone acountable for service quality.

 Measure performance by regularly assessing member satisfaction.

If you make the commitment and stay the course, member satisfaction will rise, use of your products will increase, staff will be happier in this environment, and credit union revenues will grow.

And, no one will think you are lousy!

JOHN FRANKLIN is executive vice president and chief operating officer for the Credit Union National Association in Madison, Wis. Contact him at 608-231-4266.