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  • Writer's pictureFred Kelly

Why Member Service Isn’t Member Experience

Updated: Mar 16, 2021

If you have ever bought a car from a dealership, you may remember that feeling of excitement as you are handed the keys to your new vehicle. That new car smell, the cockpit lights shine at you from the dashboard. You gingerly drive out of the lot onto the open road. You head for home, eagerly pressing the accelerator pedal.

But then, just 5 minutes later a yellow warning light flashes at you. You're almost out of gas. The feeling of excitement is replaced with annoyance. $25,000 on a new car and they couldn’t give you enough gas to get home. What kind of people are they? They’d rather make an extra $30 than give me a full tank of gas. Do you feel valued as a customer? When you think of all the thought and money that the car manufacturer invested into getting you to the point where you bought one of their vehicles. Why would they drop the ball at the last moment?

Feeling Empty

When you view things in transactional terms you get transactions rather than experiences. Transactions are commoditized while experiences are unique. Financial services have long been commoditized. The only remaining differentiator is the customer experience.

Yet most companies believe they are delivering on customers’ needs. According to research by Bain & Company, when asked, 80 percent of companies say they deliver “superior experience” to their customers. Obviously, that suggests they are satisfied with what they are already doing.

The problem is that there is a perception gap. The same research revealed that only 8 percent of customers felt the companies delivered “superior experience”.

The key word here is ‘experience’. The common belief is that people buy products or services. In fact, whether they realize it or not, people buy experiences. It’s how a product or service makes you feel that influences the buying decision and the quality of the relationship necessary for repeat purchases and referrals.

Member Experience v Member Service

When member experience is mentioned in credit unions, it is sometimes confused with member service. In fact, member service is a subset of member experience.

Member service is assisting members that reach out to us for help. Need help? Dial this number or go into a branch. These are reactive processes and rely on members triggering some pain threshold to the point where they assume the cost of interrupting their day to look for help.

“Customer service is reactive. Customer experience is proactive.”

Member experience is proactive. It is built into the design of every interaction and interface a member has with us. It requires a deep understanding of the member journey and metrics to enable us to monitor and continuously improve the member experience.

Map Your Member Experience for Each Product

Auditing the Member Experience

The first step is gaining a real understanding of the member experience. For most credit unions, this remains a blind spot. Data is mostly anecdotal and gleaned from complaints reports. This is why member experience mapping is so useful. It allows you to identify each point in the member experience journey for each product and at each stage of the member lifecycle.

The process of member experience mapping itself is fairly simple. Just walk through every step your members have to go through to obtain the result they want. That may be a number of things like opening a deposit account, making a payment, getting a loan or a mortgage, having a doubt resolved, getting tax information, understanding their finances, missing a payment or making a complaint.

However, in practice this is more difficult than it sounds because it requires you to put yourself in the shoes of your member. As someone working in a credit union, you will have your own needs and wants. Many of these are the polar opposite of what your members want. For example, your member wants to open a deposit account in a single click.

You on the other hand have numerous internal requirements that impede your ability to deliver a one click experience. Compliance, IT, operations all have different needs that don’t coincide with what your members want.

I heard the story of one start up where they always left a chair empty at every meeting. That’s where the imaginary customer sat.

So for the duration of the member experience exercise you need to play the role of the member and ignore everything else. I heard the story of one start up where they always left a chair empty at every meeting. That’s where the imaginary customer sat. It was a visual reminder to focus on the customer’s need and not on internal needs.

Progress or Frustration?

Your members have two basic states: progress and frustration.

If they feel they are making sufficient progress they will be content. If they feel they are not making sufficient progress, they will become frustrated. To verify this, spend some time with people in your credit union that speak to members every day. Be sure to include them in your member experience mapping exercise. They will provide you with valuable insights you might otherwise miss.

Principles of Member Experience

Here are some useful principles when conducting member experience mapping:

  1. Don’t make members work - do the work so that your members don’t have to. Watch out for phrases such as “all the member has to do is….”. Even a click is work. The best companies obsess over eliminating the work and friction their customers experience.

  2. Don’t leave room for confusion - a confused member is a frustrated member. Many processes are designed from the credit union’s perspective. If your member has to think “what do I do now?” there’s a problem with your process. Don’t leave any room for doubt about the next step in their journey.

  3. Provide communication pressure valves - create an avenue for members to communicate with you at every step in the process in case they want immediate help in advancing to the next step. Make sure that the person they reach can actually help them with the process they are in (or at least owns the problem and finds out the answer for the member). Be wary of one-size-fits-all contact centers and telephone menus systems. If you don’t provide communication pressure valves, their frustration levels will increase. Frustrated members vent their frustrations to friends, family and social media. You want a pressure valve at every step so that you have an easy avenue for them to get help before they feel frustrated.

Make Member Experience Your Mantra

This is a philosophy worth investing in, because it is the best way for credit unions to compete. As Joey Coleman writes in his book Never Lose a Customer Again “Unlike product features, design elements, functionalities, and materials, it is very difficult (if not impossible) to “copy” another business’s customer experience, making it the ultimate differentiator between you and your competitors.”

Member experience is how credit unions thrive in the age of FinTech.

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