Would You Like Some Catsup? A Journey in Customer Service Excellence


I’ve never really been the outdoorsy type, I consider myself to be more of a city girl. All the same, spending time in nature helps me feel happier, healthier, and more connected. And so, every once in a while, I like to escape the hustle and bustle of the city with my husband and hit the trails.

Recently, we felt such a need to get away from the city, but we couldn’t decide on a destination. As an organizer, someone who needs to have a plan for everything, I was stumped. But my husband, a man who lives for jumping in the car and driving without direction, was thrilled. With no plan in hand and a compass pointing south, I decided to trust my husband’s sense of adventure. Having read about the moonbow at Cumberland Falls, we decided this sounded like an interesting destination, and set off for Kentucky.

While the drive was much longer than we had anticipated, the trip was both picturesque and restful. We ended the week with a last trip to the falls and set out to begin our quest back home. Unbeknownst to us, this is when the real adventure would begin.

A poor choice of pit stop

Like a moth to a flame, my husband can be easily drawn in. If he sees something that intrigues him, it is likely that he will make a quick turn to check it out. We’ve seen many cars, local museums, and scenic overlooks this way. But on this particular day, it was a burger joint.

Annoyed by his amusement, but hungry enough to eat anything, I went in. Still in vacation mode, I expected to enter and be greeted with the warm southern charm I had experienced in Cumberland Falls. Boy was I surprised when I wasn’t greeted at all. No eye contact was made, and the staff seemed as though they were trained to grunt at each other instead of having any type of conversation necessary to fulfill customer orders.

With a whisper, the front-line staff member asked me for my order. When she spoke, everyone looked at each other wondering exactly what she said. Thinking I may have missed something important, I asked the staff member to repeat. Still not understanding, I decided that it was likely she was asking for my order, therefore I proceeded by politely ordering my food, my husband following. No words were spoken as he handed her our debit card. We slid over to wait for our food and allow the next person the experience of thinking they were losing their hearing.

Hunger getting the best of me, I began to get excited when I saw the next employee approach with our food. With no words, the bag fell to the counter and she shouts, “You want some catsup?” The contrast startled me, and I may have even jumped a little bit. My husband affirmed his desire for “catsup,” and I asked about our receipt of purchase. I was directed by finger point to a receipt printer. I retrieved my receipt, and after a chuckle, we went on our way, officially out of vacation mode and back to the distractions of everyday life.

Standards of customer service

Still far from home, I began to bring my mind back to the everyday life waiting for me in Grand Rapids. I thought about what would happen if the member service representative at my credit union did not make eye contact. How would I feel if I was not greeted warmly or asked how I could best be served? What do I expect from my credit union and my experience with them?

Service standards are important for members, potential members, employees, and businesses. Imagine the kind, warm, southern charm as a standard of service for your staff. An authentic greeting, eye contact, and a sense of establishing a rapport. These things, when made a priority and executed consistently, help to define what a member can expect. Employees develop a sense of responsibility to communicate your brand.

Providing a good experience can help you increase your members’ desire to frequent and invest in your credit union, and generate positive word-of mouth that is equivalent to establishing a good reputation in your community. Imagine what you would think if you completed a financial transaction with little or no audible contact with the person serving you. Would you want to return? Risk obtaining a loan? Invest in long term deposit products like certificates?

The value of brick and mortar

Brick and mortar branches remain relevant for credit unions. In a study performed in April 2019, statistics showed that members age 18-24 performed 67,996 teller transactions. The number slightly increases to 70,045 for members age 25-29. For members age 31-39 the analysis reflects a significant jump to 120,541 transactions, and for members age 42-55, another significant increase to 222,242 transactions, with a slow decline to 203,678 transactions for members age 59 and up.

In traditional retail space, experts forecast that while brick and mortar stores will not disappear, their formats may change, becoming showrooms where consumers will have to pay a premium for the immediacy of acquiring a product. While this forecast is becoming relevant to the everyday shopping experience, credit unions may have a different perspective. Perhaps brick and mortar stores will be warehouses for strategic staffing solutions such as contact centers, ITMs, or other remote resource centers. Credit unions must make brick and mortar experiences a part of every strategic plan and include the member experience as a vital part of making that plan successful.

Final thoughts

Excellence in service is my passion. As a 28-year veteran of the credit union industry, I have seen the impact of good member relationships. I have seen the devastating results when good intentions go bad. I understand exactly how important credit unions are to society and for those we serve. Any day where I am presented with opportunities to help credit unions design strategic approaches in member service is an excellent day.

Reflecting on my vacation experiences at the burger joint, I am mindful of just how important it is to have constant conversations that spark curiosity and innovation in this important area. Is member service a part of your strategic plan? How do you leverage your brick and mortar experiences to strengthen your position in the marketplace? What are the ways your members are responding to your approach? Let me know in the comments below.


  • Julie Gessner

    A 17-year veteran of CU*Answers, Julie has dedicated her career to advocating for financial services that benefit credit unions and their members. At CU*Answers, Julie leads business development and marketing initiatives in support of a variety of management service offerings. Julie spends her days working with credit union executives and managers to establish strategies that maximize the opportunity to succeed in both credit union operations and member service.

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