Last year, the gym down the road from my house was offering a two-week trial period for an insanely low cost. Even though the price of that two-week period was much higher than my current $10-a-month membership to the nearest Planet Fitness, the extra fees came with the promise of better, more individualized service.
You see, this gym had built a brand that centered around creating a personal connection. Before you could sign up, you were required to fill out multiple surveys about your needs and goals so you could then be matched with an employee whose job it was to keep in contact with you, motivate you, give you feedback, and ultimately, help you reach those goals.
Everything seemed great at first. The people seemed friendly and I had already received contact from my coach. However, after only attending one class, I became really sick and ended up missing the rest of the trial period. When I got my next email from my wellness coach, I was sure she was going to remark on my absences or offer some motivation—as I had specifically mentioned in all my personalization surveys that I often lacked motivation.
Instead, the email was full of false praise, telling me how I’d been “killing it” in “all the classes” I was attending (but actually wasn’t) and how much improvement she had noticed from me. She ended the email by telling me it would be a waste to give up “all my hard work” and encouraged me to enroll in the full program instead of the trial (for heaps of money, I might add).
I felt hoodwinked. After being drawn in under the guise of personal connections, I realized they were a corporate brand like any other. My “coach” had no idea who I was and just assumed I was taking classes regularly. She had made up my “improvement” and her feedback. Meanwhile, I had actually been laid up in bed sick.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t sign up for the full membership.
Authenticity is key
So what’s the takeaway here? In the current age of self-service and digitization, businesses are eagerly searching for ways to deliver a personal touch that sets them apart. Banks and credit unions operate in the same way. If banks are the faceless cooperation in this story, then credit unions are the small, local option that promises a community connection.
But we have to be careful in branding ourselves as such, not to fall into the same traps that the local gym did: overpromising on personalization as a marketing strategy, floundering it, and revealing that marketed sincerity to be false, all while trying to sell more products. In the end, that will only hurt your brand.
We need to be genuine in our care for our members and our desire to see them succeed. You might be rolling your eyes and thinking, “well, duh,” but trust me, there are many credit unions that have allowed connecting with members to fall to the side as they focus on growth. The credit union may not even notice they have done so as they send out waves of mass-generated marketing emails.
Especially as ITMs and self-service grow in popularity while teller lines become less common, credit unions need to work harder than before to maintain that contact. Even if your member base prefers to conduct transactions on their own, that does not free credit unions from their obligation to be invested in each of their members individually.
How to connect personally
Now, this doesn’t mean you need to learn the name of every single member that belongs to your credit union, that’s probably impossible. But it does mean you should be searching for authentic and personal ways to connect with your membership.
In her article, “The Tale of Two Credit Unions: One Member’s Experience in 2020,” Dawn Moore remarks on two separate credit unions she belongs to and the different approaches they took in reaching out. One was very limited in its outreach. It offered little contact beyond mass-generated marketing emails.
The other, however, took the time to contact members individually on a number of occasions. Moore received a personal phone call from the new branch manager when he was hired, introducing himself and letting them know he was always available. That same year, Moore found a handwritten letter in her mailbox from the credit union, signed by all branch employees, thanking her for being a member.
“A year later, I am writing to you about this experience,” said Moore, “Translation: Those things made an impression that stuck!”
Now consider that credit union in comparison to the first one Moore mentioned. At the end of the day, which credit union would you want to belong to? And which do you think will get the better recommendations? You may not have the time to write or call all of your members, but there are certainly ways to bring a more personal touch to your credit union.
For example, if someone joins your credit union digitally, take the time to have an employee send an email to said member. Have a teller or the manager of a nearby branch introduce themselves and let them know you’re available if they need anything. You can also update them on services you might offer such as educational webinars or meetings with financial wellness coaches.
Even if your branch is mostly made of ITMs, you should still ensure there is a friendly face nearby ready to help or answer any questions a member might have. Try to remember the names of the regulars who come in as well. And while I haven’t put mass-generated emails in a great light here, you don’t need to stay away from them entirely. Try where you can to personalize them, even if it’s to market a new product they might be interested in. A few small steps can go a long way.
Not everything needs to be a marketing opportunity
The last thought I’ll leave you with is this: not everything needs to be a marketing opportunity. Sure, maybe a few goodwill gestures here and there on your social media would do the job for you, but it’s okay to let some things pass by without capitalizing on marketing potential.
Now, this may seem counterintuitive. After all, isn’t the purpose of connecting personally to help you grow? Yes and no. No, because our first goal as credit unions should always be to first help our members. We should be doing so because it is a central part of who we are, not because of what we can gain from it. But realistically, yes, credit unions need to retain members and grow. But forgoing a marketing opportunity can have its own benefits.
Imagine helping an older woman cross the street and then asking her to pose for a selfie for your Twitter, so you can share your good deeds. Sure, you may get a few likes and friendly responses, but it can definitely taint the authenticity of the act. Did you do it because you saw someone who needed help? Or because you were hoping to score a few points?
Sometimes, it’s better to let the action speak for itself. Trust that the member you helped and those who noticed will sing your praises and spread positive word of mouth. After all, referrals are still one of the best ways to gain new members. Not using these charitable moments or good deeds as content for your next social media post can make your gesture all the more sincere, and when people feel your credit union is sincere, they are more likely to join or recommend it to others.
Concern for community
Digital banking and self-service have made it easy for a credit union’s relationship with its members to become non-existent or transactional at best. But it needs to be more than that. After all, credit unions are not meant to be simply a faceless financial institutions, we are meant to be a central part of our communities and have a genuine care for our members’ success.
It can be tricky to balance technology and connection, as they seem to work against each other, but there are ways it can be done. Don’t let your credit union fall into the habit of faking care for the sake of marketing. Let it be an authentic motivator for your credit union, or it will only come back to bite you in the end.