Give a Little Lagniappe

Give a Little Lagniappe

I learned a new French/Cajun word recently in working with one of my clients (Lafayette Schools Credit Union): lagniappe. It is the French word for “extra.” For example, if you’re cooking up some great Cajun gumbo, you might add a little lagniappe (something extra in your kitchen) to kick it up a notch.

In creating their unique member service experience, Lafayette Schools Credit Union wants their employees to offer something extra at the end of every transaction. In other words, they want to give their consumers some lagniappe.

“Our vision is that we want coming to our credit union to be like seeing an old friend,” said Connie Roy, CEO of Lafayette Schools Credit Union. “And that means doing something for them that they might not have expected.”

In other words, they are seeking to “wow” their target audiences. Is it working? So far this year, their credit union is experiencing 11% member growth. Sounds like lagniappe gets some extra results as well.

So how can you “wow” consumers at your financial institution? Consider these 10 ideas:

  • Making half of the last car loan payment for your borrower—When someone pays off their car loan they are thrilled. Make half of their payment and watch that smile on their face grow even larger.
  • Bringing flowers to a home loan closing—Buying a home is a big deal (and also filled with lots of paper work). Make the new owners proud with a nice bouquet for their kitchen table.
  • Providing small gift certificates on someone’s birthday (like a $5 Chick-Fil-A gift card)—Don’t just say “happy birthday” to them (everybody does that). Instead buy them lunch.
  • Giving dog biscuits in the drive thru—This is a classic tactic many financial institutions do. Dog owners will love you if you love their dogs.
  • Washing car windows while someone is waiting in the drive thru—Remember the old-timey full service filling stations where the attendant would pump your gas and wash your windows? While you can’t give them a full tank of gas you can wash their windows.
  • Providing cold bottled water on a hot summer day—It’s simple but it works.
  • Walking a consumer to their car with an umbrella on a rainy day—No one likes getting wet when they are running their banking errands. Go that extra mile on rainy days.
  • Offering a small piece of candy or mint after a teller transaction—Nothing puts people in better moods than sugar. That’s why they call it a sugar high.
  • Placing a phone call after the transaction to thank them for their business—Follow-up is they key to success in any business. It takes all of 20 seconds to leave a thank you voice mail yet that message can brighten someone’s day.
  • Greet consumers enthusiastically at the door—“You had me at hello,” is a famous line from the movie Jerry Maguire. Rather than saying “next” or wave the person in line over, start your welcoming process by opening the branch door for them.

Those are a few ideas of how to turn a transaction into a wow experience. What other ideas do you have?

Let’s be honest. Most people see banking as boring. Spice it up with a little lagniappe.

Get Off Your “But”

Get Off Your “But”

Michael Hyatt is one of my favorite bloggers. If you are not following him on Twitter and reading the great information he offers on his website, you should.

One of his posts from awhile back still resonates with me: How To Find Time For That Important Project. In it, Hyatt offers seven steps for getting unstuck and finding time for those important projects.

One of his tips rings particularly true when it comes to developing a strategy at your credit union or bank: “Get off your but.” Not your butt. Your but. In other words, stop making excuses. With your strategic planning process a lot of “buts” get in the way (and probably a few “butts” as well!).

Here are a few excuse cards your financial institution sometimes plays with your strategic plan:

“We could offer that technology, BUT we can’t keep up with all the changes.”

Your technology strategy should never be about keeping up with Jones National Bank. Rather you should take a deliberate approach. Determine if you are going to be an early adapter, a fast follower or a laggard. You don’t have to be the first financial institution to offer a program for the Apple Watch. While technology in the banking sector is certainly moving at a fast pace, that speed should never deter your credit union or bank. Stop using changing technology as an excuse.

“We should focus on our brand, BUT we don’t have the resources to invest in it.”

Your brand is the most valuable asset you have. If you don’t spend adequate resources developing a strategic brand plan then you are actually wasting all your other resources. If your brand is not clear, consistent and constant then any other strategic effort you undertake will more than likely fall short. Devoting resources to a wise marketing spend could be the best use of your funds. Stop using a lack of marketing resources as an excuse.

“We could implement that strategic priority, BUT we don’t want to take that kind of risk.”

Strategic planning sessions often involve a great deal of discussion around risks. Your credit union or bank chooses not to undertake a particular initiative because it’s just too risky. Financial institutions are inherently conservative. While that might be appropriate with some projects there are many instances where taking risk is the right thing to do. And keep this in mind: NOT taking a risk is the same as taking a risk. There are times when it’s time to take risks by hiring young, by making targeting a particular niche and by changing your culture. Stop using a lack of risk taking as an excuse.

“We could have a real planning session, BUT no one wants to devote the time and energy to it.”

Planning done the right way takes time, energy and effort. Some boards are bored with planning sessions. Some executive team members spend the entire session reading e-mail on their phone rather than being engaged in the room. When you commit to conducting a strategic planning session then actually commit to spending the time it takes to make it productive. If the first thing everyone is thinking when the session begins is “when is this thing over?” then your session is doomed from the beginning. Stop using a lack of engagement as an excuse.

Those are four “buts” that can expose themselves when crafting your strategic plan. Make sure those buts are covered.

What Are You Talking About at Your Planning Sessions?

What Are You Talking About at Your Planning Sessions?

In a recent Success Magazine article, Robin Sorenson, founder of Firehouse Subs, said, “All conversations were about how we presented the brand. We focused on things we were really passionate about and everything ended up working out.”

Think about that for a minute: every conversation (be it strategic or tactical) went back to the brand. As many experts will tell you, “branding is everything.”

Sorenson elaborated on their brand-centric strategy by saying “It’s really all about our culture and matching our brand.” He noted that in their line of business, competitors can duplicate many things, “but not the Firehouse brand.”

So when it comes to your strategic planning session, what are you talking about at your credit union or bank? Too much time is spent on the financials, past performance, data analysis and tactical plans. While those items certainly have their place if they become the centerpiece or dominant talking points your planning session is not focused on the right thing.

In other words, you can have many conversations during your planning session, but are they the right conversations?

Here are some ways to make sure branding becomes a central part of your planning process:

  • Ask “What is our financial institution about?”—Try answering this question is six words or less (small enough for a business card and large enough for a billboard). Look far and wide.
  • Answer “What makes us different?”—When answering this question, however, you CAN’T use words like “community,” “service,” and “people.” Those words are all over used and do not distinguish you from your competition. Dive deep and get real.
  • Conduct a pre-planning survey about branding—Survey board members, executives and front line staff about the current state of your brand. Get everyone’s feedback.
  • Make branding an agenda item—If it’s not on the list of talking points you can forget about it being discussed. Carve out time for an honest discussion.
  • Ensure marketing has a seat at the planning table—While everyone is involved in branding, marketing tends to drive the bus. If marketing is not involved in the strategic planning process then it’s likely that bus is going off a cliff.

In the planning process, your financial institution does indeed need to talk about everything (loans, service, products, long-range issues, competitor threats, positioning strategy, etc.).

However, if you are not making your brand one of your central discussion items, then you are wasting your time.

Is Your Brand Uncontainable?

Is Your Brand Uncontainable?

Every bank or credit union wants to build a successful brand. But what if you focused on building a financial institution that was “uncontainable?” You can if you read Kip Tindell’s new book Uncontainable. He just happens to be the chairman and CEO of The Container Store and in his new book he shares the secrets of how he and his team have built one of the most successful niche retail store empires.

The book’s subtitle—how passion, commitment and conscious capitalism built a business where everyone thrives—summarizes the book’s concepts pretty well. As banks and credit unions, we must think more like retailers and less like financial institutions. And following the ideas Tindell outlines in his book is a great place to start that transformation.

Much of Uncontainable is spent dissecting The Container Store’s seven Foundation PrinciplesTM . Rather than giving employees a giant policies and procedures manual, The Container Store is guided by seven key tenets. Tindell spends a chapter on each and why they are so important to driving success. Below are three of the seven and how we can apply them.

(1) One Great Person = Three Good PeopleSM

Your growth and brand all start with your people. The Container Store’s hiring philosophy is pretty simple: hire greatness and don’t settle when it comes to your people. As Tindell says, “This is the whole ballgame.” But it is not just a hiring philosophy, it is a pay structure as well. “We’re not advocates of paying mediocre people well, but we’re huge advocates of paying great people well.”

  • Application: Honestly review (and I don’t mean giving a formal evaluation) your current employees and determine if you have good or great people working for you. Determine what your own hiring philosophy is. Many banks and credit unions just want a body in the front line teller or service representative positions. Taking that approach results in mediocrity.

(2) Man in the Desert SellingSM

Selling gets a bad wrap—but not at The Container Store. Tindell eloquently illustrates the story about someone living in an oasis when a water deprived barefoot man shows up shouting “Water, water, water.” Tindell goes on to emphasize that in that scenario you wouldn’t just give the man water. You would offer him food, shelter, clothing (more than just what his immediate need was). He elaborates by saying, “The most important part of Man in the Desert Selling is getting to know the customer well enough to propose a solution.”

  • Application: Make sure your service philosophy emphasizes solution based selling. Remember, service = sales. We tend to separate the two. But in reality, if you are truly serving the consumer, you will offer products and services that make their lives better. Selling is not evil and not a bad thing—especially if you are improving lives.

(3) Intuition Does Not Come to an Unprepared Mind. You Need to Train Before it HappensSM

At The Container Store you get 40 hours of training before you ever reach the sales floor. And those first forty hours are NOT spent on system and H.R. training. Rather you learn their Foundation Principles and what The Container Store is all about. Eventually during your first year as a new employee you receive over 200 hours of training. Tindell includes some powerful quotes from Container Store employees including, “Training is more of a burden or an afterthought at most other companies. The intent in training is so strong at The Container Store it’s not like anywhere else I have ever been.” And “Training is the time to let the culture wash over you.”

Those are just three of the seven Foundation Principles. To learn the rest you’ll have to read Uncontainable, which I highly encourage you to do. Tindell’s writing style is conversational and he tells many captivating stories. My copy is filled with notes and underlines. It is also a great book for a management group to read as a team.

If you want to build your brand and grow your credit union or bank, then read Uncontainable.

Stop Wordsmithing & Start Deciding

Stop Wordsmithing & Start Deciding

Vision statements. Mission statements. Core values. Taglines.

All of the above have two things in common: first, they are just words. And secondly, financial institutions spend far too much time haggling over them to get the meaning “just right.”

Please note that by saying they are “just words” I don’t mean vision, mission and values are not important. Far from it. They are the essence of why you exist and they serve as a valuable tool to differentiate yourself from the hundreds of competitors you have. The also help guide your organization and serve as a compass.

However, in planning sessions or branding workshops boards and executive teams can fall into a few traps with these important statements. For example, watch these potential minefields:

Spending too much time on just the right words

If you are taking hours and hours to craft the perfect statement then you are missing the point. Arguing over “should we have ‘the’ or ‘a’ in this spot,” is a waste of time. Focusing on the big picture is far more important than digging in the weeds. As Rory Rowland sometimes says, you need to employ the GEPO principle, for when it’s “Good Enough, Push On.”

Putting too many words into a statement

When crafting a vision, mission or tagline groupthink can easily dominate the room. To make everyone happy and to include all parties the end result is often a long and flowing statement that means absolutely nothing. Follow the simple rule of keeping your key statements to six words or less. Check out Why Most Vision Statements Fall Short for tips on getting yours just right.

Making your statements generic

If your vision, mission and taglines include words like “community,” “people,” and “service” then you are just like every other financial institution in your area. Have you ever driven down the highway and seen a billboard that says, “Come to our bank—we HATE people and our community.” Everyone seems to love people, love the community and love serving others. Dig deep and look for ways to make your key statements differentiate, resonate and substantiate.

Forgetting it is about living your words

Honestly, it doesn’t matter what words you use when describing your brand if your employees are not living it. You need to spend more time focusing on how your staff delivers on your key statements every single day than you do what those statements actually say. Your staff’s actions trump your executive’s words.

Words do indeed matter. They mean something. And you need to invest time crafting a vision, a mission and a tagline.

However, there comes a point when you need to stop wordsmithing your statements and start deciding what you are actually going to be about and what you are going to live.