Take Hoop Jumping Out of Your Strategy

Take Hoop Jumping Out of Your Strategy

This post contributed by Colleen Cormier, Account Executive with On The Mark Strategies.

I had the roof replaced on my house recently, and it was an experience. The roofing company was great. It was my mortgage company that had me jumping through hoops. I needed them to sign a check from our insurance company that was made payable to myself, my husband and the mortgage company. The easy process they promised over the phone turned out to be anything but easy. In fact, they lied to me on the phone, which resulted in several wasted trips to the branch. It was not their finest hour.

The customer or member experience is one of the most critical tools to providing excellent service. It’s so important that it should be an integral part of every financial institution’s strategy. That doesn’t just mean offering an experience. It means understanding the experience from the customer or member’s perspective. Here are three ways to ensure your customers or members are not jumping through hoops to do business with your financial institution.

Have employees beta test your digital services. When we conduct marketing audits for our clients, we test mobile apps and other online tools whenever possible, and we view websites from several different devices and screen sizes. That is the bare minimum you should be doing to ensure efficient and convenient service. Have a group employees test your online loan applications, mobile apps, online banking service and other digital offerings and get their suggestions on how these services can be improved.

Mystery shop your own branches. Digital offerings are only one piece of the puzzle. The way your employees treat consumers and the ease of your processes is equally important. Ask loyal members to mystery shop your branches. Have them open a new account, apply for a loan or just inquire about a product or service they don’t already have. Give them specific verbal cues and behaviors to look for, as well as ease and number of steps in a process.

Shop the same services at other financial institutions. Have you heard that saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know?” If you have employees who have worked at your financial institution a good while, there’s a big possibility you are their primary financial institution. They may not even have another bank or credit union. From an employer standpoint, that’s great. From an experience standpoint, it limits their point of reference to what your competition may be doing better. Pay them to mystery shop the competition. Again, have them apply for loans, open new accounts and test digital services, and report back on how the experience compares to the experience at your financial institution.

Sometimes financial institutions get so focused on streamlining processes for the back office that they forget the effect it has on the customer or member experience. Test your processes and overall service to ensure you are not making your consumers jump through hoops.

Finding Relevance: Netflix and Your Financial Institution

Finding Relevance: Netflix and Your Financial Institution

This article written by Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director with On The Mark Strategies

I was an early adopter of the Netflix platform years ago when it was solely a direct mail DVD subscription-based company. However, over time and due to (what I considered) a lack of interesting titles, I canceled my subscription.

Fast-forward a decade and I now find myself once again a Netflix customer. However, this time it is to take advantage of their huge library of streaming online content. Add Hulu to the mix and I had a compelling question jump out at me when I sat down to pay my most recent cable bill.

Why in the world do I need cable?

I actually called the cable company and asked the same question. In many ways, this is similar to a question we ask banks and credit unions during the mystery shop process of marketing auditsWhy should I do business with you? What’s the compelling reason to bring my business here? Why should you matter to me as a consumer?

The cable company representative was as taken aback by my question as most bank and credit union professionals are when I pose it to them during a mystery shop. She really didn’t have a good response. That’s one of the reasons why I will more than likely drop traditional cable in the next month or so.

Banks and credit unions face the same dilemma in many ways. The financial landscape is not what it was ten years ago. A host of upstart nontraditional financial institutions have entered the landscape. Crowd-sourced lending is now an option many consumers seek before even checking their local bank or credit union rates.

The lesson here? Banks and credit unions must constantly search for reasons and ways to remain relevant to modern consumers. If you don’t offer what consumers desire, there’s plenty of competition out there that does.

While the quest for relevancy involves many factors in a constantly-evolving technological landscape, there are several things on which your bank or credit union can focus. First, you must be simple with which to do business; as simple as your favorite retailers, like Amazon, Apple or Zappos. If you’re not, consumers can easily find someone who is. Second, you must demonstrate your relevancy to younger consumers, particularly Millennials. Millennials need a reason not just to need you but also like you. What are you doing in your community and are you telling your story? A great example here is AmeriCU CU in upstate New York and their military member outreach as part of the Mountainfest concert series. Lastly, you must keep consumers at the center of every decision you make. Before taking on a new strategic planning initiative, training program or brand plan, ask yourself — will this benefit our consumers and how?

Banks and credit unions face the same uphill climb as any other retailer when it comes to maintaining relevancy in the eyes of consumers. Take a look at the struggles that slammed once-popular retailers like Blockbuster Video, Radio Shack and The Limited. However, by focusing on simplicity, cultivating fans amongst younger generations of consumers and focused decision-making, they greatly improve their chances of success.

Cigars and Your Financial Institution Brand

Cigars and Your Financial Institution Brand

This article written by Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director with On The Mark Strategies

Consider the following scenario — you are a small “boutique type” brand up against fierce local and digital competition and in a seemingly constant battle with federal government over-regulation at the hands of a specific agency.

Sound like your bank or credit union? In a lot of ways, it probably does. However, this scenario also aptly describes the conditions a small upstart cigar brand faces as detailed in a recent issue of Cigars and Spirits.

Far too often banks and credit unions think only in terms of financial institutions, so taking a look at an outside example offers invaluable insight and expertise. In this particular article, a cigar company executive described the challenge his brand faces in a way quite familiar to most banking credit union professionals: “I knew that … this storytelling construct was a perfect fit for what we wanted to accomplish with our brand — an iconic narrative that would stand the test of time.”

This lesson is directly applicable to banks and credit unions. We, too, face an oversaturated market full of traditional and non-traditional competitors (think online startup financial institutions like Simple Bank or Ally). We, too must establish iconic brand narratives that tell the stories of our financial institutions and give consumers a reason to stick with us.

The question becomes — how?

The cigar example gives additional terrific “outside the financial institution box” direction. If you have ever walked into a well-stocked cigar humidor, you know the feeling. It can be overwhelming. Hundreds of different brands offering thousands of different shapes, sizes, flavors and textures. Successful cigar brands find their niche, establish an iconic narrative that tells the story of their brand and rely heavily on consumer word-of-mouth and testimonial in order to thrive and survive.

Your bank or credit union brand can learn from this example. You must first accept the fact that you cannot be all things to all people. Any financial institution that tries this approach to branding will only succeed in being mediocre. Find your niche, what you do well and your best target audience and stick to that formula. Develop your own iconic narrative that is true to who you are and what you offer consumers. And strive to develop vibrant positive word-of-mouth testimonials from consumers that they in turn share with family and friends.

While it may seem a stretch comparison at first, the world of boutique cigars and banks and credit unions are very similar when it comes to branding. By taking a closer look at this outside-the-industry example, bank and credit union professionals can learn a valuable lesson.

Success is a Strategic Trap

Success is a Strategic Trap

We all want success. Success in our personal and professional lives. Success with our goals and resolutions. Success for our kids and our families.

And when it comes to leading our credit unions and banks we also want success. Success with those loan promotions. Success with our new (and well established) branches. Success with those new hires. And probably most of all, success with our strategic and marketing plans.

However, while we certainly want to achieve success we must also recognize that success is a trap—especially a strategic trap.

How so? Consider the examples from brands like Sears, Radio Shack and even most recently with their store closings Macy’s. At one point or another in their executive management team meetings and strategic planning sessions they were probably all applauding their success. “Look at our gross sales numbers,” “we’re crushing the competition,” and “we’re the leaders in our industry” were all statements that were probably uttered. And now where are those once iconic brands: either dead or dying.

The reality is many organizations fail because they become complacent (or even worse: stale). It’s the success trap.

When conducting strategic planning sessions for successful, growing and large credit unions or banks we often remind them to celebrate success but to mindful of it.

If you are enjoying record growth, remember to do two things:

  • Analyze your success—Do a deep dive into why things are going so well. Run the numbers, talk to your people, and get as thorough an understanding as possible about the “why.” Then make a list of principles you can use moving forward.
  • Adjust your success—Even when things are going well, look for ways to make changes. As the old saying goes, “the only thing constant is change.” You should always be looking for improvement, whether it is through processes, technologies, or new ideas. In other words, become a student of success.

The greatest danger in your success is actually your own success.

Strategy Means Pruning

Strategy Means Pruning

When it comes to your marketing, we’ve written about cutting the copy. For your strategy, however, you need to cut the priorities. In most planning sessions credit unions and banks add tasks, strategic initiatives, timelines, and tons of data.

How often do we actually cut things in our strategic planning sessions? Probably not enough. The reality is, true strategy means pruning.

Try answering this question at your next management team or board meeting, “What do we want to be the best at?” As noted in the Myth of Excellence, you can’t be great at everything. So stop trying. You have to choose your priorities. And that requires a great deal of strategic pruning.

Here are some tips when it comes to those strategic trim downs:

  • Prune, prune and prune some more until you get down to three or four strategic initiatives (with three being ideal).
  • When you cut don’t cheat: don’t combine two priorities into one or don’t put a bunch of sub priorities under one larger heading.
  • Cut to the core essence and priorities you are currently facing.
  • Communicate your priorities to your staff (don’t let them become overburdened with an overwhelming plan).

Some examples of what your credit union or bank could prune down to include a certain product (make acquiring car loans or checking accounts your top priority). Or maybe your focus is your people (knowing that if you invest in developing your people, you’ll get great results). Perhaps it’s teaching your employees how to engage with rather than sell to consumers.

The point is to determine that one thing that if you could only accomplish it during the next planning cycle, everything else would fall into place (a concept from the book The One Thing; a great read, by the way).

The most successful organizations focus. They prune. So rather than ask, “what are we going to put into our strategic plan this year?” ask “what are we going to remove from our strategic plan?”