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.
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.
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?”
As we close the books on 2016 and enter the New Year, strategy is probably top of mind for most financial institutions. Credit unions and banks are either reviewing plans they made in the Fall for 2017 or they are busy preparing for a first-half of the year strategic planning session.
Plans, however, will remain just that—plans. Unless you are intentional. Goals are not accomplished by osmosis.
Strategy is no different than those of us that are embarking on diets, starting to exercise or eating healthier as part of our New Year’s Resolutions. All the good intentions we have will only last a few weeks (if not just days) unless we intentionally commit to achieve our goals.
So what can you do to take initiative with your strategy? Here are four ideas:
- Review your plan regularly—All too often once the strategic plan is written and documented we put it on a shelf and never look at it until the next planning cycle or until the examiners show up in the office. How often should you review your plan? At least a monthly deep dive with the executive management team. Successful C-Suite executives review their top line strategic objectives weekly or even daily (to help them make sure their financial institution is focused on the right things).
- Share your plan with your staff—No matter what your strategic goals are, you’re not the one who is going to accomplish and implement them. Your staff is. Everyone—including the tellers and front-line staff—should know what your bank or credit union’s strategy is. Share the love. Help them see the connection between their day to day job duties and your organization’s goals. You can share the plan in an all-staff function, in department meetings, via e-mail, with one-page summaries, in person, one-on-one, or group settings. Just make sure everyone knows what you are trying to accomplish (and why).
- Update your plan as necessary—There is no such thing as the perfect strategic plan. All plans will need adjustments as you go through the calendar year. One tip is to schedule an actual mid-year update planning session where you go line item by line item, updating any issue that needs it. Maybe an unforeseen expense arises, perhaps the economy tanks, or you lose/gain a key employee. You can’t predict the future but you can adjust to changing trends in the marketplace.
- Get outside accountability with your plan—One thing we offer our strategic planning clients is six months worth of support provided after the session. Why? Because much of successful implementation involves accountability and help. These can take the form of regular phone calls, on-site updates, webex, etc. You don’t have to use your facilitator for accountability. You could even partner with another financial institution in another part of the country, sharing each other’s plans and giving regular updates on their progress (good and bad).
As we tell all our clients, strategic planning is a process, not a date on the calendar. And part of that process includes taking initiative with those plans and not just putting your planning document in a binder.
In a recent post we talked about Four Branding Myths. While we referenced Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster and Elvis, we also “myth busted” a few common assumptions when it comes to branding.
The same holds true for strategic planning. There are many myths, half-truths and false assumptions when it comes doing strategic planning. It’s critical that executives don’t fall for these planning folk tales.
And just like the Myth Busters had to set us straight about whether or not wind alone can blow the feathers off a chicken, it’s time to bust a few myths when it comes to strategic planning.
Here are four strategic planning myths:
- Strategic planning is a date on a calendar—When asked “when do you do strategic planning” the answer should be “always.” There are times of the year when you are more focused on long-term issues. However, successful credit unions and banks do planning all year long. The reality is strategic planning is a process, not a date on the calendar.
- Strategic planning is something we can do ourselves—When I was an executive at a large financial institution there were years when we would do strategic planning internally and not use an outside facilitator. Even though we had a seasoned executive team, the sessions we used an external facilitator were a million times better than when we didn’t. There is just something magical about having an outsider guide your discussions. The reality is strategic planning requires outside help.
- Strategic planning is about numbers—If you are spending more than 30 minutes reviewing your financial performance as part of your planning process, then you are diving way too much into analysis than strategy. As Ray Davis, author of Leading For Growth and CEO of Umpqua Bank says, “You cannot grow your business if all you are doing is worrying about the numbers.” The reality is strategic planning is not a review of your financial statements.
- Strategic planning is just a SWOT exercise—The classic “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats” exercise is THE most overused tool when conducting strategic planning. In fact, we encourage our clients to throw out the SWOT. Use other tools such as our trademarked Five Star Credit Union Analysis, the Myth of Excellence or anything that is fresh and new. The reality is strategic planning is boring unless you bring new tools to the process.
Obviously, there are key aspects to strategic planning that are set dates, that you do yourself, that involve numbers and that look at your SWOT. However, to believe those steps or those parts are the keys to strategic planning is to believe in a strategic planning myth.
“Those who succeed were—at one point or another in their lives—willing to put themselves in situations that were uncomfortable , whereas the unsuccessful seek comfort from all their decisions.”
—Grant Cardone, The 10X Rule, as quoted in Content, Inc.
After your strategic planning session ends, how comfortable are you? If you’ve really stretched yourself and forged a bold vision for the next several years you should feel a little uncomfortable. Why? Because as John Maxwell once said, “Discomfort is a sign of growth.”
But too many times in our planning sessions we don’t push our credit unions or banks. Not really. We fall back into comfort zones. Strategies we know. Action plans we can accomplish. Deadlines we can meet.
We make easy choices rather than hard decisions. We push those “elephant in the room” discussions to the following year. We leave things unsaid. We don’t tackle the really challenging issues that are holding back our organization.
However, to truly succeed you need to make uncomfortable decisions part of your strategy.
Here are some difficult things you might need to consider:
- Spending more money. It’s all about the bottom line. But what if there are seasons when your credit union or bank needs to make an investment in a project that won’t necessarily yield a return this quarter? For example, you might need to spend more in technology to meet consumers’ demands or increase the marketing budget so you can develop a better brand. It might make you uncomfortable, but you might need to spend more money.
- Removing complacent employees. There are some people you’ve carried longer than their mother carried them when they were in the womb. You know who I’m talking about: those employees who are not buying into your organization but you keep just to have a body or someone to do the job. We tend to hire fast and fire slow. However, it should be the other way around: we should hire slow and fire fast. It might make you uncomfortable, but you might need to fire some employees.
- Changing ineffective board. Now we’re stepping on toes. Some boards have people on them they just shouldn’t. The “obnoxious, dominating” board member. The “disagrees with everything” board member. The “totally not engaged” board member. If you are honest with yourself, you know those individuals are holding back your credit union or bank. It might make you uncomfortable, but you might need to shake up your board.
- Closing underperforming branches. Branches can totally drain your profitability. Especially ones that don’t perform up to expectations. While it’s certainly important to give plenty of time to see if your locations will produce, you must be careful not to hold onto them forever. Branch accounting and analysis are must-haves in any credit union or bank. We like to add, but sometimes we need to cut. It might make you uncomfortable, but you might need to close a few locations.
A ship is safe in a harbor. But ships were not built for harbors. If you don’t make uncomfortable decisions at your credit union or bank then you are keeping your strategic ship in a harbor.