Reaching ‘Generation Text’: Interactive Self-Service Is A Must

Ask any credit union employee what makes his or her institution different, and chances are, the answer will be “personal service,” or “We know our members by name,” or “We’ve taken care of members, their children and grandchildren for decades,” or “We’re part of the community and part of their families.”

Now, take a look at the future, as the next generation of prospective members emerges. Everything about this demographic is different. They make friends online, communicate via text message and blog, at will, with an anonymous world of cyber-philosophers. How can a credit union connect with this connected generation? It starts by moving member services beyond the branch.

At its inception, the online, self-serve solution was looked upon as a stand-alone channel–something a credit union had to have to compete, but nothing more. To be successful in a highly mobile, constantly connected marketplace, credit unions must make their online channels an integrated part of their overall service offerings, a critical member touch-point that is as vital in building relationships as a teller interaction. In short, offer the experience–and make the experience count.

Don’t limit your members with a static website that simply lets them check balances. Enable them to pay bills, apply for loans and open new accounts electronically, not just from their PCs and desktops, but from their mobile phones. If they have a question, let them ask it via e-mail. Better yet, offer a live, online chat with a friendly teller who resolves their issues on the spot–one who can suggest additional products and services in the process. Allow your members to set up alerts they can receive by text message, right to their phones, advising them about everything from low-balance thresholds to unusual account activity. Empower them to respond in real-time, too. That means supporting online funds transfers, account freezes and other transactions that enable your members to rectify the situations on the spot.

A good online experience gives your members what they need. A GREAT online experience provides conveniences they didn’t expect. Add GPS features that enable your members to find the nearest ATM or branch, based on their location, and get driving directions there. Offer video-on-demand or podcasts on the difference among investment products–or how to save for that first home. Start a chat on negotiating the best price for a car–or how to calculate monthly payments. Then, make it easy for your members to get pre-approved for a loan or to ask a question through Instant Messaging.

The goal is to create your own online community, a cyber-branch of sorts, where you are the trusted adviser, providing relevant information and the instant gratification this audience seeks.

But don’t build your community in a vacuum. Get feedback through brief, online surveys, not only to evaluate what you’re offering but to identify what your connected members would like to see. Consider a president’s blog, one that talks about changes in the economy, a specific action by the Fed or other topical issues as they occur. The most important thing? Keep it real–speak in plain English, not credit union lingo–and you’ll get the results you want.

The online channel is also fertile ground for personalized, cross-selling opportunities. Have you ever purchased a book online? After you’ve made your selection, you’re presented with two or three other options that were chosen for you, based on your initial purchase. Using CRM tools to segment your market or predict member behavior, you can do the same thing and present your members with offers and information tailored to their anticipated needs. You’ll save your members’ time, deepen the relationship and increase sales at the same time.

Keep Your CU On The Cutting Edge

Make sure you have a core system with the open architecture to support integration, so you can keep your credit union on the cutting edge. One credit union in Pennsylvania is differentiating itself by offering members the opportunity to deposit checks online, a feature not offered by any other institution in the area. It was able to go to market quickly because the core system easily integrated with the application.

In addition to offering the online resources that the emerging generation demands, make your presence known. Open a branch at a local high school or college–and employ students to run the facility. Not only are you teaching a new generation about the credit union industry and principles, but you are creating a built-in marketing department. The same personal relationships that make credit unions strong in the community will drive deposits in a scholastic environment. If their friends work at your campus branch, other students will do business there, and you can start building member relationships that could last a lifetime.

So, how can an industry that thrives on personal interaction reach “generation text?” By integrating online and mobile banking channels, thinking creatively and delivering high service levels to a new type of member in a brand new way. That’s a strategy that will continue to pay off for generations to come.

David McConney oversees daily operations for the Credit Union Core Systems business of Harland Financial Solutions. He can be reached at david.mcconney<at>harlandfs.com. (c) 2008 The Credit Union Journal and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved. http://www.cujournal.com http://www.sourcemedia.com