I'll admit it. I was surprised. The message - "Don't cut research" - didn't come from marketing. It didn't come from any research-affiliated department. It came from operations.
Let me back up. The billion-dollar credit union was losing money. Management decided to ask staff for input. After all, when it comes to spotting waste, cutting costs and/or identifying process inefficiencies, who would know better than those actually implementing policy? The credit union wanted a third-party to facilitate the conversation, to bring candor, openness, and the ability to probe without judgment.
Through survey responses and focus groups, the ideas poured in. Automation ideas. Meeting efficiencies. Headquarters relocation. Webinars instead of onsite training to save travel costs and branch down time. Flex staffing with part-timers. Department consolidation. Reductions in benefits. Even salary cuts to save jobs. And on and on. (CU associates can be some of the most generous, self-sacrificing people around.) Ideas came forth. Team members knew it would take a team effort, and everyone agreed the pain should be shared. In fact, except for the rare, "Hey, that's my area!" retort, never was an idea challenged and rebuffed head on. Except once. The item? Member transaction study research.
To be fair, no one suggested cutting essential processes like lending, collections, or deposit-taking, though they did offer process-improvement ideas. What's striking, however, was that research was placed, by staff, in the same "essential" bucket. Staff said: "Member service is our only differentiator against the banks," and "The research keeps our staff on their toes."
If we cut the research, how will we know?
Too many members today still see CUs as only slightly different than banks. Yet the movement's very survival demands real distinction. (As the old adage says, if you're not distinct, you may soon be extinct.) Typically, such differentiation can most effectively be produced in the member experience. Research is the tool to monitor and improve the member experience. As the staff said, "Don't cut research." Research is an essential tool for success.
Neil Goldman is Senior Partner with Member Research. He can be reached at (949) 756-0206 or at email@example.com.