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Yes, We Offer That. Um, No, I Don't Actually Use It

I was in a restaurant one night recently when one of the other people at the table had a question about the menu.

Fortunately, this was not one of those annoying, all-of-us-at-the-table-apologize-in-advance-for-our-friend, whom-we-don't-really-even-know-that-well people, with a bizarre request for more details on just how "free" the free-range chicken was, or whether the lettuce was harvested by workers with comfortable shoes, a kind boss and a retirement plan.

You know, basically the kind of person who seems to forget that not just his meal will be prepared out of our sight by people we shouldn't anger, but our meals, as well.

No, thankfully this was a straightforward inquiry about an item listed right there under the entrees. And then the waiter did something that often happens in "service" industries; he basically gave the impression it was the first time he had ever heard of the item, if not the entire menu itself. He slid his pen back into his pocket, and bent over a bit and squinted to get a better look at this apparently heretofore undisclosed offering from the kitchen. "Umm, I'll have to go ask about that," he finally mumbled.

This kind of experience is hardly unique to the restaurant business. We've all visited electronics stores where the salesperson tries to answer our question by reading-and for what seems to be the first time-from the same back-of-the-box info we were just looking at. And who are the worst people to ask about attractions in a city you plan to visit? Usually, it's the people who live there.

So what about your credit union? It's your tellers and MSRs in the branches and the phone center folks tucked away somewhere who are the waiters and sales clerks of your operation. What happens when they're asked a question? Especially when they're asked about something related to technology?

Case in point is a new study by Javelin Strategy & Research that sought to measure the mobile banking offerings by the largest 25 banks in the country. Technology may lend itself to hard, quantifiable data such as site visits or click-through rates, but in this case, Javelin's "Mobile Banking Financial Institution Scorecard" wasn't compiled by downloading or testing banks' mobile apps. Instead, Javelin took a mystery shopper approach and reviewed the banks' websites and called customer service representatives to see how well banks promote and explain their mobile offerings.

The result? Mary Monahan, EVP and research director with Javelin, said the study discovered that it's "hard to find people in banks who know about mobile banking. We call each institution an average of four times."

That's likely two, if not three more times than the average consumer would try calling their financial institution. And if that consumer does have to call a fourth time, it may be to alert you that he or she is closing the account.

Monahan added that Javelin also found that one out of 10 of the banks it surveyed had no customer service reps with any experience in using the mobile banking app.

This issue of Credit Union Journal is one of the issues we dedicate each month to expanded technology coverage (it begins on page 11), and like just about every other tech report it includes the names of more credit unions that have rolled out mobile banking apps.

If your credit union has done so, or has a mobile app in the works, have you made sure that every employee has not just downloaded the app on their own phones, but used it? Have they shown you they are comfortable using it?

Members like to talk to employees who have more than just a clue. We all do. When they don't, well, it isn't just those birds that get angry.

• Speaking of restaurants, was dining in one in San Diego recently when I was exposed to another person who apparently is quite easy to impress.

Waiter: Hi, my name is Brandon, and I'll be serving you today.

Customer: Brandon? That's awesome!

• One interesting note in follow-up to some of the research that was done during the recent holidays. Among the variety of findings released by the National Endowment for Financial Education, there was one factoid that made clear the survey had not been conducted in Whoville: 10% said they did not anticipate having any holiday-related expenses at all.

• In case you missed it in the Jan. 9 issue of Credit Union Journal, which featured a variety of views to challenge your thinking in 2012, Salim Ismail, a former VP at Yahoo.com, had an intriguing proposal. Unlike many speakers who suck up to their audience, Ismail told credit unions he finds the entire industry "annoying," saying it suffers from a widespread "marketing failure" and unwillingness to be "hyper-local" in its respective communities.

One idea he tossed out ought to be mandatory for discussion in every credit union boardroom, if for no other reason than to watch the fidgeting begin. According to Ismail, CUs should "leapfrog the status quo" with a number of radical changes, including looking to appoint a teenager to the credit union's board of directors-perhaps the president of the local high school.

If nothing else, he or she could likely show the other board members how to use that mobile banking app.

Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at fdiekmann@cujournal.com.

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