Don't Let Online Self-Service Tools Take Away From Member Interaction

Online convenience and ease of application: all of us in the financial industry know these benefits are keys to success with today's tech-savvy consumers. But as credit unions search for sticky services that will meet needs and deepen member relationships, it becomes clear that some products lend themselves to online use better than others.

For instance, consider self-service quoting tools. They are designed to make it easy for consumers to compare products and services without making multiple phone calls or shuffling through reams of paper forms. Online applications for quoting products such as GAP insurance or credit cards work well. Members generally understand these programs and can easily compare their features among competitors.

But other self-service quote tools may not work as well, such as those for Vehicle Service Agreements (VSA) or Mechanical Breakdown Insurance (MBI). While, on the surface, obtaining quotes online for these products may seem ideal, using the wrong program could spell trouble for you and your members.


Avoid Potential Pitfalls

Before offering VSA/MBI online, be mindful of these drawbacks:

* Subtle distinctions in premium product offerings can greatly affect members' coverage. Most members won't be able to identify critical differences in coverages by various providers, and pricing alone may not reflect that.

* People not working in the field may be unfamiliar with terms related to pricing and coverage. This makes it challenging to self-compare product offerings on any criterion but price.

* Comparisons are limited when a quote is based solely on information provided by the member. Members won't be able to observe differences in coverages between your credit union's product and those offered by others.

So, while online quote engines provide member convenience, the wrong application can cost you by diminishing member interaction, as well as opportunities to build relationships and cross-sell other products.


Choosing The Right Partner

If you decide to offer online quotes for VSA/MBI, here are some steps to enhance the benefit to your members:

* Provide clear, readable information on your website. Appropriate legal information is necessary for any contract, but keep it separate from the key features and benefits of your online VSA/MBI service. The best way to ensure members are informed is to use easy-to-understand language.

* Create a buying guide that explains common terms and features of VSA/MBI products. This will simplify making product comparisons for your members while setting your products apart from the competition.

* Partner with a firm that specializes in VSA/MBI and provides access to call-center experts. Quality service providers have team professionals who understand all facets of these products, and can quickly answer members' questions.

Given credit unions' reputation for high-quality member service, providing convenient, user-friendly online products and services only makes sense. But make sure the products you offer online are self-explanatory or include ready access to knowledgeable support staff. Having a team of professionals able to walk your members through complex product features will help them understand there is more than price to consider.


Jim Hawk is president of IWS Group, Boca Raton, Fla. For info: www.iwsgroup.com.