Tuesday, June 27, 2006

let's talk

How often do you give feedback to companies or people you do business with? If you’re like most people, it’s usually when you’re frustrated beyond belief.

Two weekends ago I went to a cafe I’d never been to before. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised by the whole experience. The food was unique and tasted great, the service was friendly and fast, and the environment was relaxing, quiet and clean.

As I was leaving, I noticed they had some comment cards, a pencil and a cardboard box on a small table by the door. I thought for a second about leaving a note, but didn’t feel like standing by the door, filling out the card with the one available pencil while people walked in and out. If I had just had the worst experience of my life I probably would’ve grabbed that pencil and filled the card up one side and down the other with comments.

That’s the challenge! How do you get a customer to talk to you when they’re not irate? How can you elicit constructive feedback and not just emotional responses?

I can think of a bunch of times where I’ve been at a restaurant or store and have wondered why they didn’t offer this or that. But did I say anything? Did I just come out and ask, “Why don’t you carry those raspberry scones anymore?” Actually, I did ask that once and I was told it was because they stopped making them, but I know that’s not true because I can still get them at their other locations. Where was I? Oh yeah, most of the time I don’t say a thing. I just think, “Oh, that’s too bad that they don’t have this bag in brown, because I’d totally buy it right now if they did.”

If someone at the café had asked me on Sunday whether or not I enjoyed my muffin I would’ve said, “Yes. It was awesome. You should make them a little smaller though. It’s hard to eat the whole thing in one setting.” That would’ve been a constructive comment. Or I could’ve told them that they should change their music selection every half hour or so since jazz isn’t really my thing. They might not have agreed with me, but at least it would’ve given them a sense of who I am as a customer. But no one asked. Instead they used the standard comment-in-a-box format, and I just walked on by.

At Verity, we try to get feedback from our members in numerous ways. We do the whole comment card thing, we’ve asked for feedback in our newsletter and on our website, we’ve had focus groups and have plastered our contact information on everything we publish. We will continue to try and find new and improved ways to start dialogues with our members. And if you want to comment on this post, you know what to do.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Baby Verity

I have a new appreciation for working mothers. I became one three months ago. As did three other women working at Verity.

I will refer to my son as “Baby Verity” not because he’s more entitled to be called that than the other Verity’s employee babies, but because the title was directly bestowed upon him by one of my vendor reps with whom I work closely. It’s never too early to exercise a little privacy protection.

I don’t know about other workplaces out there, but I consider myself lucky to be working at Verity. Time and again, I’ve witnessed how Verity supports its employees in their parental pursuits and now I get to experience it firsthand. Without going into great detail, my maternity leave has allowed me to spend uninterrupted time getting to know life with Baby Verity. My husband and I chose to go back to work sooner rather than later, working part time in order to stretch out our leave a little longer and enabling us to take turns working while the other stays home with baby. My boss allows me to work from home on occasion to help with the transition. And, my husband and I are asked daily by our co-workers and colleagues about our little one. The interest and concern, not to mention the sharing of child-rearing info, has been appreciated, entertaining and valuable. On Baby’s Verity’s first visit to the office, he announced himself with a cry that brought staff members throughout the main office over to the Marketing Department to see him. Baby Verity didn’t even fuss when our credit union president held him for a time. Already cozying up with the execs, that one.

Besides the obvious physical and emotional changes that take place when baby arrives, there is also the not-too-surprising change in finances and security. I hope to share some of my experiences on the blog. Here are a few things we’ve learned and done in the last three months:

  1. When we were at the hospital, we were given a document asking if we wanted to have baby’s birth announced in the local papers. It turns out that you don’t have to consent to this. We learned that when you have your baby’s birth published, your mailbox becomes flooded with all sorts of junk mail welcoming baby. No, thanks.

  2. Baby’s Social Security Card arrived about a month after he was born. With all the stories you hear about babies having their SSN stolen by identity fraudsters and how babies grow to young adults only to find that they have accrued debt they clearly did not have anything to do with, we’ve safely locked away his card. Ours, as well. You should never carry your SSN card with you or give it away freely. Verity will never ask for this and any other kind of personal info via electronic or direct mail means. If you do get this kind of solicitation, let us know about it.

  3. Did you know that you can open an account for your baby at Verity? Baby Verity became a member of Verity Credit Union a few weeks after he was born. He now has a savings account where adoring grandparents, mom and dad can transfer money for his future college education. Thanks to Home Banking, Baby Verity gets an occasional electronic transfer into his account. He’s too young to login to see this himself, so he relies on mom and dad who are in Home Banking on a daily basis.

  4. It’s always a good idea to buy diapers in bulk. Baby wipes, too.

Monday, June 19, 2006

We Got Smarts

One of our core values states, “we are dedicated to professional and personal growth”. One of the most rigorous and demanding training programs that we support is coming up soon and I wanted to highlight the achievements of those representing Verity Credit Union this year.
Western CUNA Management School (WCMS) is a management training program designed for key credit union employees. This program is facilitated on a college campus in Southern California and draws credit union participants from over 14 states. The curriculum is designed to promote strategy, a thorough understanding of operations as well as many other legal, political and philosophical issues impacting our industry at this time. The commitment is intense: three consecutive years of two-week/on-campus classes with two comprehensive projects (often exceeding more than 200 written pages when complete) that need to be conducted “back home.”

This year, we have four individuals attending the program. Two will be graduating and there is one second-year and one first-year student. This management training program is one way we promote the development of quality staff. I'm excited for these individuals and proud of our credit union's commitment to excellence.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Times, they are a-changin'

Lately I’ve been thinking about how much things have changed in the past few years alone. For example, I now pay over $3.00 a gallon for gasoline without batting an eye. And I no longer give people weird looks when they’re walking down the street talking to themselves; I just assume they’re on a cell phone.

However, there is one change I’ve noticed that I do NOT want to get used to and that’s the new so-called standard for customer service. In the past week I have had issues with a phone company and a package delivery company. On both occasions I called their 1-800 number and had to deal with a voice recognition system. Instead of simply pressing buttons for service, “Press 1 for phone service, Press 2 for DSL service, Press 3 for new customer...”, the computer asks you questions. This is how one of my conversations with a computer went:

Computer: What can we help you with today?

Me: Uh…

Computer: Say something like “I have a question about my bill” or “I’d like to get cable service.”

Me: Oh. Um….I don’t know where my modem is.

Computer: I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you just said. Please repeat that.

Me: Modem

Computer: It sounds like you’re saying you want to set up internet service. Is this correct? If so, please say Yes.

Me: (silence)

Computer: What can we help you with today?

Me: (press zero, hoping to be connected to a real person)

Computer: I’m sorry, I don’t understand your response.

Me: (screaming into phone) Sales! Sales!

After I was connected to a live person, things went much better. But the whole experience was so frustrating that it will make me think twice about calling that company again, even when I need help with something. I’m starting to think they do that on purpose, that they actually try and discourage people from calling them. They must think that customers are just a lot more trouble than they’re worth.

Unfortunately it seems this level of service has become the norm. I am always surprised when I get to talk to friendly and helpful customer service reps and I don’t have to jump through hoops to get connected to them. It’s so rare these days.

Which brings me to a plug for Verity Credit Union. We make it easy for you to get in touch with us: call us! email us! stop by and see us! There are live people here waiting to help you out. You can even talk to the same person over and over again if that’s what you prefer. We are about developing relationships, which means we WANT to communicate with you. We want to hear what you have to say; we’re listening…

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

mixed messages

I recently received a birthday card from my dentist. The outside of the card had a cartoon on it. The first frame was a young girl holding a nicely wrapped birthday present; the second frame was her holding up a t-shirt that said "Don't forget to floss". The bottom of the card reads "Happy Birthday from your dentist."

Now, I appreciate that my dentist sent me a birthday card, but I found the card off-putting. Maybe I'm just being sensitive, but since I've shelled out well over $3,000 on my teeth in the past year, I feel like I deserve a little respect. After all, I am an adult, and I am spending lots of my hard-earned money to make sure that my teeth are taken care of. A simple "Happy Birthday from the team at XYZ" would have made me feel warm and fuzzy inside, but the cartoon made me feel like I was being playfully chastised.

Imagine if Verity sent out birthday cards to its members with messages like, "By the way, you missed a payment on your credit card" or "Hey, looks like you're in need of some financial counseling!"? I know we're in the financial services business, but it doesn't mean we always have to remind people of it. People are humans first, before they are customers. And they have a choice whether or not to continue relationships with the companies they do business with.

I will still be seeing my dentist because she does a good job and I like her, but the card did make me think about relationships and how even an innocent gesture can sometimes alienate people. Just something to think about.