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Are You Ready? Credit Unions Back in the Dating Game!

Here’s some advice you can put into action right away.

By Ken Gonyer

After decades of having sand kicked in our faces by the “muscle men” of the banking industry, credit unions have suddenly caught the eye of some of the most attractive consumers on the “beach.” Bank Transfer Day has come and gone, but consumers’ frustrations with megabanks continue. In response, they’re “dumping” their muscle-bound big boys and searching for a new relationship.

Ready or not, we’re back in the dating game! Credit unions are on the radar again, and some great potential members are scoping us out. Are you ready for that kind of attention? Have you made sure they’ll like what they see? Here’s some practical advice you can put into action right away.

Update your wardrobe

Take a look at your public face: your online presence, your bricks and mortar and your public advertising. Are you out-of-style or looking good?

  • Google your credit union by name or type “credit union” and your city. What results appear? That’s what potential members will see. If you’re not satisfied with the results, get some help from an SEO (search engine optimization) service to perk up your internet marketing strategy.
  • Think of a couple key questions that might bring an interested consumer to your website for some answers. “Do they have free checking?” “Fee-free debit cards?” “Bill pay?” Now go to your site and look for the answers. Easy to find? Or were they buried somewhere (or nowhere to be found)? How many clicks did it take for you to get the needed info? If you felt even a little bit frustrated, your site needs attention.
  • Do a drive-by. What do people see when they pass your facility? A sign that’s well-lit, easy to read and attractive? A building and grounds that are well-maintained and up-to-date? Now pull into the parking lot and enter your retail space from the front entrance. (Some of us have been using an employee entrance for too long!) Look at everything from the stickers on the glass to the carpet, paint and furniture. It might be time to deep-clean and spiff up the décor a little.
  • Notice your marketing collateral–brochures, posters and lobby displays. What do they say about your credit union? How do they look–dull and boring or sharp and interesting? Do they answer the unasked questions that a potential member may be pondering? Replacing these advertising tools might be a bit expensive, so consider just culling out the poor pieces and giving the better, more relevant items more of the spotlight.

Got fresh breath?

Check into the first impressions your CU makes when the public meets your people in person, by phone, or through social media. Is it “oh, yuck” or “oh, yeah!”?

  • “Shop” your own shop. Walk in the front entrance, preferably at about the same time as some other members. Look and listen to the way your lobby staff greets, directs and serves their member. Did anybody look up and smile? Was there a verbal welcome? What’s the “atmosphere?” If it’s not minty fresh and appealing, you may lose the competitive advantage of making a great first impression on walk-in prospective members. Take the time to train front-line staff on the behaviors that contribute to a friendly, warm and inviting environment.
  • Have you called your credit union lately? Try it now, keeping in mind that a first-time caller may know little about your credit union. Does the voicemail menu offer helpful and relevant options? How hard is it for someone to reach call-center staff? Is the on-hold music or marketing message pleasant or annoying? And when you speak to a human-being, how do you respond to their vocal tone? If your phone service stinks, do something about it today.
  • If your credit union is on Facebook and Twitter, your potential member will probably find you there and check you out. What will they see? Are all of your posts and tweets mini-commercials, or do you use social media to build relationships and promote feedback from members? Do you delete all complaints or do you respond to negative comments clearly and positively? If these communication channels don’t reflect well on your organization, change the way you’re using them.

Get out there!

Don’t expect potential members to come find you. Get out of the office and be present at public events and charity functions. Are you a wallflower or do you know how to work the room?

  • Encourage your staff to get involved in community service projects. You might consider giving each employee a paid “volunteer day” to use during the year. When they come back with photos, post them on the web, on social media, and in your marketing materials.
  • Sponsor something that appeals to your target “audience.” For example, if you’re aiming to woo young families to transfer accounts to you, show up as a sponsor at youth sporting tournaments.
  • Because most credit unions are already highly involved in community service, you’re already sitting pretty. But how will you let the public know about all your good work? Write a press release every week. Print, web and broadcast media folks are always hungry for news–just be sure your release covers the journalist’s Five Ws: who, what, where, when, and why.

Polish your pickup line

You and your potential member might only have a couple minutes to get to know each other (think speed dating)–what’s your message?

  • What do you want them to know about you? If you try to be all things to all potential members, your message will be diluted and confusing. Figure out what you do best and talk it up at every opportunity. What are your most attractive benefits? How can you help consumers save money, earn money, save time, avoid hassle and feel secure? Answer those questions succinctly and you’ll be magnetic.
  • What do you want to know about them? One of the keys to effective selling is qualifying your customer–making sure that the person with whom you’re interacting is eligible for your services and in a position to engage with you. Does your call-center or member services staff know what kinds of questions gather the most relevant information? Do they know how to ask them in ways that build rapport?
  • Put your mission statement in writing and ask your staff to commit it to memory. When you know and live out your mission, your message will emerge naturally and authentically. If you don’t have a compelling mission statement, get a group together to craft something simple and clear.

Once you’ve taken a good look in the mirror and worked on some of these things, your organization will not only be more attractive, welcoming and visible, but your team will also be more self-assured in the vision and values of their credit union. The more you know about who you are as an organization, the more boldly and confidently you can introduce yourself to those you wish to serve.

Here’s the bottom line: when you’re back in the dating game, a lot of your success in future relationships depends on you. Get ready, get out there, and go for it!

Ken Gonyer serves on the executive team at Park View Federal Credit Union in Harrisonburg, Va., overseeing marketing and electronic services delivery. He is chairman of the Marketing & Business Development Council of the Virginia Credit Union League. Contact him at

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