Why Branches are on the Front Lines of Providing a Best-in-Class Experience


Credit unions and banks can form the economic backbone of an entire city, state or region – and yet, in our digital age, this vast network is largely invisible to consumers. Local branches are often the only human touchpoint in an entire financial institution. That means they’re responsible for earning consumers’ trust. Although hundreds of employees do a great deal of work behind the scenes every day, the decision a consumer makes to establish a long-term relationship with a financial institution depends largely on his or her in-person experience at a local branch.


This means that a credit union or bank could offer the best, most competitive products and services, but if it doesn’t “pass the test” by providing best-in-class service on the front end, few people will likely take the time to find out about those products or services.


For PenFed, it also means that those who interact with members in our branches must not only be member experience experts, but financial experts as well. Those are high expectations.


Be Creative in Selecting Talent

Talent selection is critical for businesses that rely heavily on consumer experience in their branches. Resumes are important, but when it comes to providing a top-notch consumer experience, the intangible factors are the most important. Leaders and managers selecting talent should invest in those individuals who possess attributes that mirror the goals of the institution, especially people who are skilled in verbal and non-verbal communication, problem resolution, and establishing rapport and long-term relationships.


Branch leaders should consistently and actively recruit talent, instead of waiting until a position opens up. At PenFed, while we sometimes select from a database of applicants for a particular position, we have found that this is not always the best place to find top talent for our branches.


This is why we encourage branch managers to search locally. Sometimes, this means acting as a “mystery shopper” at stores within the community, to find individuals who are particularly skilled in consumer service. In other cases, it means sourcing for talent at local universities or colleges. Our talent acquisition specialists also recruit from military installations and from organizations that serve groups like military spouses and veterans.


Don’t Just Train Technical Skills

At PenFed, the credit union philosophy of “people helping people” is at the heart of everything we do. When we train new talent, we don’t just train individuals to use the technical systems they will need to serve members. We train employees in empathy—making an emotional connection with every member who walks through the door. We train them in behaviors. We teach them to listen to each member’s needs and try to find solutions whenever possible. We cover everything from what language to use when interacting with members to how serving a member inside a branch is different from serving a member at the drive-through window.


We also train teammates on what to do if they have to say “no.”  It’s important to address how to approach experiences that don’t go as planned. This means being honest and candid with a member. But often it means figuring out how to achieve the objective in a different way, saying, “We weren’t able to do x, but we can do y.”


Training is a continual process. It is important to ask employees what’s next for them—where they hope to be in a year, in five years—and create a plan for them to achieve their goals. It is also important for managers to recognize successes daily, and to course correct behaviors that don’t align with expectations.


Know Your Net Promoter Score

A company’s Net Promoter Score (NPS), which ranges from 0 to 100, measures customer experience and predicts business growth. It is a key measure of customers’ overall perception of a brand and provides a touchstone for engaging a company’s workforce in its customer experience program. A score above 70 is considered “world class” and means the majority of a business’s customer base is loyal to that business.


Companies should set an NPS goal and always know what their current NPS score is. By keeping an NPS goal in mind, PenFed has been successful in consistently raising our NPS. Currently, our goal for branches is 81 or above, and we are on track to meet that high standard, or even higher.


Employees at every level of a company and in every branch should know that they are all responsible for “holding the rope” when it comes to consumer experiences and for helping the company achieve a top NPS.


Reward Your Top Teammates

Branch managers should focus on positive engagement with employees. Having a consumer survey system in place can help leadership recognize top and consistent talent. As Vice President of Branch Operations, I send personal emails every day to all PenFed employees who receive a 10 out of 10 Net Promoter Score. Survey systems that allow for comments also give teammates the opportunity to call a consumer back and address any concerns.


It is important to recognize great work. Recently, I recognized the service of Heather Clem, a Branch Support Representative at our Kadena Financial Center located in Okinawa, Japan. “Heather went above and beyond in explaining my benefits,” said one member, “even [going] so far as to provide a path to improve my credit score.” Another member said, “For the first time since I graduated boot camp in 1987, [I felt like] I was part of a family.”


In addition, companies should be consistent in what they expect from employees. If everyone at every branch is familiar with the same mission and expectations, more people will excel.


Branches can take pride in great service. Branches are the heart of businesses—especially those businesses that are not just pushing products, but are operating with a mission to truly care about the people who work for them and the consumers who choose them.





Derrick Harris is the Vice President of Branch Operations at PenFed Credit Union.


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