According to the 2015 Temkin Experience Ratings, which rank the customer experience of 293 companies over 20 industries, credit unions have earned the highest ranking for financial services over the past four years. USAA topped the list just above credit unions (which were rated as a group, not individually), followed by a bevy of big-name banks.
What Are Credit Unions Doing Right?
Credit unions don’t pay taxes; they don’t face the same regulatory environment; and they operate as nonprofits, allowing them to offer lower fees and higher interest rates on deposit accounts – definitely a factor that makes them customer-friendly. But while these distinctions might make the playing field less than level between credit unions and banks, they’re not the only reasons that customers find credit unions appealing.
Credit unions are known for providing a more personal and flexible customer experience than retail and commercial banks. While banks have focused considerable attention on technological upgrades and the impending threat from digital-only banks, credit unions have remained customer- and branch-oriented.
Somewhat counterintuitively, this has given them an edge in customer experience and satisfaction: the personal touch is something customers crave. Financial matters are at once complex and intimate, and customers appreciate feeling like their institution is on their side and ready to assist them, not just make a profit.
Credit unions, for example, tend to be more flexible about working through tough issues like bad credit during a loan application, treating the customer as an individual, not just an application form and credit report.
Indeed, customer-centricity is practically built into the credit union “membership” model, often led by a member-elected board of decision-makers. As virtual shareholders in the institution’s success, members get a sense of personal inclusion and connection to the credit union that can be lacking at mega-sized banks with their own shareholders to please.
So can banks hope to catch up?
It’s not a lost cause. While they may still be at a disadvantage on fees and rates for the foreseeable future, they’re using some of their profits to lead the charge on the technology that is changing the face of customer service, like social customer service and virtual assistance. As customer expectations continue to evolve, we may not be far off from the day that digital availability and convenience start to carry more weight in satisfaction measurements. If or when this happens, we may find out whether it really is the lower cost of doing business with credit unions that keeps customers coming back, or if they’re willing to sacrifice technology in the name of closer connections to their institution.
But that doesn’t mean it’s safe to downplay the importance of personalization and excellent service that makes customers feel at welcomed, heard, and respected. If anything, the drive towards digital – a potentially cold, impersonal, inhuman interface – means banks need to focus even more on a top-notch customer experience that can’t be replicated by algorithms and artificial intelligence.
Would you want to do business with a bank run entirely by droids? We didn’t think so.