The Credit Union Member Experience: Why Digital is the Future

This article is printed with permission from CloudCherry, a Gold Partner with NACUSO. To read more about member experience subscribe to their blog! Enjoy.

Credit Unions across the US are focusing on Member Experience as their core reliable mantra to grow. Member Experience programs are being designed carefully and strategically to ensure that members and their needs are listened to and taken care of. In an attempt to understand why more and more credit unions are undergoing this change in mindset, we spoke to Ralph Cumbee, Chief Experience Officer of Solarity Credit Union, a Washington State-based Credit Union serving over 50,000 members.

Ralph has been in the financial services industry for over 25 years; we had the opportunity to catch up with him and understand the nuances of Member Experience in Credit Unions. He spoke about a lot of exciting and forward-thinking concepts, drawing some funny yet hard-hitting analogies along the way.

We’re happy to share with you all the wisdom that we gathered from our chat with him!

CloudCherry: Can you take us through how you started off on the member experience journey?

Ralph: Alright! So, it started about two years ago when we were having strategic discussions pondering how we would position the organization going forward. What would our one differentiator be? Because if you look at it, there are only so many differentiators in the market! We realised that digital is the way of the future and that in such a world it all really boils down to the experience. And we thought that member experience is going to be the most “beneficial” differentiator. All literature available out there suggests that organisations that focus on Member Experience performed better. People love them and they become the Amazons and Apples of the world. This is real differentiation.

CloudCherry: What was the one goal you had in mind when you started off the member experience program at Solarity?

Ralph: We are big fans of a gentleman named Jim Collins who wrote a book called “Good to Great”. Anyone who joins our leadership team is required to read it, and we have discussions on the book frequently. One of the things that Collins proposed is having a “BHAG”- a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. And since we decided to differentiate ourselves from the competition based on the experience we provide to our members, our BHAG is to be the leading provider of member experience in financial services worldwide. Our aspirational competitor is USAA. We want to achieve and exceed what USAA has in terms of NPS (Net Promoter Score) and CSAT (Customer Satisfaction). That is our goal and that is what motivates us all. It’s like in school. You go and stand up against the biggest bully. You confront him and you instantly realize that everybody else is chump change after that!

CloudCherry: What were some of the main differences you found post the implementation of the member experience program?

Ralph: Surprisingly, our staff engagement went off the charts! One of the things I’ve noticed is that people are traditionally good at saying “no”; “I can’t do that because of xyz policy”. But we had to get our staff to start asking themselves the question “How do I make this an extraordinary experience for the member?”. To do that, we started doing things inspired by “The Warm Blanket”. It comes from an incident that happened with a few of my friends during their stay at one of the Ritz Carlton properties. They wanted to have breakfast one morning on the patio, on a particularly chilly morning. The staff told them that they could if they wanted to, but that it was unusually chilly. But my friends loved the view so they insisted on it. And just when they sat down to have their breakfast on the patio, a bunch of the staff members brought them warm blankets (which they’d put in the dryer) to wrap themselves in! This cost Ritz Carlton nothing! But someone from their staff had to be thoughtful enough to have the experience of the guests top of mind!

We have also achieved a lot more efficiency. We realised that when there are a lot of rules, it starts to affect efficiency. By working on member experience, things not only became better for the members but also for the staff. This is because staff no longer have to explain why something that is not written in the rule book had to be done, but instead get to focus on delivering a better experience! Another thing we do is that whenever we receive great feedback, we share it with the entire organization with a special shout-out to the person who delivered that experience. This also drives a lot more engagement amongst our staff. In the end, not only is the member delighted, but also the staff! Everybody wins!

CloudCherry: A lot of Credit Unions still have difficulties in understanding member experience management as a differentiator. They confuse survey feedback requests sent out annually with member experience management. What in your experience is the biggest difference between the two?

Ralph: Oh my Gosh! You know, I can only think of this analogy. Just imagine you’re driving your car down the freeway and you only open your eyes once a year! You see what I mean! It just doesn’t work. You need to keep your eyes open the whole time and that’s what happens when you regularly survey members. What if you are making a tremendous mistake or you are causing your membership grave pain? Are you only going to pay heed to it once a year? If you are not constantly checking in with members and listening to what they had to say, you are missing out on 99.9% of the benefits you could potentially reap from surveying.

CloudCherry: How do you align culture with your member experience program?

Ralph: See, here’s the thing! You can’t have a boa constrictor as your baby sitter! You need the people that have the outlook and the ability to be caring. You cannot turn the wrong people into the right ones with training or rewards. It’s just not going to happen! But the thing is, you can’t wait for all the right people to board the bus. You’ve got to start with who you think are the right people and let culture drive you. Eventually, the wrong people will leave, the right people will grow and attract more right people and this, again, is a cyclic process.


1. CHALLENGE STATUS QUO: Just because things are done a certain way traditionally, it doesn’t mean that they are valid or reasonable. Every once in a while, step back and understand why processes or policies are shaped the way that they are, and see if there is a way to do all of this more efficiently.

2. FEEDBACK MECHANISMS ARE THE ONLY WAY TO REALLY KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING: To truly understand your members, you have to regularly interact with your members and check up on them. Everything else only adds up to building a transactional relationship with them.

3. CULTURE EATS STRATEGY FOR LUNCH: A great culture with a mediocre strategy is better than a mediocre culture with a great strategy. You can have all the strategies from all the management books you’ve read, but culture is what will bind the entire organization together.

4. IT’S BETTER TO DO SOMETHING THAN NOTHING: Even if you have to start simple, do it. At least you’ve started the process. From there on, build it slowly and consistently. You can always learn and grow and make it better. Member loyalty is earned and every little step you take to make their experience not only hassle-free but also delightful is one definite step towards growth!

5. DRIVING ENGAGEMENT IN CREDIT UNIONS IS EASY BECAUSE THE WHOLE PHILOSOPHY IS ABOUT HELPING PEOPLE: Encourage your staff to go beyond what members expect. So, when employees start working towards building member engagement, it starts a healthy competition amongst them as they are motivated to outdo each other when it comes to delighting members. This is like a virtual circle that feeds itself. You only have to initiate this process of engaging members and after a while, it becomes effortless! Once the spark is set, the flame starts to spread!

6. DETRACTORS AND THEIR COMMENTS PROVIDE THE MOST VALUE: For every detractor comment that you receive, make sure to have a thorough follow-up sequence in place because therein lies a treasure trove of information. You can find out what upsets your members and work your way through that pain point. Address these issues to gain back their trust. A detractor-promoter flip is worth so much more than a dozen passives.

7. VIBE ATTRACTS TRIBE: When you have the right people in your organization, it becomes increasingly effortless to attract similar people because the word spreads! When employees are happy with your organization, they will go out there and spread the word to get more of such talent into the pool. And then it just multiplies after a point. So, keeping your employees engaged and inspired to do better and better has multiple benefits.

8. THE SCORE IS YOUR SPEEDOMETER BUT THE SURVEYS ARE YOUR GPS: You can find out how fast or slow you are going with your scores but to know where you are headed, you need to dig deep into your surveys and pay attention to all the bumps that you come across in there! You could be going a certain number of miles in the wrong way, and you’d have no idea about it unless you analyse your survey results! So, progress really is going in the right direction at a good speed!

Investing in a solid Member Experience platform and strategy not only serves as a vital differentiator but also brings you closer to your members. It makes your brand omnipresent, that includes a digital presence, by helping you connect and interact with members across different channels and touchpoints. It further enables you to listen to queries and complaints from members, and most importantly, track these issues until the point of resolution. And finally, Listen, listen, keep listening and then act! There’s absolutely no other way to show your members that you earnestly care about them and their experience!