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6 Credit Union Lessons From My Favorite Theme Parks

Originally published on CUInsight.com

Theme parks are awesome, especially Disney and Universal. Combined, I’ve been to both more times than I can count…literally. Besides making me a de facto guest services agent for other visitors, I also study how they operate. Why yes, happy to point you to the nearest Hidden Mickeys (it’s not my first mention)!

Take Universal, for example. It’s owned by Comcast, yes, the cable company with a consistently lowest-rated customer service experience. Yet at the theme parks, you would never guess they’re affiliated (besides the ample NBC and Peacock branding).

At their best, it’s a “Disney-magic” equivalent. At their worst, it’s still light-years better than the smoothest interaction you’ve had discussing your internet connection.

What has their customer relations training understood that we can adopt into our credit union world, admittedly a very-different industry? (Disney literally has a business institute to train companies in their operating style, so there’s value here)

Learn from my time at these bastions of customer service excellence with 6 lessons:

1. Not every attraction is for every person, but everyone is welcome

Joe at Universal Studios Entrance
Trust me, a Jedi I am.

At Magic Kingdom, you can expect lots of kid-focused rides and experiences. Spending time with Winnie the Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood is wonderful, but maybe you want thrills and spills! Well, the trio of mountains has you covered (Space, Thunder, and Splash).

Even though these are quite different, Disney makes sure you can bring your kids to the “wildest ride in the wilderness”. And if they happen to be too small to safely ride, there’s a child swap area to let everyone take the train through Tumbleweed.

No matter your preferences, age, or abilities, both Disney and Universal take care to ensure everyone is welcome (and I can speak from experience that they fix issues when made aware).

Your credit union can (and should) have a target persona, but it’s also essential to design your services and interactions to fit a wide range of needs, life stages, and financial situations.

Most credit unions already do this to some extent (it’s what they’re built on), but ensure it’s consciously done everywhere. Make everyone feel welcome, no matter their credit score or checking balance. Recognize that different products may serve members in specific ways.

2. Protection (from sun, rain, or financial uncertainty) is important

Joe in Poncho at EPCOT - Disney
“Don’t rain on my parade!”

My “home” theme parks are in Central Florida. Most of the year, the sun is unrelenting. At the same time, it can rain on any given day, too. Between burning in the heat or getting drenched, you need protection. Both parks provide ice water for free, because dehydration is no joke.

For the rest, bring (or buy) the protection necessary. From sunscreen to ponchos, they’ve got you covered if the need arises.

The same goes with financial uncertainty. It seems like the “new normal” we have is shifting from one type of uncertainty to another. So ensure all members can access (and understand) your range of protection products.

Too often, I have meetings with credit unions where we go off-topic and they start sharing some interesting financial empowerment tools available. Very cool, but why are they so well hidden, and if I’m just learning about them now, how many members are aware?

When things go weird (which is all the time lately), be sure to roll out those poncho, umbrella, and sunscreen stands.

3. Moments of magic are where loyalty begins

Joe and Spaceship Earth - EPCOT - Disney
#NoFilter

“Disney magic” is so oft-repeated, it’s almost a cliche. Yet their cast members are encouraged to deliver these experiences when possible. Recently, a team member at Universal made their own kind of magic for my mom and I. What they did wasn’t required, requested, nor expected.

We left the park that evening excited from our experience, improved by one small gesture. And, silly as it is, I have an improved perception of Universal because of it.

How can your MSRs deliver moments of magic to members? Solving problems when they arise is essential, but expand that brainstorming to bring smiles to those already satisfied. There’s a huge difference between, “yeah, they’re fine” and “wow, listen to what they did!”

Loyalty doesn’t just stem from doing things as advertised all the time. Take every opportunity to bring magic into their financial life, from fixing issues with a smile to making the good…great.

4. Queues stink, but if they’re essential, make them interesting

Joe Through Time at Country Bear Jamboree - Magic Kingdom - Disney
Same me. Same place. Different time.

Theme parks have two constants: Everything is expensive and you’ll be waiting in lines. Since your credit union drives financial empowerment, it’s probably not the most expensive choice in town. So let’s look at the latter.

For better or worse, both parks offer ways to reduce time spent on line for attractions, store purchases, and food. Like them, use the mobile tools available to assist members with their questions. Streamline processes to request the least amount of information.

If you’re in a top attraction queue, I can guarantee the line has all sorts of things to grab your attention. That’s probably not an option at your credit union, but if your phone support is overwhelmed, make sure members can save their place and get a call back.

In-branch, observe if you have busier times. When that happens, can you repurpose other staff to address certain member requests instead of having them wait? The Universal Banker has a basis in this concept.

5. It’s easy to get overwhelmed

Joe at Tomorrowland Speedway - Magic Kingdom - Disney
Please do not bump the car ahead of you. We’re very serious.

Theme parks are big, sensory-stimulating places with tons of options. Frankly, even for regulars like me, they can get overwhelming. Do we stop in for this show or set up early for the parade? Wait, then we might not make it over to the new roller coaster!

Not to mention remembering to find someplace to eat. Oh good, you brought snack bars.

Your credit union has a lot of products. Unlike us, the typical member isn’t immersed in it day-to-day. So what we consider a normal span of offerings might be overwhelming for them.

Design your website, app, and train your team to recognize this fact. Theme parks have paper and digital maps that break down everything you can do during your day. Consider emulating this approach with your own services.

Seriously, is there a single place I am able to see every way you can help members? (Our company has a PDF guide to our Mission-Focused Toolkit that drives awareness and interest.)

I guarantee you have members right now who don’t know about products that can improve their life. How can you give them a map to the nearest restroom…I mean, to enhance their financial wellness?

6. If it gets to customer service, you’ve already missed something

Joe Hugging Truffula Tree - Universal Islands of Adventure
Go talk to the tree-hugger.

None of us want to call, chat, or visit guest services. It’s good they’re available, but that I had to go to them means something was missed. My experience or knowledge is lacking in some way that needs fixing.

Why do members reach out to your customer service channels? Could you redesign the site, app, or branch to answer these questions preemptively? Are these account-specific issues?

Did they really need to talk to a live person (or does that open the door to new conversations?)

A good FAQ is fine (though not one I saw recently with over 50 answers), but that’s not where you answer questions, paradoxically. Those are your fallbacks.

The main content should address the pains, opportunities, and common inquiries. Flowery and clever marketing content is a lot of fun, but if you can read/watch it and still have basic questions, there’s room for improvement.

Bringing the (Credit Union) Magic

Joe and Figment During Half Marathon - EPCOT - Disney
“One little spark”

Stop and think about credit unions for a moment. That they exist at all is pretty magical. These member-owned places where you can safely store and borrow money, while also working to grow everyone’s finances for the benefit of the community…pretty cool, right?

Disney loves to call itself “the most magical place on Earth”. But can they help drive community financial empowerment? Ok, maybe through their credit union, Partners FCU. Theme park affiliated or not, credit unions have magic of their own!

How will you bring that magic to your members?

“We all have sparks, imaginations.
That’s how our minds, create creations.
For they can make, our wildest dreams come true.
Those magic sparks, in me and you.”

Figment, One Little Spark

Credit Unions Already Lost. So, How Do They Win?

Originally published in CUInsight.com

Raise your hand if your credit union is a leader in digital offerings. Keep that hand up if your members agree. Finally, hold it just a little longer (you didn’t expect this article to be a literal workout!) if your local community agrees.

Of course, I’m just writing on a page, so my presumption of response is just that, a guess. However, I can wager no one held their hand up the whole time. This may shock you, so grip your phone tightly, but credit unions…aren’t digital banking leaders. Then what group is?

Digital banks and fintechs. And, frankly, it’s not even close. To rub it in just a bit more, they also won the race for younger, tech-savvy generations.

According to Cornerstone Advisors research, “[m]ore Gen Zers and Millennials call a digital bank their primary checking account provider than those that consider a community bank or a credit union…combined.”

That data point bears repeating:

More people 40 and under use a digital bank for their primary checking than every credit union combined. 

Maybe credit unions just need to work on their marketing. Members love dealing with the best not-for-profit financial cooperatives around! Right? Wait, right? Oh no, not here too!

Turns out, member satisfaction with credit unions is down, and has been on that path for a while, especially with Millennials and Gen Zers. Interestingly, member satisfaction levels fell for credit unions at the same amount as digital banks grew their satisfaction levels (around 2%).

In other words, people who make up the bulk of the population (and more moving forward) prefer digital banks to credit unions. The biggest reasons? Lack of satisfaction with “online banking capabilities that are easy to use” and the credit union being “easy to deal with”.

What is a humble credit union to do?

Mission

Group of Young Men Together
They just want connection and simplicity.

Yes, mission.

Just not the way you may think. GAC and other gatherings bring together credit union lovers to celebrate driving their mission of financial education, inclusion, and empowerment. But, given the data, that’s either not what people want, or it’s not getting across.

Otherwise, credit unions would be the dominant banking option of choice, right? Which means there’s a disconnect.

I’d bet people do want these things. It’s why they use digital banks, which make managing savings, spending, budgeting, debt elimination, and investing easy. With a bit of education, apps guide users to take positive steps with their own money.

In other words, they help more people take greater control of their financial life. Financial empowerment, you could say.

How is that not the credit union mission?

Combined with community impact, it is the mission. Which means people want it, but don’t feel they’re getting it from credit unions. Or to do so, have to deal with disappointing digital services. Something’s gotta give.

Claim Your Measured Mission Identity

Table of People with Phones and Laptops
Working together through technology.

So what’s missing? Obviously, first, you need quality digital options. You won’t be able to build them yourself. Partner with great providers. Ensure everyone has APIs so it all talks seamlessly and makes members and staff lives easier. I’ve covered that before.

Tech in hand, that’s not all. You still need something else. Branding and connection. Let’s achieve that in two, highly simplified, steps:

  1. “Measure your mission.” My CU Geek posts called for this concept numerous times, but when Anne Legg spoke the phrase in a recent chat, I had to give her the credit.
  2. Claim your identity. A common concept for my loyal readers, but, once again, someone else explained it more clearly than my dozen posts did. Jackie Brown of JB Collaborates suggests you “discover your individual credit union’s true identity”.

And step 3? Well that’s spreading the word, through actions made obvious in the previous two exercises. If you did them right, and continue to tweak as you go, the outreach will stem from self-appointed brand ambassadors: Your members.

After all this effort, will your credit union attract back all those people already lost to digital banking platforms? Probably not. But you will stem the tide, while building existing relationships and engaging the community, inspiring others to join.

In other words, shore up your digital offerings. Once you’re directly competitive and comparable to digital banks in people’s minds, the community focus shines through. And that’s where you excel.

Credit unions won’t make every person a member, but they can make a positive difference in more lives. And after all, isn’t that the mission?

Food: Your Credit Union’s Newest Product?

Originally published on CUInsight.

Digital transformation. Post-COVID planning. Loan growth strategies. Generational marketing.

Those are all important topics. You’ve got plenty of resources for each.

But this article? It’s going to talk about something I guarantee is 100% new to you.

In fact, consider this the first time it has EVER been discussed within the credit union world.

Food. Yes, food. And your credit union. Along with members and your larger community. If this sounds crazy, you’re right. It’s also a peek into what could become a $1 Trillion industry. That’s a T, for trillion, in case it didn’t register the first time through.

It’s ok, you’re wondering where this is going, and how it could possibly connect to your credit union. I promise I’ll get there. First, let me introduce this concept, which, by the way, your Gen Z and Millennial relatives already use (whether they realize it or not).

The Delivery Shift

Pizza Boxes
Not just pizza.

You know the basics of a restaurant, even if you haven’t been inside one in a while. There’s a building with seating areas, perhaps a bar, and a kitchen in “the back”. When you order from a waiter or that Ziosk device on your table, a ticket goes into the kitchen to prepare your food.

A short time later, you’ve got a piping-hot meal, fresh from no more than 50 feet away. It’s just as delicious as you remember, which is why you came back to this particular restaurant. The food is consistent and you trust their brand to deliver, even if you visit another location.

Of course, once the pandemic struck, we turned to take out and delivery. The food delivery segment surged 164% in 2020. Like other things, COVID accelerated transformation. Yet it was already on this track. Delivery has grown 300% faster than dine in over the past 5 years.

And most people hungry at home just opened up Yelp to call their favorite restaurant, right? Nope, they downloaded:

  • GrubHub (which acquired Seamless and Eat24)
  • Uber Eats
  • Postmates (which Uber acquired)
  • DoorDash (which had a huge 2020 IPO)
  • Drizly (for alcohol, another service Uber acquired)

If you’ve been on these apps before, you know how simple they make getting food to your front door. They’re also surprisingly good at making “what you want” as important as “where it’s from”. When you’ve got a burrito craving, it makes sense to filter by fillings rather than source.

Ordering food for most now means opening a delivery app and not a specific restaurant’s site. If this concept sounds silly to you, rest assured, you’re currently not their target audience. But you might be after finishing this article.

Because that list of nearby restaurants and food items showing in Uber Eats has a secret: Some of those restaurants don’t exist.

Ghost Kitchens

Cooks in Kitchen
Look at those apparitions cook away.

No, this isn’t some Halloween Horror Nights event. A ghost kitchen is simply “a cooking facility that produces food only for delivery with no dine-in or customer facing areas.” You may recall commissary kitchens, where you can “set up shop” in a fully-prepped cooking space.

Ghost kitchens are similar, except they can also be part of another, already operating, restaurant. Say you own a taco stand and want to bring in a bit more revenue. You could consider preparing pizzas under a different, delivery-only, brand.

Many places are doing this now, especially as dine-in activity collapsed throughout 2020.

However, this isn’t a new concept. There are currently 1,500 ghost kitchens in America. Globally, it’s caught on to a larger degree, with over 7,500 in China and 3,500 in India. As mentioned earlier, projections put it at a $1 trillion industry in less than a decade.

How do you promote a menu which has no physical location to visit? Even food trucks stop to sell their goods! Delivery apps. When scrolling on your phone, it doesn’t matter if the “restaurant” has a location, just that they can deliver your wet burrito in 32 minutes.

Ok, so we recognize the enormous growth in food delivery apps, the expansion of ghost kitchens, and how seamlessly they fit together. Where, you are probably thinking, is the credit union connection?

Enjoy your side of guac and chips as we prepare the main course.

Ghost Franchises

Girl on Phone with Coffee
She’s definitely using a delivery app.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

Say you’re a YouTube celebrity with millions of followers (this is absolutely a thing), and you want to promote a new way to monetize your audience. Product placement and paid promotions are fine, but they’re old-school. You want something fun. Something tasty.

What if you could open a national restaurant chain with items fully to your branding, and you’d earn a piece of every food sale? Oh, and you wanted to do it with minimal investment. Sounds crazy, right?

Not anymore. Today, you’d work with a ghost kitchen consultant to set up a ghost franchise. Together, you come up with the restaurant name, its food items, and on-brand descriptions and graphics. Then, you food test and create standardized recipes. Finally, distribution.

Your consultant helps recruit a regional or national network (depending on your goals) of restaurants and ghost kitchens willing to make your food. These are often large chains, so one agreement can bring in hundreds of locations. And, there is no step 3.

You’re A (Delivery) Restaurateur

Uber Eats Bike Delivery Man
Fresh from…where again?

In that entire footprint, your “restaurant chain” goes live in delivery apps. Overnight, your fans can order your burger in 95% of metro areas, sharing their response videos about it the next day. And everyone using their existing apps sees a “new restaurant” in their area.

This isn’t a hypothetical. MrBeast, a YouTube star with over 50 million followers, opened MrBeast Burger in just this fashion. He’s not alone. Celebrities as wide-ranging as existing restaurant owners to reality stars follow this model.

Guy Fieri has 130 regions where you can take the virtual drive to Flavortown Kitchen. Mariah Carey (yes, that one) has a whole line of cookies available in 39 states. For the Jersey Shore fans, you can chew on Pauly D’s Italian Subs.

With a bit of planning, anyone can launch a food brand. And, since it’s fully virtual, you can evolve it as needed. So what if you wanted to do more than just fill stomachs? Is it possible for this model to improve communities?

The Credit Union Food Connection

Breakfast on Table
Breakfast from your favorite credit union!

Bank, borrow…bite? Eating isn’t often associated with your financial institution. Unless it’s a lunch-and-learn session or department pizza party (remember those?), business revolves around dollars and members, not dining.

The community and member-facing side of your credit union exudes financial empowerment. You aim to lift people up through your products and services, and don’t need me to explain that aspect of your mission. But what’s a major challenge? Communicating this effort to the public.

What if your credit union started a restaurant? Backed by ghost kitchens, you could build a brand that connects back to your own, raising awareness and excitement for your initiative.

Sidenote: Yes, there are possible challenges related to operating a “business” as a credit union. In my mind, this would necessitate setting up a CUSO to handle it. You’d start as fully non-profit, where all revenues go to your charity partners. Eventually, it could support the CUSO, which can handle multiple CUs.

The menu items could have names relating to savings or financial goals. Descriptions could include witty connections to local charities and member success stories. If this sounds unfeasible, you haven’t let your marketing team run wild.

An Order of Community Improvement with a Side of Financial Education

Menu Clipboard with Food
What’s your daily special?

By using the ghost franchise model, you could open an app-visible restaurant chain across your entire member footprint. Besides traffic from regular users of delivery apps, you would promote it through your social media and website (especially mobile banking…engage them on the same device!).

Sure beats another message about how your rates are the lowest in town. Or that a HELOC with your credit union is a great decision. I guarantee your members are not expecting to hear about daily specials…of food! Start your order now!

With items advancing financial literacy and the whole model promoting your brand, what else could you do for the community? Remember the references to local charities (or your foundation efforts)? They can be more than just mentions. Think real giving.

Your model can accommodate a portion of sales to support these charities. Share quarterly updates with members about how their eating habits made a real difference. Tell them how many backpacks you got for underprivileged kids, or how many meals they helped you serve at a local food bank.

Most importantly, ensure your members feel part of the effort. Thank them for supporting the community with every order. Tell them exactly what their order provided for a partnered charity.

Remember all those discussions about how Millennials and Gen Z like (and tell friends about) companies who are genuine in their mission? Show them on their turf.

Food: The Next Credit Union Frontier?

Cake Pops
“You see, the sprinkles are like interest…”

Every day, you read articles warning that without innovation, your credit union will struggle to succeed. Normally, they suggest advancing your digital transformation, and some promote their own products. Yet all of them reinforce your role as a banking establishment.

What if you could blur what your community thinks it means to be a credit union? Sure, you provide tools to advance financial literacy and empowerment. But you also have a killer loaded potato, stuffed with informative nuggets about building a savings strategy and the knowledge you’re helping support those less fortunate.

Who’s hungry for some real change?

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