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Start Your Marketing with Your Employees

Teller at a credit union

This article originally appeared in CUInsight.

Think back to the last customer service call you made that left you gritting your teeth or groaning in frustration. Now think back to a call where the person on the other end of the phone genuinely seemed to care about your problem and was able to help you solve it in a timely manner.

How did each experience impact your attitude toward the company?

A single interaction with one of your credit union employees can have a significant impact on how a member feels about your credit union. And if that interaction goes south, it will take at least three and possibly up to 12 positive interactions to get that bad taste out of a member’s mouth.

Yes, it’s important to optimize your member experience in whatever ways you can—for instance, comprehensive frontline staff trainings and short-as-possible call center wait times. But at the end of the day, if your employees are unhappy or disengaged, your members will follow suit.

Conversely, an employee who truly believes in your credit union will personify your brand, potentially becoming one of your very best promoters. Mike Neill, Executive Director of ServiStar Consulting, says, “Make no mistake: Your members will NEVER love your credit union until your employees love it first!” He stresses that it’s absolutely imperative to “develop a team of highly engaged employees who want to make a positive difference in the lives of your members.”

The impact of COVID and the Great Resignation

Effective employee engagement can be challenging in the best of times—and few would characterize present-day realities as the “best of times.” Since March 2020, we’ve seen the following:

  • Huge shifts in unemployment levels—from 3.5% in Feb. 2020, to 14.8% in April 2020 (the highest rate since this data collection started in 1948) and back down to 4.2% as of November 2021.
  • Moves to remote or hybrid work. Whether your employees greeted these changes with frustration, excitement, or both, they have inevitably presented new challenges, especially in terms of communication and team building.
  • Millions of resignations. A record number of people quit their jobs in 2021—and many did it in a very public and visible way. According to a recent New York Times article, there are currently hundreds of TikTok videos with the hashtag #quitmyjob, and it’s become increasingly acceptable to bash a past employer without substantial risk of alienating a future one. Imagine how even one widely reposted negative resignation video could affect your credit union brand.

5 key questions to ask yourself about your employee engagement efforts

Employee recruitment and engagement should extend far beyond your HR department. As a case in point, a recent Forbes article stressed the importance of creating a marketing plan to attract potential employees, not just potential customers.

My marketing agency, PixelSpoke, hosted a community roundtable last month with several of our credit union clients to learn how both marketing and executive teams are being leveraged to attract and engage employees across the credit union.

Here are some of the common questions that surfaced during that conversation:

1. How do you solicit input from employees at all levels? And how do you ensure employees feel heard?

A number of our roundtable participants reported surveying employees as part of their strategic planning. Two cautions: Keep surveys easy and close the feedback loop. There’s nothing more frustrating than sending your feedback into the internet void and never knowing if anyone even received it. Take steps to ensure employees feel heard: Acknowledge concerns, be realistic about what you can deliver to address them and don’t over promise on actions or timelines.

Also, don’t forget that employees already have a lot on their plates. If you truly want their feedback, make it simple and when possible, let employees offer it anonymously.

Input doesn’t have to come in survey form. The bottom line is to listen, listen, listen. The world is changing quickly and how you support employees this month might look entirely different than it did last month. Give employees the space to share a snapshot of any big news or stressors that are having an impact on them. Ask how you can lighten their load—and deliver that help if you can. For instance, sending someone a meal is a small-ish thing that can make a big difference.

2. How do you create opportunities for employees to learn and grow?

Some roundtable participants, PixelSpoke included, reported using CliftonStrengths (formerly StrengthsFinder), a personal development tool from Gallup. They felt this was a good way to gain a better understanding of employees, on both an individual and team level, and a positive way to frame employee interests and natural abilities. This information could help managers pinpoint staff that are a good fit for taking on specific new assignments or challenges.

Don’t just say you value professional development—make it happen. At PixelSpoke, we are investing more time in training — including strengths trainings, cooperative trainings, DEI trainings, and more —  than ever before. We believe when we help employees grow with us, they’re less likely to look for opportunities elsewhere.

3. How do you publicly celebrate/recognize your employees, particularly your frontline workers?

Employees want to be recognized for their efforts. According to research from the Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM) when employees feel their organization’s leaders care about them, 90% said the work they do has meaning and purpose. And that sense of meaning and purpose will have a direct impact on how they view your credit union and their role in helping members.

At PixelSpoke, we reserve space in our daily all-team huddles for teammates to share shoutouts. It’s a wonderful way to feed one another’s “emotional bank accounts,” make sure that our coworkers get recognition where recognition is due, and start the day on a positive note.

Our client OnPoint devotes a category on its blog to Employee Spotlights, which they describe as a space to “highlight our employees and take a closer look at the drive and personality of individuals on the OnPoint team. It is one way we show our appreciation for their hard work and achievements.”

4. How do you onboard employees to ensure they’re equipped with the tools and resources they need to be brand ambassadors?

If you haven’t changed your onboarding practices since the pandemic started, it’s probably time for a reexamination. After all, employees who feel they are well prepared for their role are more likely to be successful at it. With much of today’s onboarding happening remotely, SHRM has a few cautions for employers:

  • Match the tone of training to your culture. Remote employees will have fewer cues to follow than they would in a face-to-face setting. Make sure training and culture align. And be prepared for onboarding to potentially feel more emotional and personal than it has historically—some of our credit unions reported having this experience.
  • Pace the training appropriately. Virtual trainings can be draining and hard to absorb. Don’t expect a new hire to soak up all they need to know about their new role in a day.
  • Create virtual ways for new hires to connect with your staff and with each other. New employees might need an extra nudge or support to feel like part of your team. Look for ways to facilitate this process, like virtual coffee dates – at PixelSpoke every new hire has a 30-minute virtual coffee with everyone else on the team.

5. How do you facilitate internal communications, particularly between remote workers and frontline staff?

There’s likely already a disconnect—and perhaps even a sense of resentment—between employees who must work in person and those who can work remotely. It’s more important than ever to bridge the gap.

Use an internal communications channel, whether email, Slack or an Intranet, to foster cross-team conversations and share important news. Some of our credit union partners pointed out that things can sometimes go sideways in a virtual forum, but that it’s important to address concerns up front and not sugarcoat them.

While it’s important for employees across departments to buy in on a primary internal communications channel, it’s equally important to connect with staff on a regular basis in other ways. Recognize that employees have different styles of connecting, learning, and communicating.

Senior staff should make it a practice to be physically present at branch locations. At one of our credit unions, the CEO and the leadership team visit each location quarterly. Prior to the quarterly sessions, employees have the chance to ask the CEO questions (through online surveys) and the CEO shares a short video response during the branch visits. Videos like this could also be shared through via the Intranet.

At PixelSpoke, we launched a process called Collective Alignment to make sure everyone understood, contributed to, and was excited about our strategy for the coming quarter. We went from a digital survey and a 45-minute debrief of the quarter’s plans to a 2-hour meeting before strategic planning and a 2-hour debrief to review the plan afterwards. Does that sound crazy? It might be, but I can tell you that it was far more time consuming to course-correct when people didn’t understand what we were doing, why we were doing it, and how their priorities contributed to our quarterly strategy.

We all know that not every employee is going to be 100% happy 100% of the time. But if their input is taken seriously, if they are set up for success, if their hard work is recognized, if they can engage with their fellow team members, and if they have ongoing opportunities to learn and grow, you are far more likely to see that all important “service with a smile” that is so central to the credit union difference.

Smiles, as we all know, are infectious. Smiling employees lead to smiling members, and if there’s one thing we could all use right now, it’s a few more smiles.

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