What the F. Scott Fitzgerald?

Posted on June 20, 2011

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I always wanted to be a writer. Not a blog dabbler, not a Facebook updater, and certainly not a Twitterer – but a real, live novelist. (Many would likely argue I’m still not any of those.) One minor problem with my being a novelist: my stories were long on idea, but short on, well, the writing part. I could diagram a story arc faster than Lindsay Lohan destroyed her career (people forget she used to be talented and cute, exhibit A), but creating anything more than an outline was beyond me.

Is that Jack Nicholson or Bank of America coming after our free checking?

Credit Unions often have a similar issue: there’s a great story to tell, but few tell it in any compelling fashion. You can’t hire Christian Bale from the Newsies: it has to be something people want to hear.  But, why exactly is it so hard? Most employees love helping members, most products credit unions sell are far more member friendly than anything banks do and this story has an actual villain in the major banks today. Could there have been any greater backdrop for a Credit Union story than when the banks’ profit-crazed decisions drove themselves to the brink of bankruptcy? We, the taxpayer, had to give them money to stay afloat. That’s like making the wife and son in The Shining reward Jack Nicholson’s character with more booze for doing such a great job managing the Overlook. But, if everything was so ripe for the story to flourish, what keeps failing?

I suggest that the issue might be similar to mine when I was attempting and failing at writing a novel. My issue, according to my teacher at the time was my dialogue. I had little and what little I had was basically just one character narrating to the other.  Her advice, though unverifable, was to tell me a story about F. Scott Fitzgerald writing The Grapes of Wrath. She said that Fitzgerald was having trouble keeping the story going. As a constant reminder, he wrote on a piece of paper he kept on his writing desk: Dialogue is Action (Cue Peter Griffin). Fitzgerald believed that no story was worth the ink from which it was printed that didn’t have the characters themselves moving the plot through what they said and left unsaid. That is what makes a riveting read, not third person narration.
 
Works in movies as well, think of any that left you speechless or better yet engaged you to talk about it with friends. Dialogue is the key. With all due respect to Michael Bay (go Transformers 3! – not so official trailer), explosions do not move a story forward, they don’t get any engagement with their audience. I’ll take the Coen brothers anytime, because dialogue in those movies makes you a part of the story. If you’re like me, you preach their entire catalogue. And, I can’t see the Coen brothers replacing their female lead with a Victoria Secret model.
 
Bringing it Back Home

The key is front line staff “getting it.” They need to know the CU story and have the ability to provide customized, caring service. And, although my teacher ended her “advice” at the F.Scott Fitzgerald quote, here are six easy suggestions to start true dialogue with your members.

My favorite from @CUSWAG

1. Make it easy. If you rely on members to ask you for products, you’ve already lost. Today, it’s too easy to get products online for CUs to believe members will be willing to jump through hoops or go to a branch and ask. Make sure your online interface is easy to navigate and make sure a live person is reaching out on every application.

2. Make it natural and a real value. No one likes a cold call, especially one with a product that has nothing to do with you. Have a reason for calling and a product you know the member can benefit from. I know some credit unions have found members wish credit unions reached out to them more with products that would help them.
 
 3. Take the conversation to them. We need to get all of our credit unions to offer volunteer hours. Arm them with a couple of business cards with all the different contact methods and some CUSWAG shirts and I guarantee dialogue will start. Just no hard sells, please.

4. Make your branches destinations. I think ING Direct has the plan with their Cafes. Branches need to be destinations, not teller lines. Why not a wine tasting at a branch or a movie night out on the lawn? As soon as they stop thinking of your credit union as an ATM and more as a part of the community, your credit union will win.

Debit card from a bank in Singapore - you think this might attract a younger member segment?

 5. Be outrageous.Boards and senior teams ask for more Gen Y, but want to use their own sensibilities. When most of them were growing up there were only four channels and none had a husband and wife even sleep in the same bed. Today, Gen Y has more outlets on their phone than can be handled and all of them have a story about Rep. Anthony Weiner’s…well you know. What CUs need is something like Singapore Bank’s campaign FRANKthat boosts card designs that will get a lot of dialogue started, most prominently their “Deep in the Valley” card.

6. Engage staff in a casual way. Engagement of employees isn’t a mandatory class on employee engagement. Dialogue is Action, but how can we have dialogue that isn’t forced?

@pjliving and I set a goal to provide a casual entry into the CU movement that combines the fun of a social gathering with the direction of an industry networking event.  Our solution was CU Aware, a regularly scheduled and coordinated happy hour.  We just hosted our second event and we had over 40 people from three different CUs, two representatives from the NC CU League and two for-profit partners that came to Share, Learn, and Grow.  CUs have more limited resources than ever and need a lot of wins to get back on financial track. This means CU employees need to believe in the CU movement and be ready to advocate for it.

The challenge I leave here is to find put how your credit union can start the dialogue in the form and manner with which your membership will respond. Please leave me any comments about how your credit union has succeeded here or what issues you have faced.

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