COVID-19 Heightens Need for Symbiotic Sales and Service

To deliver on credit union promises, sales and service must be strategically intertwined.

By Phil Huynh, Sr. Outbound Engagement Manager, AdvantEdge Analytics


If consumer demand for speedy innovation was high before COVID-19, it’s off the charts now. We’re coming off a moment in time when all kinds of entities – from corporations to startups, restaurants to retailers, financial institutions to medical providers, even local and federal government agencies – proved they are up to the challenge of rapid adaptation.

A new standard for nimbleness certainly has been set, and credit unions will not be immune from the effect that standard will have on stakeholder expectations going forward.

Ability to anticipate needs has become a key differentiator.

The most meaningful changes we saw organizations make during COVID-19 came from really strong capabilities around anticipating needs. Employers, like CUNA Mutual Group, understood their team members could grow weary of working in ill-equipped home offices and had stand-up desks shipped out to mitigate the discomfort. Restaurants catering to families predicted a degree of takeout fatigue and bundled their menu items to make it even easier for parents to get dinner on the table. Medical clinics knew patients would wrestle with fears about in-person visits and fast-tracked telehealth technology to continue serving people throughout the crisis.

Symbiotic Sales and Service

Credit unions, too, ramped up their capabilities in myriad ways. Whether it was equipping branch crews with personal protective equipment (PPE) or making small business loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), leaders found a way to quickly make it happen. No doubt, members, staff, board directors and many others in the communities served by these credit unions took notice.

Sales and service silos must be broken down.

In anticipation of a change in member expectations around speed, personalization and agility, credit unions must strategize now to continue improving the distinctive member experience they will deliver in a post-COVID-19 landscape. One effective way to do this is to create a culture of symbiotic sales and service.

Too often, sales and service are siloed. Although credit union sales most definitely feed credit union service, and vice versa, the two are not as strategically intertwined as they can or should be.

This is not a problem unique to the credit union industry. Yet, the separation of sales and service creates a distinctive problem for cooperatives within the movement. That’s because members come to credit unions with specific ideas of what it will be like to be a part of something bigger than them. They don’t typically have the same expectation of a barber shop, a grocery store or an Internet service provider (although all three of those industries are making inroads in the pursuit of deeper, more personalized engagements with their customers). Especially now, as people value their local communities to an even greater degree, credit unions must deliver on financial cooperative promises in some very big, very memorable ways.

So, what does symbiotic sales and service look like?

In an ideal circumstance, credit union sales and credit union service are happening together in real time. The credit union, in anticipation of member needs, is reaching out to individual members proactively. The aim is to investigate how a particular product or solution either is or isn’t helping, as well as how that product or service may be modified to work for that particular member.

What’s different about this outreach is that it’s not intended to introduce the member to a product she or he doesn’t need (that’s a sales no-no to begin with). Instead, the call (or text, email, chat, Facebook Messenger convo) is a two-way dialogue that allows the credit union to get creative with personalized financial plans tailored precisely to the member – exactly what he or she came to the credit union for in the first place.

Approaching the outreach with a defined life-stage strategy allows the credit union to ensure more personalized conversations. Especially when coupled with data from internal sources (e.g., transaction or member data) or third-party data elements (e.g., propensity scores or predictive models), talks with members are centered on things that matter to them based on where they are in their individual life stages. The credit union provides better service through relevant dialogue; if the member’s problems can be solved by a product or service, the credit union also hits a sales goal.

(If you’re thinking this sounds too difficult to scale across an entire membership, read this article from my AdvantEdge Analytics colleague Lisa Knoche; it offers several practical, data-driven tactics to achieve sales + service at scale during COVID-19).

It’s not too late to start.

Several of the credit unions we work with have begun to experiment with these service-oriented outbound strategies, and they all tell us members are appreciative of the contact. One credit union even reported an unprecedented 77 percent positive outcome rate.

For those experiencing early success with their outbound strategies, it will be important to continuously re-engage members at relevant intervals over the next several months, perhaps even years. Leveraging data to gain insight into a member’s financial position and behaviors allows the credit union to “be there first” when a member’s circumstances change. Often, members don’t even know they have a need until they speak with a knowledgeable, intuitive representative.

Although we’d all hoped the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 would have waned by now, that doesn’t seem to be the case. It’s not too late to reach out to members to see how the unanticipated length of the crisis is continuing to affect them. A job that may have seemed secure in the early days of the pandemic may not seem so today. Return-to-learn plans may mean one parent has to stay home. Someone may have tested positive in the member’s immediate circle, setting him or her down a path of tricky financial obstacles.

It’s also important to consider the other financial relationships your members have today. If the banks, fintechs and alternative lenders in their lives are reaching out either more frequently or in a more meaningful way than their credit union, your relationship is at risk of chipping away slowly over time. In the case of a need to solve a sudden COVID-19 problem, your relationship may stop much more suddenly, and potentially altogether. Depending on the type of business that ultimately "wins" the relationship, that loss is not only bad for the credit union; it could be very bad for the member.

Among the silver linings of the COVID-19 pandemic is the clarity it provided around the value of credit unions to the nation. If you look at the separation of sales and service through the people-helping-people lens, it’s clear the benefits are not revenue-oriented. Credit unions, and all the partners that support them, have a duty to evolve operations and business models for the ultimate betterment of members’ lives. Now is an ideal time to put that duty into action.

To learn how AdvantEdge Analytics can help you better utilize your data in this effort, get in touch with us today.