CMO interview: How Consumers Credit Union uses digital for customer intimacy

Marketing chief of this US-based members banking business shares her approach to customer engagement and creating effortless customer experience using technology

Lynne Jarman-Johnson
Lynne Jarman-Johnson

You’d be forgiven for believing technology and digital connectivity have de-personalised the way banks connect with customers. After all, tapping your phone and completing a funds transfer is a lot less human than going into your local branch and chatting to a teller about it.

But for the CMO of Consumers Credit Union USA, Lynne Jarman-Johnson, technology is vital to delivering better customer experiences and in turn, brand intimacy. She also, incidentally, is convinced customer education is the name of the game for modern marketing leaders. She will be speaking on these subjects at the upcoming ADMA Global Forum in Sydney on 4-5 August.

“The easier you make something for customers, the more intimate you become with someone and they will, in turn, talk about your brand, be advocates and reinforce your brand,” she told CMO.

Jarman-Johnson has been with the member-owned, US-based credit union for four years and sits on the executive team. She previously ran her own brand consultancy for 21 years dealing with financial services, the food industry and startups.

Since joining Consumers Credit Union, the group’s focus has been on building new markets and ways to communicate effectively using a variety of digital and technology tools. The company’s core customer base is the lower Michigan area.

“We utilise all the different technology and tools we can with number one objective of customer intimacy,” Jarman-Johnson said.

Historically, marketing was about identifying those about to own a home, or someone who wants to save money, and targeting them with new products, Jarman-Johnson said. However, with the rise of digital services and technology, she claimed marketing’s job now is to ensure banking is as simple and easy process for customers as possible. And that means education.

“That could be achieved by banking online, taking a picture of a cheque and emailing it to us rather than coming into the office, or doing something on your phone,” she said. “But the number one thing is to help people understand what they need to do and why they need to do certain things with their money so they can succeed.

“In marketing, we forget that – we try immediately to do the next best thing or tool, or the new ‘wow’ campaign, but people truly want education on how to use the tools we have. We’re going by the speed of light with technology and if we don’t train individuals on how to use these tools, we won’t succeed. People will just shut us down and not do business with us.”

Building a customer-first technology strategy

Jarman-Johnson said there are three key pillars to how Consumers Credit Union employs technology in a customer-oriented way. The first is researching emerging technologies to ensure it constantly innovates and brings the best possible service to members and prospects.

“For example, we just pushed over to a new online banking platform that’s very simple and stays up with no downtime,” she said.

The second pillar is training staff. Jarman-Johnson said no product offering or campaign can be launched unless employees have a thorough knowledge of how it works and can educate others.

“If staff don’t know the answers, then customers will have a poor experience of our brands,” she said. “Yes, let’s have the new technology, but then let’s train teams internally on how to use that technology before we deliver it to customers.”

Thirdly, it’s vital to educate customers on the best use of technology to improve their banking experience, and Jarman-Johnson said that’s where the “marketing train” comes in. One way she’s done this is to turn Consumers Credit Union’s blog into an e-library, featuring a raft of content types based on topic areas that relate to everyday banking activities and lifestyles, she said.

Alongside the external information source, Consumers Credit Union has also created a ‘share and care’ intranet for employees.

“If a person calls in about A,B or C, our staff can access all content and email to that individual, or just pull information up and talk through the topic,” Jarman-Johnson said. “That has been the most fun and an eye-opening experience for members and staff. They are our customer service arm. And every employee is on the marketing team – how can they not be?”

Another education-led initiative is a 24-hour ‘mobile bar’ for customers in Consumers Credit Union’s offices. The long table features a raft of technology devices now being used for banking, including a PC, Mac, iPad, Android smartphones and iPhones.

“When a customer comes in, we find out what they like to do, then ask them if they have questions about the technology and if they’d like hands-on experience and help with that,” Jarman-Johnson explained. “They can test the tools they already have, and staff are trained to help them learn how.

“For example, we teach them to log on and off, get text alerts or email, and how to use our budgeting system. It’s all one-on-one so people feel comfortable about technology versus being afraid of it.”

Getting the right corporate culture and allies

For Jarman-Johnson, the foundation for Consumers Credit Union’s customer-first approach is culture.

“That starts on day one and we have a specific interview that every person has to go through, which includes questions like how you respond when someone is frustrated? How would you go that extra mile? You can tell the people who can help someone versus those who put up a stop sign,” she said.

“If it’s hard for you personally, it’s probably the best thing you have ever done. It’s not supposed to be easy on the inside, it’s supposed to look easy for the members.”

What’s also helped is the strong bond forged between marketing, IT and operations teams, a must for seamless customer experiences, Jarman-Johnson said.

“IT is your best friend. If you don’t know how to work together and communicate effectively to stay on the same page and sing, you’ll fail miserably,” she said. “You might have all the great ideas in the world but you don’t know how to execute them. The IT and ops teams do.”

One way Jarman-Johnson has fostered open and transparent discussions between teams is through a system she called “I am an A on this”. This is about recognising cross-functional team members who are particularly passionate about a customer issue or have the best insights and experience around it.

“When we start working any new plan, we get all individuals in the room who are decision-makers – not necessarily the executives, but those involved in making it work,” she said. “We start with the goal first for customer. For example, if I want to allow a member open an account online, then everyone gets to say if they are an ‘A’ on it or not.”

An example could be security. “IT are an A on this, and if they say that the only way we can ensure a customer’s security is to have two clicks for the customer instead of one, and then explain why, I will respect why they’re going to do something I personally wouldn’t do, or try and suggest we go about it a different way,” she said.

Jarman-Johnson advised other CMOs still struggling to build strong relationships with IT to keep both the customer and transparency front of mind.

“If you lay your cards on the table, understand why someone is passionate about making something happen and in the right way on their end, then at least you will have a conversation about how to meet in the middle to make it work,” she added.

“You’ll find out you’re both after the same thing, but you don’t know what he or she has to do to get there. As long as you then communicate effectively and put your passion out there, it’s the most important thing.”

Read more: SocietyOne recruits US marketer as new CMO

Jarman-Johnson shares her top CMO attributes

  • You have to constantly learn. “If you are learning, at least when someone is communicating with you and you are listening to their ideas, you’re not automatically stuck in the rut of what you did before and why it didn’t work,” she said.

  • Don’t just learn in your comfort zone. “My comfort zone is marketing, but I love to learn about new technology and then say ‘what if’,” Jarman-Johnson commented. “It may not have anything to do with banking, but if I just have a think about it, think how much more you can move the needle for your organisation.”

  • Hold onto your humour. “You have to smile and enjoy what you do - laugh when something has gone wrong and know you will be able to solve it,” she said. “There’s no better job on the planet than marketing.”

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