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Welcome, Amigos

Never underestimate the benefits of welcoming your credit union's new members, especially those of Hispanic descent.

Whether your credit union uses letters, welcome packets, e-mails, phone calls, or a combination of strategies, welcoming efforts form the foundation of successful long-term relationships. New-member welcomes—whatever the format or audience—should thank members for their business and congratulate them on selecting your credit union.

For Hispanic members, the stakes are rising. The U.S. Census Bureau's 2000 census revealed more than one of eight people living in the U.S. are of Hispanic origin, a population that continues to grow much more rapidly than the non-Hispanic population. By 2012, Hispanics will increase to one of every six people living in the U.S. , and by 2025 to one of every four.

According to the Selig Center for Economic Growth, Hispanics' buying power will increase to slightly more than $1.2 trillion in 2012 from $862 billion in 2007. This market is worth pursuing, targeting with special programs, and retaining.

All consumers have multiple choices for financial service providers and banking formats. However, the Hispanic market includes individuals with greatly varying levels of acculturation to U.S. life.

Unacculturated and partially acculturated Hispanic members may be unfamiliar with U.S. business practices, processes, and tools for getting answers to questions or resolving disputes. These members in particular will benefit from live, outbound welcome calls from experienced bilingual member service representatives (MSR).

Many Hispanic members are unfamiliar with U.S. billing and payment processes. It's a good idea for your credit union to develop a high-contact strategy to ensure they understand your products, services, and the importance of making timely payments.

Also, most Hispanics prefer personalized, one-on-one interactions, according to WellPoint Inc.

Welcome to Our Credit Union

Live, outbound welcome calls are best delivered by bilingual MSRs. Depending on the situation, follow these steps:

  • Welcome the member and ask if he or she has any questions or concerns about the service.
  • Verify and correct account information. Be thorough—this information is invaluable if the member's account falls into collections.
  • Answer any questions the member has about the product or service.
  • Educate the member—by further describing products and services—on how to maximize his or her relationship with the credit union.
  • Explain the credit union's billing process—including the format, timing, grace period (if any), penalties, terms, and member verification tools (call center, Web site, ATMs, and so on).
  • Emphasize the importance of on-time payments to reduce delinquencies, service interruptions, and so on.
  • Increase member loyalty with a welcoming tone to improve retention and reduce attrition.
  • Identify relevant cross-selling opportunities for the future.
  • Thank the member for his or her business and reassure that you're only a phone call away if there are future questions or concerns.

The ideal timing for a welcome call depends on the type of product or service, but optimally takes place within a few days of service activation. Each welcome call reaps long-term benefits. It's the first contact you have with a member following the sales process. Make sure welcome calls are friendly, informational, and inviting.

Do You Have Any Questions?

Another opportunity to make meaningful member contact is after the first billing statement and before the first payment is due. This is particularly relevant to the Hispanic market, especially if your credit union doesn't provide bilingual or Spanish-language billing statements. If the member's preference is to speak Spanish and you're providing billing information in English, an in-language call to explain your billing and payment processes is even more important.

Keep statement education calls friendly and informational. Depending on the member's situation, follow these steps:

  • Ask if the member has received his or her bill and if there are any questions or concerns about the content or the amount owed.
  • Highlight the payment due date and explain the terms of your payment agreement or contract. Explain the due date, grace period (if any), minimum payments calculation, and penalties and/or consequences of late or missed payments.
  • Educate the member on two points: the importance of establishing good payment habits and how to build a positive credit history.
  • Describe all the ways your credit union makes on-time payments easy. Explain payment options. Based on the member's preferred payment method, explain how many days he or she should allow for the payment to be credited to the account.
  • Offer a recurring payment program in which payments are automatically debited from the member's credit or debit card, or checking or savings account. Offer an incentive for electing this service, which reduces the likelihood of missed or late payments in the future.
  • Thank the member for his or her business and reassure that you're only a phone call away if there are future questions or concerns.

On both types of calls—welcome and statement education calls—MSRs can build member rapport and sometimes identify potential disputes, collection issues, fraud, or other problems. These calls give members opportunities to build loyalty and trust with your credit union. If they do have problems in the future, they won't feel nervous about calling you to discuss the situations sooner rather than later.

Depending on the product or service, you also may want to mail members welcome packets in their preferred language. But the mailed material shouldn't substitute for live welcome calls from trained bilingual MSRs.

Welcome calls encourage members of all ethnic backgrounds not only to use your credit union's products and services, but also to pay as agreed—providing a boost to your accounts receivables.

Tony Malaghan is CEO of Arial International in University Place, Washington. Contact him at 888-446-2331. This story first appeared at www.creditunionmagazine.com and is reprinted with permission.


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