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In Members’ Minds: What We Can Learn from Observing Our Members

Young curly-haired smiling woman withdraws money from an ATM in the city

Cat Fitzgerald

Cat Fitzgerald from Filene’s Digital Strategies group joins Cameron to discuss what she has learned from observing hundreds of tests of credit union members trying to sign up for products. Here’s a hint: like any good relationship, it should have the right amount of give and take.





Cameron – Hello and welcome to another episode of The Remarkable Credit Union Podcast. We created our podcast to help credit union leaders and marketers think outside of the box about marketing, technology, and community impact. Each episode, we bring on expert guests from inside and outside of the industry for conversations about innovation. Our goal is to challenge your preconceptions about business as usual. Today’s big question, how do we make our members and potential members feel when we create a bad experience for them online or elsewhere, and how do we fix that? Today I’m very excited to welcome Cat Fitzgerald from Filene. Cat is a freelance consultant who, over the last 18 years, has worked with numerous well-known brands,including Chanel and J. Crew. At Filene, she works as the Research and Digital Strategies Lead,and one of the things I just learned about Cat is just like me, she loves to travel, and just this year,she went to Morocco and the Philippines. Cat, thanks for joining us.

Cat – Thank you for having me.

Cameron – So I’d love to start with the origins. We had Tansley on the podcast, I think, like a year ago, and just the origins of the digital strategies work that Filene does came through this Amazon Credit Card project, and as I understand it, the thesis was basically this. Credit unions are the world’s best kept secret, and we just need to get the word out. And this is kind of the idea behind the marketing efforts and campaigns around the credit union difference, and that we just need to get the general consumer aware of what a great thing credit unions are, but it seems like what we saw from that project is maybe that’s just not true. Can you tell us more about where the digital strategies project and concept came from?

Cat – Well, so I joined the Digital Strategies team specifically around doing LOR, so it was, it was–

Cameron – And what is LOR for–

Cat – LOR is, sorry, is Live Observation Research, which is a methodology that I’ve been working in for a long time, and one of the folks who helped start the Digital Strategies program was a friend of mine named Raul Reuben, and he handed it off to me, but basically, it was started to help bring research and this sort of, and the rigor around it that other sectors and companies ar using find out more about their members and potential members, and help strengthen their digital properties as well as the products.

Cameron – And, all right, well then let me just answer my own leading question, so the Amazon pilot project, as I understand it, was Amazon said, “Hey, we’re gonna go out there”and we’re gonna connect. “We have all this information about consumers”and we know they like this cause”or they live in this region, and we’ll connect them”with the relevant credit union”that would be a best fit for them,”and so Filene charged ahead with this, and they were very excited, and ultimately, what they found was that they had something like, was it a 1. 4% conversion rate on people who actually went from Amazon and clicked on a button and said, “I want this credit card offer,” that only 1. 4% were able to actually sign up for a credit card, is that right?

Cat – Yes. And that was because of the design of the page.

Cameron – Design of the page, right. So that’s this whole concept of are we really creating a great experience for our members and our potential members and that maybe the issue is not getting the word out about credit unions, but it’s actually making it easy for people to do business with us.

Cat – Right.

Cameron – So, all right, so I answered my own question.

Cat – It’s a much better summary than I had. Especially
around the origin story, because I was not there for that.

Cameron – So I love this Live Observational Research concept and I think what’s really neat is it’s not just the online realm. User testing is obviously really common the online realm, but it’s more comprehensive. Can you tell us just what does Live Observational Research mean and what are the keys to doing it right?

Cat – So Live Observational Research means that you get your customer, your members, in and your potential members in, and a moderator, who in Filene’s case is me, will watch how they use your website to find out about your products and services, it sounds really simple, but the key to it is to actually find people who are truly in use mode and they’re actually looking for a new car loan, or actually looking for a new mortgage or a new banking relationship, and then we get them in there, we talk to them, they don’t generally know that they’re there for a specific credit union. They think that they’re there just to talk to me, and you get, it’s non-directed, and you get their natural behavior, she found out, if they come to your site and they leave it after two seconds cause they can’t find what is there even if it is there, that’s what happens.

Obviously, we bring them back, so everyone, we spend some time on each credit union site, but it’s a way to really understand how members and potential members use your site, and it’s something that people in every industry, not just credit unions, you’re so close to your own website and your own products that it’s, even if you think that you know how your customers or your members interact with you, you really don’t. So we get a lot, we get everything the most tactical, this button doesn’t work, it needs to be in a different place, to more larger, strategic, where do you fit in the consideration set, of your members or potential members, when they’re shopping for these products.

Cameron – And so you have people basically behind the curtain, behind, I assume, a one-way glass or whatever, observing you and these potential members, is that correct?

Cat- Yes, that’s correct actually, and that’s a good point,’cause one of the hidden benefits to this is you get to see your members using your site and talking about you, but oftentimes, we’ll have several people from a credit union back there together, and once, it’s a very powerful experience to watch your members and potential members using your site and talking about you and your products, especially when they don’t know you’re back there, and it can be something that’s very unifying. It helps people rally around making changes that oftentimes what we find is not really a surprise to anyone. Sometimes it’s more of a surprise than not, but most of the time, people know what their strengths and weaknesses are. It’s just so easy to get used to that that you forget how painful it is to see it in action, so it really helps rally people around making decisions based on watching an experience versus fighting about opinions and anecdotal evidence.

Cameron – And would you say this is more important for acquiring new members or for growing your relationship with your existing members?

Cat – I would say it’s equally important for both. One of the things that credit union folks often, maybe not forget, but don’t think about is that just because I might be your member with a checking account, when I go out to shop for a car loan or a mortgage, I might be even though I’m technically a member, I’m looking at the whole wide world of the Internet, you might have more of a chance to help me, but I’m almost, you have to acquire me almost as a new customer for each product that you’re getting me for. It’s not just once you’re with a credit union or a bank, you stick with them no matter what, so what works for potential members also works for your own current members.

Cameron – And how many, I feel like you’ve got this wealth of wisdom that I want just kind of steal. How many of these sessions have you done?How many credit union members/potential members have you watched at this point? So yeah, so let’s say, a typical session would be eight, we do eight one and ones in a day or an evening, and that doesn’t sound like a lot but when you’re actually watching it, all of a sudden, you get to five and you feel like you’ve got plenty. Sometimes we’ll do two days, it almost always is, it’s one day, so let’s say over 1500 folks in credit unions and then beyond that, and all the other industries,I work with a ton more, but yeah, it’s interesting cause while I learned a lot of things that apply to all of the credit unions, there are definitely individual things for each credit union that comes as a surprise to me.

Cat – Yes, so I’d love to hear, and one of the things I really wanted to get into in this session is I think soon as we get really clinical about user experience and maybe just technology in general, and particularly, in credit unions, we look at a lot of numbers, and numbers, we know, are not very emotional except for a small percentage of the population. I get a little emotional over numbers personally but–So I wanted to get to the feel more, the emotion of it, and you talked about how painful it can be to watch people struggling. Can we start at the high level of I want to know some of the things that you said you see consistently, the things that just kind of drives you crazy, common sense principles that are just violated again and again and again, and they’re no-brainer fixes, and yet you go into a session, you’re like, there that thing is again.

Cat – So the number one thing that pops into my mind is when credit unions use cute branded names for products, like a checking product, or a loan product, and they use it in the navigation, and you’d be amazed at how many people who don’t,I’m not gonna name product names, partially ’cause I don’t retain them myself, but instead of, if you use a cutesy name for your checking account, people will come in, and people are, credit union folks are shocked that people will think that they don’t offer a checking account just because they don’t, if they don’t see that, they don’t see checking account in the navigation are on the main page right away, they see something that’s sort of a branded thing, they’re gone, and of course, everyone is saying,”Of course we offer checking accounts. “Everybody offers checking accounts,”but if they don’t see it, they won’t stick around, and they’re not thinking, they don’t care about whatever your brand did, the checking account is,I’m looking for a checking account. So that’s one that drives me bananas. Another thing that drives me bananas is when people hide information in large banner graphics. That happens a lot less now, but a lot of times, it’s just the folks from the credit union in the back will admit, in their life as a consumer, they never look at those banner ads, but when they’re creating content for people who are gonna consume it from them, they’ll expect things from those folks that are as different from their own behavior when they’re doing, when they’re the customer.

Cameron – All right, so if I offer a checking product called, let’s just make up a brand called Flimflam and I say, Flimflam Accounts in the nav, then I’ve lost. I’m not gonna get business.

Cat – Completely lost. Maybe, maybe I’ll get the person was been a lot, he’s a longtime member, he’s got into your brand, he sees the cut out with the Flimflam on it, and you know. But otherwise, you’re lost, exactly.

Cameron – Okay, no big deal, I am multitasking and withdrawing my application for Flimflam LLC. You got me right now. So I wanna hear, I wanna talk a little more about the specifics, so we talked about usability testing on the podcast before, and I’m a big,I’m a usability testing nut job. I’m such a fan of it, and I think everyone at this point, for the most part, when I talk to them, it’s not like a decade ago, they kind of get the concept. They understand why it’s important. But I think that conceptual level misses that emotional impact, and we had Lara Ponomareff, who is a practice lead over at Gartner Research, formerly corporate executive board, and she’s one of the people behind this whole customer effort score concept that, did you make it easy to do business with me. And she said something that I loved, which was,’cause I tend to think of delightful digital experiences and this gets talked about a lot, but she said,”Eh, it’s not so much about delighting people, it’s about making it easy,” and that yeah, great to have a delightful experience, but the real thing is it’s more of a negative, so a bad experience, and she said, I love these words,”A bad experience creates extreme disloyalty. ” Not even moderate disloyalty, extreme disloyalty.

And so I wanna here, if I can put you on the spot, two or three examples of scenarios where you’re talking about, you’re sitting there, you’re doing the testing, and you just saw the tester’s face fall in the experience, left, I’m just feeling not good, or angry, or depressed, or the same reaction for the people behind the glass screen.

Cat – Well, a lot of times, so a lot of times, that will happen if they are getting somewhere, if they found, behind the glass, people’s faces fall when someone comes to your site, spends two seconds then and determines that you don’t have anything for them. When the folks behind the glass know full well they’ve got everything that you’re looking for, but the fact that you’re not, that you’re out of the consideration set already. That sort of kills them. What kills the folks who are doing the one on ones with me is often when they are getting, they’ll start to invest time when you show them something that’s interesting to them, or you have something that might be interesting, they’ll spend some time with you, and oftentimes, they will get really frustrated if they invest some time on your site, either looking at your rates or your loans or, and then you get to the next step, make an appointment or give us a call, or somehow, that next step fails them, and they spent this time with you, and then that next step has failed, they get kind of pissed. They call up someone and they don’t have a good experience on the phone or if they try to make an online appointment and then they get, actually, we’re not available. That’s very frustrating because they’ve spent some time with you, and then you let them down.

And there are a lot of things, a lot of people are prepared to be let down by the banks and credit unions, I hate to say, and a lot of that is around hidden fees or little, the small, fine print stuff that’s been getting them. It’s not generally, what happens, it’s terrible for them at Bank of America spreads across their feelings for everyone in the financial industry, so even though it might not be your practice, people are coming with their guards up, so the more transparent you are, the better.

Cameron – So talked about, I guess the general expectations of the industry, and that on some levels, they’re not high and there is a perception of low ethics, but if we were to blatantly appeal to self-interest, you’ve seen, you’ve been doing this Live Observational Research for a long time in a lot of industries, especially credit unions recently, so if I wanna maximize my conversion rate, as a credit union, I wanna get as much sales out of my website and digital properties as possible, what are the things that you see being the biggest opportunities that are missed?

Cat – I mean it’s rates, rates, rates (laughs) is what it comes down to for a lot of,for most people, and then it depends, I mean a lot of, so–

Cameron – Let me ask you a different way, I guess. So I get that rates are critical, I’m not gonna–

Cat – It has nothing to do, I mean, and that’s the thing, in a lot of ways our digital properties aren’t the things that are necessarily going to get your folks or not. You want them to be the best representation of yourself as they can be, the same way that someone will gain an understanding, hopefully, about your products and your services. If they walk into a branch, you want them to get that from your digital properties as well. You wanna make it easy, you wanna give them enough information, but not too much information, you wanna give them what they’re looking for right away. That’s what I would say. You don’t wanna tell them about yourself, which is usually how most websites work. You have to wade through a couple layers of let me tell you about our credit union, as opposed to let me tell you about what we can do for you, and then let me tell you why we’re a better choice than the guy next door.

Cameron – And is there anything you’ve seen,I guess I’m particularly interested in the cross channel component as well, so the website’s important, it’s a starting point for a lot of research, but then it hands off, in many cases, to a third party tool or to the call centre or to someone visiting the branch. What have you seen with regards to those cross channel interactions and what we can do to get better?

Cat – So yeah, I mean to go back to what I was saying earlier when you asked about people’s faces falling, a lot of times, it’s that exact moment that they get disappointed, and I think that one of the things we can do better is to understand that it’s not necessarily a linear process for most people. They are going to do all of these things all of the time no matter what age they are. They don’t necessarily wanna talk to somebody to get information when they’re just starting out. They want to come armed with information and then they have questions.

When they come in, they generally have specific questions and they don’t really wanna go to a call center that’s gonna give them general information. They want someone who can answer specific questions about either a local branch or products. I think that there’s nothing more frustrating, and everyone has this experience, when you call a phone tree or you go to a third party application, when you have to reenter information that you’ve already entered before. A level of mistrust, that it feels like it’s a totally different entity then the site that you were on before, like all of a sudden feels too much. Definitely, one of the number one things when I see with forms is asking too much information before you give them anything. If you asked them for every bit of information from them before you’ll give them a sense of what their rate is gonna be, people will get mad. Even though you might get a better, more specific answer for them, people like to, they don’t like to give you too much before they know what they’re gonna get from you.

Cameron – So like a sense of reciprocity, if I’m online, of how much do I have to give you before I can get things that are useful for me, is that what you’re saying?

Cat – Right, like give me a rate range before you ask me for my Social Security number.

Cameron – (chuckles) Sure. So let’s talk about third-party tools. You and I have talked a little bit about this on a separate conversation. This is sort of the, sometimes it feels like it’s the bane of our existence here at PixelSpoke. What do you see from third-party tools as far as how well they’re doing their job of moving the buyer journey forward, and maybe any common challenges and any recommendations you’d have for credit unions who want to get better?

Cat – Some of my recommendations are gonna be that, well, so the third-party tools that I’ve seen are generally just fine. They are never as good as the ones that are created, the bespoke ones. They tend to be, in my experience, a little bit too complicated, and especially something like a calculator, and so we’ll start talking about calculators. Anyone, if you think about yourself or anyone just starting out using a calculator, just start getting your head around what kind of loan you can afford. If you go to the calculator page and then you have to pick between 17 different calculators that you have to enter eight or nine different fields within the calculator, and you don’t know what some of the mean, A, it’s overwhelming, B, you can probably easily get a vastly wrong answer, but I understand that when credit unions are buying these calculators, you wanna make sure you get enough, you get sophisticated tools, so in a lot of ways, it’s not being able to present them in a way that’s easy to consume them for people. That’s the problem.

A lot of times, with the mortgage third-party tools you will go to from a mortgage center on a credit union page which is trying pretty hard to speak to its own members and potential members in the area, then you get handed off to a site that has its own mortgage center page which is always crammed and confusing, and so that handoff can be very, very confusing. So yeah, go ahead.

Cameron – I heard third-party tools are interesting. I know that a lot of, both our clients and credit unions that I talked to feel trapped by their third-party tools. They’re often in long contracts, and they have limited flexibility. They’ve got a contractual relationship, they say it is what it is. If you were entering a new contract or you saw you had one expiring in a year, you and I have talked about, we here did our own checklist of things that we’ve seen this happen so many times, where hey, these are all the things we’d recommend you do if you’re gonna go out to RFP for a third-party tool. You have a personal set of favorites of things that if you got hired on as, say, the VP of Digital Strategies for a credit union, do you have a short list of things that you would mandate the third-party tool does?

Cat – It depends on the tool, but mainly, it would be flexibility and being able to use part or all of it. It can’t just be a full handoff from one site to another. You have to be able to use it in modules, and/or edit what’s not necessary. If I advise a credit union, have decided that I only need five pieces of information to give you a quote on a loan, I don’t wanna have to force you to fill out 20 because that’s the only thing that we can get out of the box and not trying to please everybody with one form.

Cameron – It’s interesting, though, I think most of the third-party tools we’ve seen are one-size-fits-all, is that–

Cat – Completely, yeah.

Cameron – Okay yeah, it’s like mortgages are sometimes split off, but often it’s, one of the weirdest ones I see is that it’s like you apply for a credit card and it asks you how long you want the term of the loan to be for.

Cat – Oh right, the one loan page, the page for all loans that doesn’t, that doesn’t, and when people are applying for things online, they’re afraid they’re gonna make a mistake, and so you’re not giving them the tailored experience. They might be less likely to do it. Yeah, that’s true, the one loan page. (chuckles)

Cameron – Pretty common thing, and I’m curious, are there any, I guess let’s see, so it’s a different tack. I’ve talked to you about this. I’ve three big obsessions in the credit union space. It’s cause marketing. How do we help credit unions to win on impact and values as a business model rather than just rates? And I know you just burst my bubble. You said it’s only rates, but I know–

Cat – Well so that’s not actually true. I do wanna talk about that for one second, ’cause one thing that I also see a lot is that credit unions assume that everyone knows their business model and why they’re better, I guess I should say, and even their members, most of their members that I talked to don’t have a very clear idea at all. They have the sense that it’s smaller, that it’s more community-oriented, they generally understand the history of the credit union, if it came from a very specific group of people, and they understand that it used to be all, mainly for teachers or for municipal employees. They understand that, but they don’t understand that the rates are good.

Again, ’cause I guess I am coming back to rates, but the rates are good. Because they’re not paying shareholders, they’re bringing it back to you. And that’s a really powerful thing when people understand it and they just don’t understand it. They get that it’s a smaller, more community, it’s better for me, they’re on my side, they have that sort of sentiment, but they don’t understand that concrete piece of it, and that resonates a lot with them, even more than the philanthropic, or the other side that sometimes credit unions have, the nonprofit aspect. They like that but that’s not a deal-maker or breaker. You’re benefiting me and not your shareholders is a huge thing that people don’t understand.

Cameron – Great, so that’s a good point, and it’s not just that the rates are good and often better, but the why behind that. It sounded what you’re seeing is sort of like good etiquette at a cocktail party. Don’t show up and immediately start telling everyone everything about yourself. Ask them how you can give them relevant information and then keep getting permission, I guess, this is this theme of reciprocity you brought up along the way.

Cat – Exactly, it’s like, “Oh, here’s our rate. “Oh, you wanna know why? “Here’s a little bit more about us. ” Once you give people what they want, they’re open to learning about you.

Cameron – All right, so I was telling you, my three obsessions.

Cat – Yes, okay, yup, you got through number one.

Cameron – Yeah, it’s cause marketing, and then it’s financial wellness that actually changes behaviors and lives,’cause I see that core to the credit union mission and also building loyalty, and then frictionless digital experiences. And so we’ve already talked a little bit about digital experiences as well as cross channel. Do you have any thoughts about financial wellness? I mean at the end of the day the business model has to work and credit unions have a strong mission orientation, and I see you mentioned sort of the whole bunch of calculators jammed in a random section of the website. I see a lot of credit unions where that’s the extent of their financial wellness efforts, and I’m curious if you have any thoughts about what you’ve seen online or maybe that’s outside the scope of the Live Observational Research you’re doing.

Cat – No, no, it’s in the scope. I mean I haven’t seen, I can’t say that I’ve seen anything that’s digital that’s been fantastic in this area, but definitely, people talk about it a lot, both members and potential members talk about teaching their kids. A lot of it comes around teaching their children financial literacy, in figuring out a way to do that in a bank and also online. It’s interesting because it’s hard to teach kids about the value of money when it’s all online, so finding the balance between that and going into a branch where you physically have money, and then tools around learning about savings and all of that. I think there’s definitely a huge need for that, for sure. But I haven’t seen, I mean that’s an opportunity. I think that’s a huge opportunity actually, so.

Cameron – I have a friend who’s fond of saying there’s no silver bullet, so yeah, I agree, I think that any notion of that, the online and in person, so–

Cat – Right, because you can’t just give kids, I mean kids, you can’t just teach them about cash because it’s a digital world.

Cameron – It doesn’t even make sense though, right. So I’d love to just go to our final take. We covered a lot of topics, but is there, and I should also say, for anyone who’s interested, you guys have a whole range of programs and packages, including the Live Observational Research, but also a more base-level digital strategies package. I know they can find that and sign up by just Googling Filene digital strategies,’cause that’s how I found it. (chuckles) But I’d love to know just as a final take, is there anything you’d like to leave our audience with, anything you’d like to reiterate or that you didn’t get to?

Cat – Yeah, I think that there is such a huge value in talking to your customers and listening to your customers, and that goes everything, and it’s everything from formal Live Observational Research like we do to listening to the call center or listening to your tellers or listening to what the complaints are. I feel like building a practice around listening to your customers will put you in a position improve all of your offerings and your services and certainly, watching them use your tools, your site, your apps is very, it’s important, but listening to what their problems are in general will help you out, so that would be my final take.

Cameron – I love it, building a practice around listening to your members. Cat, thanks so much for joining us today.

Cat – You’re welcome, thank you.

Cameron – All right, folks, another enjoyable episode. I got a lot of interesting insights from that conversation with Cat, and I’d love to share some key takeaways as always.

One of the first things that I was struck by was that throughout the whole conversation, there was this emphasis on the need for give-and-take, for reciprocity, and really thinking about how much permission has the visitor to your website, the potential member or the current member, actually given us to tell them more about who we are, and Cat really underscored how in all of these observation sessions, you just see this continual emphasis on give people the key information they’re looking for upfront, that people online are moving really fast and they’re browsing to see can you help me or not, and so in many cases, that’s gonna be the rate. In many cases, it’ll be some key terms of the loan or the product, and in cases where you need to take information from them, and that’s often filling out a form, really focus on getting it down to the fewest possible pieces of information that you need to be able to give someone back useful information, so what’s my specific rate gonna be or am I eligible, and this also, of course, applies to calculators, which tend to be really complicated. The ask for a whole bunch of information that makes the visitor feel stupid in many cases, and often, in the credit union space, what we see is this kind of one-size-all approach means that we end up making our potential or current members go through an experience which is the most possible things we could ask for, the most possible complicated experience, and we make everyone go through that experience, and that’s a real problem for us if we really want to keep growing and thriving.

And I also thought it was interesting that Cat said that credit unions assume everyone knows their business model advantage, but in fact, they don’t. This lines up with my experiences that few members actually really understand what a cooperative is and the benefits of not returning profits to shareholders, and so thinking of that and that give-and-take, once someone has expressed interest and you’ve given them something of value, you now have permission and an obligation to tell them more.

I was also struck by this, Cat, when I asked her these third-party tools, and what would you write into an RFP, and she just said, no hesitation, flexibility, so I think that’s a great thing for us to be thinking about, how do we expect, request, and demand more flexibility from those third-party tools, so that we can tailor them to the needs of our institution.

And I also liked Cat’s comment that the best way to disappoint someone, ’cause I think we can all make analogies to our own experiences, is when we get someone to want to take the next step but they actually can’t, and so I think that’s the value of having as many people in your credit union is possible, every so often, just actually trying out the member experience, whether it’s a website or a branch, when they start reading a brochure, when they start out the journey of engaging with a product, are they able to continue that journey in the call center or an online loan application
or your mobile app or in the branch?

And lastly, as a closing thought, I love what Cat said. That’s all focus on building a practice around truly listening to our members. It’s hard for me to imagine anything more in the spirit of a cooperative than that.

Thanks as always for joining us, and I hope you have a great rest of your day.