Close this search box.

Member-First: The Importance of the Customer Journey and Personalization

The “member experience” is central to credit unions, and in theory, it’s a key differentiator between CUs and their rivals: banks and (increasingly) digital-only fintech platforms. In practice, it’s ever-more-difficult to provide a genuinely superior experience for your members. Increasingly they’ll choose to bank digitally, so getting to know them face-to-face is not the option it used to be. 

How do you provide a member-first experience in the digital age? One of the most powerful tools at your disposal is a simple process called customer journey mapping.

You’re Already Journey-Mapping Informally

Every new initiative you roll out at your credit union, from an improved branch layout to a whole digital platform, makes a number of assumptions. You make your best guess about your customer’s wants and needs, and what might be the best way to address those, and then you take concrete actions based on your assumptions.

Customer journey mapping simply provides a way to formalize those assumptions, getting them out on paper – or its digital equivalent – so you can see them, grasp them, and identify any potential problem areas or inconsistencies.]

It’s not a black art, or even an especially demanding skill set. According to longtime industry consultant Mike Neill, founder and CEO of Servistar Consulting, “Member journey mapping is a learnable, replicable process, and it’s easily taught.” 

Empathy and Imagination Are Foundational

At the heart of the mapping exercise is an ability to see a business process, not through the lens of your desired outcome, but through the eyes of the customer. This requires empathy and imagination, and it’s notoriously difficult to do. What seems obvious to a spreadsheet-focused bank officer or a software engineer in the case of digital platforms, isn’t necessarily simple and intuitive to your members. 

The goal of journey mapping is to chart every step of a given business process from the customer’s point of view. In Neill’s words, “Look at the member’s journey from their initial thought — ‘I need to transfer money’ or ‘I need to apply for a loan’ — all the way until they have money in their account.”

The Mapping Process

Many books and sites can tell you how to create a customer journey map, and most provide ready-to-use templates for the purpose. They’ll guide you through constructing a member “persona,” identifying the “touchpoints” where members interact with your processes and the “moments of truth” where they’ll either take the desired action or abandon the transaction. 

Before you choose a guide and begin constructing your first map, there are a few important points to consider. 

There Is No One “Typical” Member

The customer journey will look very different depending on the individual member’s perspective. You’ll need to create different maps for each demographically meaningful segment of your membership, from aging and tech-averse boomers to youthful, mobile-first Gen Z. 

Map Every Process

You might want to begin by mapping proposed new initiatives or your core processes, but over time, you should map every member-facing process at your credit union. Customers have come to expect seamless, friction-free service — and the bar is always rising — so without mapping, you won’t know which processes are costing you goodwill and members.

It’s Not “One and Done”

Journey mapping is a powerful tool, but like any tool, it’s most effective when used correctly. A customer journey map isn’t something to create once and cross from your to-do list. It’s most valuable when treated as a living document, which requires constant revision and updating for it to remain accurate. 

Constructing an Appropriate Persona

Each journey map takes the perspective of a specific user profile, or persona. It’s not practical to create one for every individual, but you should have a separate persona for each of your core member demographics and each demographic you want to reach with your marketing efforts. Carefully crafting these personas can have a significant impact on your credit union’s performance metrics. 

In a 2019 study of member experience and service excellence conducted for the Filene Research Institute, Professor Dennis Campbell of the Harvard Business School concluded that customer compatibility — focusing on a relatively narrow group of target customers — strengthened credit unions’ financial performance.

Identifying core demographics among your credit union’s current membership, and desired demographics for member acquisition, should be a starting point for your mapping initiatives. It’s especially important for credit unions looking to scale from their original field of membership, because prior experience becomes a less-useful guide. 

Align Your Thinking With How Your Members Think

According to Elry Armaza, the Filene Institute’s custom research director and a contributor to Campbell’s study, your goal should be to ensure that each journey is tailored to the member’s thinking process.

“It flips the script,” Armaza says, “by compelling decision-makers to start with people’s needs, motivations, goals and expectations.” As you follow each persona through its behavioral journey, you’ll begin to find common patterns that you can use to tweak your operations, your offerings and their delivery. Armaza refers to this as a “needs adaptive” member journey model.

“It’s complex but flexible,” he explains. “It can be applied to existing efforts in credit unions to improve member experience, and ultimately build lasting relationships with members.”

You Need Feedback to Refine Your Map

The initial draft of your customer journey map will probably be little more than a best-guess effort on your part. “All customer journey maps are really just groups of hypotheses that must be validated in the field with real customers,” says Jennifer Clinehens, head of experience at the Marketing Store and author of the book Creating a CX That Sings and its companion website.

Although those hypotheses are data-based, they’re prone to several predictable sources of error. “Too often, organizations will hold a workshop that leans on assumed knowledge from past research,” Clinehens says. Other poor assumptions might come from cherry-picking data that confirm existing biases, or what Clinehens terms “me-search”: Member behavior you’ve observed yourself, and assume — without proof — to be broadly applicable.

Feedback from your members is how you’ll verify that the assumptions you’ve used in your map are correct, but that’s not its only value.

Feedback Is Also a Measurement Tool

From Mike Neill’s perspective, your customer journey map should help you quantify your members’ experience with your platform in three ways. 

“The base level is ‘You met my need,’” he says. “If I can go onto that mobile banking app and I can transfer money from one account to the next, it may have taken me 5 minutes or it may have taken me 30 seconds, but I got done what I needed to get done.”

The next level, he says, is “How easy did you make it to do business with you?” He recommends reaching out to members and asking them to share where in the process — in their minds — they had to make excessive effort, or take a step that was non-intuitive. He describes this stage of mapping as “effort auditing,” and it has to be an ongoing practice. Members’ expectations will only increase with time, which means a level of effort that’s considered acceptable this year may not pass muster next year.

In Neill’s view, the customer journey map shouldn’t end when your member has completed all of the steps in the process. To him, “It ends where you understand from them whether it was a good experience or not.”

Exceeding Expectations Is the Hardest Thing

The third level of member experience, in Neill’s view, is to make member interactions a genuinely pleasurable experience. Reaching that stage, which he terms “member delight,” requires your credit union to develop a mindset that focuses specifically on this goal.

One outgrowth of that attitude is a mistrust of the status quo. Because customer expectations are always on the rise, Neill says, “You’ve got to be constantly looking at ‘how can I upgrade what I’m doing?’” Otherwise, one day your customers will begin to find your offering disappointing, and you won’t know why.

A second result of that attitude is a willingness to go beyond the member’s expectations. “Surprise me!” Neill says. “Make it amazingly easy or intuitive. Remember me. Remind me of my last transaction, and ask me if I’m sure. Reach back to me following that digital transaction and give me a one-question survey, just ‘Please rate us on our ease of use from 1 to 7,’ or something. Just make me say ‘Wow, I didn’t see that coming.’” 

Surprisingly Good Experiences Start with Analytics

A top-quality digital platform can be a powerful resource in your quest to improve the member experience. Those eye-opening, grin-inducing moments when you exceed your members’ expectations are often driven by the platform’s predictive analytics tools, which in turn draw from the data your members generate in the course of their normal daily activities.

“Predictive analytics can provide the key to personalizing my experience in a number of ways,” says the Filene Institute’s Armaza. “We see examples of that in the banking system already … [with software that] tracks credit card transactions and provides personalized alerts and recommendations, ranging from potential double payments to a vendor to completing travel plan notifications based on information shared directly from the airline itinerary from a flight ticket you bought with the card.”

Your customers want to feel that they’re perceived and validated as individuals, not simply as a source of revenue. Predictive analytics, when used creatively, can create a startlingly perceptive level of personalization. That’s what drives the success of online platforms like Netflix and Amazon, and it can be just as effective in the financial sector. If your member has paid for prenatal classes and bought a bassinet, for example, it’s no great leap to assume that congratulations — and potentially, a review of the member’s financial goals and life insurance — are in order.

A given initiative may succeed or fail, but both outcomes are valid learning experiences that can help refine your efforts.

The Virtuous Cycle

Those three pillars of the member experience journey — the journey map itself, the customer feedback that validates it, and the predictive analytics that drive new processes and experience journeys — should, when used together, create what’s known as a self-reinforcing “virtuous cycle.”

Your platform’s predictive analytics can help you identify gaps in your existing products and services, and opportunities to surprise your members with personalized offerings. Your newfound expertise in customer journey mapping then helps you determine the best ways to implement those new or refined processes, and customer feedback critiques and (ideally) validates your efforts.

Your improved services and personalized offerings create reasons for new and existing members to place more of their business with your credit union, which in turn generates a greater flow of data for your analytics tools to work with. After a few iterations of the cycle, you’ll become deft at achieving “member delight,” or as Mike Neill summarized it ,“Help me in ways that I assumed you would not be able to do.”

Journey Mapping Is a Beginning, Not an End

The value of customer journey mapping deepens with time as you become more adept at the exercise. You’ll then find an increasing number of ways to use it.

One obvious step is to apply the same mapping tools to your competitors’ offerings: If you want to know how your account-opening process compares to theirs, for example, open an account on their platform and map the process using the same methodology. Better yet, ask a handful of outside volunteers to open accounts on each platform, and tell you what they liked and disliked about each. 

To deliver the services your members need in the seamless, intuitive way they expect, you’ll also need the best available digital platform. We believe that Lumin Digital is that platform, with its combination of speed, tight integration and analytic tools. Contact us today to request a demo, and see how our software can bring your member experience to a new level.