Focusing on customer experience during a merger

During the merger of Inspirus and Gesa credit unions, the integration team learned to plan for increased touchpoints, to overcommunicate and to get help from an outside partner.

Mergers are never easy, so using customer experience as a north star can help everyone focus on what customers want and expect currently, during integration and once two organizations become one.

During the merger and integration of Inspirus and Gesa credit unions, both based in Washington state, CX guided decisions, adjustments and measurements. Each institution had a distinct way of serving members: Gesa, double the size of Inspirus, focused on physical locations, while Inspirus focused on virtual branch strategy. Their integration goals were increased virtual engagement and transactions – primarily through an app – and less than 2% member attrition.

The integration team’s first step to ensure merger success was to hire a consultant for journey-mapping and charting the CX course for the newly combined entity. The consultant had worked with one of the credit unions in the past, and thus brought knowledge of the business as well as the ability to recommend and deploy new technology infrastructures.

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CX planning included close examination of each touchpoint to identify changes and determine logistics and communication to ensure that new member engagements and transactions were superior to previous experiences.

The credit unions participated equally at the CX stage, which was important for reimagining the culture needed to deliver on a new member experience. Their objective was to move from traditional customer service approaches to a modern member experience with virtual contact opportunities, digital delivery of products and services, and online transactions.

Experience planning also included employee experience. Since contact center employees were on the front lines, emphasis was on supporting them with the best technology and tools possible, and augmenting the team to effectively handle the volume of member inquiries.

Despite extensive planning and the addition of new services, we experienced volume stress that was difficult to manage – call volume tripled from November 2019 well into 2021. We didn’t have enough FTEs available for the contact center, so we recruited and trained team members from other departments. We pivoted to offer contact center assistance 24/7 and expanded our business hours, and also created internal overflow teams and recruited team members to work overtime.

We brought in an outsourced contact center provider for back-up, but it was experiencing its own staffing challenges and an unexpected demand for its services, so we were still under-resourced.

Positive outcomes

  • We exceeded our goal of increased engagement through the app, ending at an 82% conversion rate.
  • We met our attrition goal by minimizing disruption, effectively communicating value, and extending business hours.
  • Our employee experience was successful. On paper, we had been legally one entity for 15 months, yet we had not experienced the team-building difficulties that change can cause. Every department pitched in to work directly with members. Many of us stepped out of our comfort zone. But, by focusing on the CX and through training and frequent communications, we worked side-by-side and emerged as one solid team.

Lessons and affirmations

  • Don’t underestimate touchpoint volume. We needed more resources on deck for the contact center. Employees’ work was not as balanced as we would have preferred and the member experience not as smooth as planned.
  • Don’t go it alone. Many leaders in our industry second-guess the need for outside assistance during major transitions. Thinking through the CX design and fundamentals with a third party validated our ideas and plans.
  • Choose outside partners who have handled situations like yours. Our CX partner had experience orchestrating experiences when credit unions merge.
  • Set clear expectations for necessary capacity with vendors.
  • Overcommunicate during major transitions, both get help from an outside partner. . A member merger manual was particularly useful for us.

Today, Gesa Credit Union members can get their needs met virtually, with the exceptions of getting cash or a debit card, which still happen inside a branch. Soon, even those transactions will be digital.

We are refreshing our brand, creating a new “virtual” face for Gesa and introducing additional virtual touchpoints, including a new video banking channel and virtual assistants. Refreshed physical branches will underscore the virtual focus. The branding will reflect the one unified member experience we set out to create.

Natalia Tapia is vice president of virtual branching at Gesa Credit Union. Becky Roemen is practice leader, customer experience and contact center consulting at Avtex.