Guest is a word that’s losing (or is already lost) meaning and impact. It works at Disney, but it’s not transferable or original or applicable in many stores. At that point, it just becomes a buzzword.

Image from

Image from

Ok, I’ll admit it–the guest label is a pet peeve of mine…especially when I find myself waiting in line at some retail store and the disinterested register operator looks up and says “I’ll take the next guest over here.”

I find myself wondering who taught them to say that, what they were thinking when they did, and why they think that calling me a guest as I am about to LEAVE the store makes any sense to anyone. It seems that it has ZERO impact on the way the person handles my check-out.

My point? Referring to a costumer as a guest (or any other word a business may use instead of customer) is meaningful ONLY when the word matches the costumer experience and expectation.

I do NOT feel like a guest in a retail store where I’m fifth in line at the check-out and (when I finally get to the register) the clerk doesn’t make eye contact with me, let alone ask me if I found everything I was seeking.

I DO, however, feel like a guest at a hotel when the staff has goes out of their way to make my stay more comfortable, or makes the effort to welcome me back when I return after being out working with a client for the day.

There’s a big difference in those two scenarios, and the difference isn’t defined by the word guest. It’s defined by the way those businesses treat me…by the way they make me feel.

Businesses have been conditioned for years to believe that the way to succeed is to have an advantage…to be better or different.

That’s true….but what, exactly, does it mean?

In her book Difference, Bernadette Jiwa points out a distinct difference between being different and creating difference. Being different is raising the bar and being one step ahead of the competition. Creating difference is about closing the gap between what already exists and what could be…about understanding how to fill the tiny gaps in human desire.

“Do you need to have a brand new idea or invent something radically different in order to create difference?” she writes. “No, not necessarily. Starbucks didn’t invent coffee, and Apple didn’t invent the smartphone; these companies simply created new experiences of them, which in turn created a whole new set of meanings that we attached to what were once commodities.”

Banking is a commodity, is it not?

What has your credit union done to make it different from every other financial institution out there?

If you say you’re “putting your members first,” or you’re “for service, not for profit,” or the people who bank with you are “members, not customers,” you’re not different.

These are words that every credit union can, should, and does use. True as they are…they are just words. What is your credit union doing that makes you different…that makes your members feel special? What difference are you creating for the member when they do business with you?

TD Bank in Canada made a real difference to its customers a few weeks ago when it turned its ATMs into “Automated Thanking Machines” as part of a marketing campaign called “Sometimes You Just Want to Say Thank You.”

Four TD locations across Canada surprised select customers with targeted gifts as part of their annual customer appreciation day and filmed their priceless reactions for a YouTube video. The customers thought they were coming in for a focus group for a new ATM. Instead they were met with a machine that presented them gifts.

One customer received airline tickets to Trinidad so she could visit her daughter who is battling cancer. Another customer got a visit from his favorite baseball player and was invited to throw out the first pitch of a baseball game.

This is the definition of creating difference.

TD didn’t invent the ATM. It reinvented the experience…experiences that made its customers feel special…it gave an entirely opposite experience than what most people expect from a financial institution.

I once attended a conference in New Orleans built around the theme of lagniappe – a French word translated as ‘a little something extra.’ In English, it has come to mean small gifts (for example, the 13th donut you sometimes get when you buy a dozen). The conference did it’s best to provide small gifts to the experience.

What kind lagniappe do you deliver to your members to create a genuine difference for your credit union?

Action Advice: Engage your team in a process to figure out how you can create a difference for your members, not with words, but with actions (and a little lagniappe). Take your ideas to your members and ask them for input so that you invest effort in things they care about, not just in things that are easy to do. Commit to making your credit union different, memorable, and worth talking about, and watch your membership grow!