Service has long been the hallmark of credit unions and many strive to make it their differentiator in the marketplace.

But when credit unions focus on service, they face the same challenge many other businesses do: How do you effectively evaluate how well you are doing when it comes to service delivery?

The customer survey has long been the bread and butter tool for understanding what their customers think.  But the process can quickly become unwieldy for a number of reasons.

And in a fast-paced world, just getting customers to take the time to complete a survey and share their feedback can be a daunting task. Let alone trying to interpret the results of long-form surveys that produce seemingly endless cross-tabulations that can support a wide range of arguments about how well you are really doing.

Author Fred Reichheld recognized this challenge and sought to find a better way to understand customer perceptions and their impacts on business growth. In his book The Ultimate Question, he suggested using one simple question as a means of simplifying and focusing the conversation: How likely is it that you would recommend this company to a friend or colleague?

Reicheld’s work and its implications were explored by authors Richard Owen and Laura L. Brooks, in their book Answering the Ultimate Question. Using case examples from their work implementing net promoter programs, the authors demonstrate the power of the approach and provide a framework for using the ultimate question to build a customer-focused organization.

Here’s how the concept works.

The ultimate question is intended to measure customer loyalty and ultimately long-term growth. The customer is asked: How likely is it that you would recommend this company to a friend or colleague? They are provided with a 10-point response scale where 1 is labeled “not at all likely,” 5 is labeled “neutral,” and 10 is labeled “extremely likely.”

Responses to the question are divided into three classifications. Those responding 9 or 10 are “promoters,” those responding 7 or 8 are “passives,” and those responding 0 through 6 are “detractors.” The percentage of respondents classified as detractors is subtracted from the percentage of respondents classified as promoters to compute the “Net Promoter Score.”

Owen and Brooks use data from companies using the ultimate question (including at least one credit union) to show that as the percentage of promoters increases the rate of revenue growth increases. They also show that for these same companies, as the percentage of detractors increases the rate of revenue growth decreases.

Answering the Ultimate Question provides a great deal of insight that credit union leaders can use to improve their understanding of how effective this question can be in measuring member satisfaction.  More important, the concepts and approach outlined in the book can readily be implemented to improve the credit union’s commitment to building a service oriented culture.

ACTION ADVICE: Get a copy of this book and read it.  Consider implementing a net promoter program for your credit union and integrate the concept into everything you do.  Remember:  If you serve members well enough that they will recommend you, you are doing the things you need to be doing to support long term growth and success.

It’s Your Turn…Are you using the net promoter concept in your credit union?  Have you considered incorporating the ultimate question as a means of measuring service performance?  Please share your insights and examples in the comments section below.