Vancity – Canada’s largest credit union with over 400,000 members and 60 branches throughout British Columbia.  Small beans on the banking scale?  Sure.  But I can truly say – partly because I’ve been a member for over 15 years – Vancity has exemplified the “how to” in brand building.

  1. Visionary One of the first online banking platforms back in the early 90’s.  (I remember online banking up a storm while everyone around me was still licking stamps.)
  2. Employer of Choice – Nationally recognized as a Top 100 Employer and named #1 Employer in British Columbia.
  3. Web Savvy – The best, most intuitive banking website you’ll find.  (In fact, find me a better one… anywhere.)
  4. Perfectly Positioned – Grassroots community with the just-right balance of “green”.  From cool, edgy ad platforms to banking programs actually targeted at (what???) the self-employed, Vancity is as non-traditional as it gets… progressive with just enough conventional spin to attract Joe average.

And that’s what its members love and embrace!  Their brand promise… while dry… does what it says:  Vancity is guided by a commitment to improving the quality of life in the communities where we live and work.

Fantastic!  But in an online banking world, what happens when we actually need to go into a (gasp) branch?  Well, let me tell you about two very different experiences.

Case Study A – Vancity Branch #11

Nine people in the line, 3 bank service people… wait… 2 bank service people after the “woman-that-won’t-make-eye-contact” leaves for lunch, a break?… who cares.  People in line now groaning… 2nd bank service guy (we’ll call him Rob) moving at a pace that is indescribably slow.  As the woman behind me spontaneously spouted, “It’s painful to watch him”… the guy behind her chimed in, “I was here last Saturday and got a parking ticket… it’s that slow here.”

It’s finally my turn to get Rob’s help… guess he “picked up” on the negative energy in the line…and the first thing he says to me is, “You can always use the ATM”.  I pause… give him my best smile through gritted teeth and inform him how I have an international cheque which I can’t deposit in the ATM.  Rob goes on to tell me how he can’t deposit the cheque in the account I’ve asked for… then walks (in oh-so-sloooooow motion) over to his supervisor… only to come back and confirm how he can’t help me.  I ask for clarification… (keep in mind at this point I’m watching his smart-ass smirk and his slooooow moving lips… I’ve done this exact transaction 100 times, and I’m not up for any more of his incompetence)… so you know what I do?  I pick up my stuff, smile and walk out.  The woman behind me applauds and says, “Good for you girl!”  Then bravely steps up to the plate.  Not your average day at the bank?

(20 minutes later)

Case Study B – Vancity Branch #4

Eight people in line, 4 bank service people.  Line moving.  Lots of happy, neighbourhood chit-chat.  News and Food Network on multiple TV’s for those that don’t choose to chat.  It’s my turn in no time flat.  Exact same request as prior branch… done.  Effortless.  “Is there anything else I can help you with?” I’m asked by the friendly, efficient bank service person.  I leave smiling and feel like high-5’ing the rest of the people in line.

What happened here?  Well, it’s simple. 

An inconsistent delivery on a critical “moment of truth” in my brand experience.  That live, face-to-face, belly-to-belly opportunity for Vancity to either enhance or erode their brand.  To either heighten or undermine my loyalty as a member and ultimately, impact our relationship for better or for worse.  And it was all in the hands of front line employees like “Rob”.

HERE’S THE STICKING POINT:  

No melodrama but this is not a new movie!  We see this inconsistency all the time… brands dropping the ball on the front lines when it really counts.

  • A brilliant car brand campaign that has you feeling like an owner, smelling the leather with wind-blown hair… you walk into a showroom and (urch) you meet the sales guy.
  • The “we know you have many airlines to choose from but thanks for picking us” warm, fuzzy, in-the-air pitch followed by the gruff lady at the lost luggage counter who doesn’t give a rip about your golf clubs.

There’s a customer revolt coming.  And it’s brands that put as much focus on selecting, training and empowering front-line or even on-the-phone-line employees to act as brand managers delivering their brand promise… (breathe)… as much focus on THAT human interaction as they spend focusing on the online/digital side of their marketing mix.  Those are the brands that will survive and thrive.

Brands that not only have their finger on the pulse… they actually have one.