Sometimes it pays to be the underdog. At CUNA’s America’s Credit Union Conference, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell shared an interesting stat: In the last 300 years, in military conflicts in which one opponent is significantly outnumbered, if smaller opponents don’t play conventionally, they win 63% of the time.

Only half of consumers today trust banks. But credit unions – smaller and more local than big banks – have an opportunity to gain from this lack of confidence in the financial services industry, but only if they can outdo their larger competitors with unconventional methods.

The best way to do that: By becoming incredibly open and transparent, as is uncommon in the industry, and by using this openness to deliver exceptional experiences.

Empower members’ voices to acquire customers efficiently

The financial services industry as a whole has been cautious to open their sites to member feedback, and is one of the most hesitant industries overall in the social space. But truly, there is no better way to overcome the trust gap between consumers and banks than to invite this feedback and display it – openly and transparently, good or bad. That’s exactly why USAA captures reviews, says Tom Vaughn, former USAA Director of Social Media:

“Social tools allow us to better understand member needs so that we can stay engaged with our members. This ultimately results in strengthened relationships between each member and USAA. As we improve upon these relationships, members will tell even more of their friends and family about how much they trust USAA – continuing our history of growth via word-of-mouth.”

Credit unions have a chance to beat larger banks to the punch in gathering member feedback. And this feedback is proven to attract new members. Loan service LendingTree finds that site visitors who engage with reviews start the loan process 83% more often.

Reviews also speak consumers’ language. Financial product information can be a jungle of interest rates and bank jargon. But reviews use the same words potential members are using, which improves natural search engine results. Plus, personal stories – like friendly experiences with your branch staff, cars financed thanks to your reasonable loans, etc. – put a human face on your brand.

Be incredibly responsive to build loyalty

Offer opportunities to connect with your brand directly through Q&A communities, where current and prospective members can ask questions about your products and services, and get answers from members or your brand reps.

For some types of questions, consumers are seeking subjective answers from other customers, and brand reps needn’t respond. “How friendly do you find branch staff?” In other cases, both in your Q&A community and on your social channels, they’re seeking an objective, factual response. “Is the interest rate on this loan based on my credit score?” “How do I order new checks?” In these cases, remarkably quick responses from brand reps can set you apart. Millennials often expect a brand response to questions within a few hours – with dedicated brand reps, credit unions could beat their expectations.

Responding to negative feedback is another way to show dedication to members. Offer an apology, correct any misperceptions when appropriate, and strive to resolve the problem within the response (rather than having the member call a service line or visit a branch). Seeing a brand response to a review makes 41% of consumers think the brand “really cares about consumers.” Thirty-five percent decide the brand “has great customer service,” and 22% think it’s “a trustworthy brand.”

Be quick to change to improve rapidly

Another way to prove you care about members’ experiences is to make changes based on their feedback. In fact, consumers rate “listens to customer needs and feedback” as the most important attribute for financial services in building trust. As smaller institutions with fewer products and less red tape, credit unions may be able to act on feedback more nimbly than big banks, quickly improving service.

Look for trends in your reviews to find common complaints or requests. Make those changes, and then respond to every reviewer to let them know the change has been made – not only notifying the original member, but all future visitors who see the comment. Avanza Bank in Sweden goes beyond that by literally asking customers for improvement suggestions online. Members can vote on the ideas they’d most like to see implemented, and the most voted-for ideas are presented to the bank’s C-suite.

It’s easy to see credit unions limited ad budgets and resources as a negative. But like David and Goliath, credit unions can actually be nimbler, more open, and more responsive – if they use social tools right.

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