April 23, 2015

Members vs Customers

Comment January 22, 2013 by Triangle Credit Union 

When I started working for Triangle, coming from a big bank, one of the hardest cultural shifts to make was to drop the word customer from my vocabulary. See, here at Triangle Credit Union we don’t have customers, we have members. Though the difference between the two may seem slight, it actually forms the core values of our organization. Triangle Credit Union is a financial cooperative and our members are our owners. According to theInternational Co-Operative Alliance, “a co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise”. Among the core values of any cooperative are “self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity.” As a not-for-profit, full-service financial institution, we deliver these values by identifying our existing and potential member needs through progressive, cost efficient products and services, while maintaining a strong financial position.

Our members can achieve self-responsibility through our home banking and remote banking tools and the resources that we share such as educational seminars and our education center. Democracy is achieved through ownership; every member is an owner and can attend and vote on our leadership at our annual meeting. Equality is achieved through our open and voluntary membership; anyone residing in these counties of New Hampshire and Massachussets can join, and there is no penalty to leave. Equity and solidarity are achieved through our organization’s success, as our profits are returned to our members with equal consideration given to our depositors and our borrowers. Our organization wouldn’t exist without our members; taken together they are the cells that make up the organism that is our Credit Union.

Customers, on the other hand, exist outside of the organism. Goods and services are pushed to them often based on the needs of a corporation’s shareholders. This creates a one-way street that does not allow room for the self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity afforded to a member of a cooperative.

It was probably a week before I was correctly referring to our customers as members. In that time, I watched and listen to my colleagues refer to members in reverent tones and take on issues with complete ownership. I came from a world where customers were interchangeable and a disgruntled one could be replaced, to a world where every member mattered and each was a unique and treasured individual. I quickly learned that at Triangle Credit Union, we don’t deliver customer service rather we anticipate and respond to our member’s needs.


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