Principles for CU web design strategy

This article appeared in the July/August 2001 Marketing edition of The Federal Credit Union, NAFCU’s bimonthly publication, under the title “Untangling Your Website.” It was originally written in January 2001, and updated in June 2001.

What is the organizing principle of your credit union’s web site? It should be to make it easier for your member to do business with you.

Lately web-portal vendors have been trying to make the argument that your credit union’s web site should be more "sticky." But keeping your member stuck in your site is not a goal worth pursuing. The most important metric of your website is not how long your member stay on your site during each visit or how many pages they view, but rather how easy it is for them to complete their financial scenarios.

A well-designed web site that is informative and easy to use will keep your member coming back. The easier you make it for your member to move through your site quickly and then leave, the more they will appreciate that you value their time.

Making it easy for your member to do business with you.

Decreasing download time by reducing the size of your page graphics is a very easy way to make all of your member’ scenarios easier to complete. Complex javascript menus, audio clips, and large graphics usually hinder more than help your member complete their financial business.

An example of a site which is overloaded with graphics and audio is Southwest Airlines CU’s web site. This site makes it nearly impossible to get anything done, even with a high-speed connection. Always keep in mind that the vast majority of your member have 56k or slower modem connection. Don’t get fooled by previewing your web site on your own or your web vendor’s super-high-speed in-house network.

Create simple, intuitive navigation

Many credit union web sites have adequate navigation; many have truly awful navigation; a few have outstanding navigation. Navigation issues become more complex with a growing web site, but that only makes it more important to get it right. Far too many credit union web sites have "dueling" navigation locations, where some buttons appear on the side and other links appear at the top or bottom. These distractions create confusion and indecision for the web visitor. These confusions may seem small at first glance, but when multiplied over thousands of member and tens of thousands of visits, they become a major source of dissatisfaction and aborted transactions.

If your member clicks a button, discovers that the desired information is not on the resulting page, then has to go back and try to figure out where the desired information is, you have wasted that member’s time. And if this scenario plays out more than once or twice, he will leave your site in frustration. If it’s not obvious to him where information is located, he will assume that the information is not there.

Not many people actually enjoy doing their finances. They have better things to do with their time. The payoff for making your navigation simple and intuitive: your member will love you for respecting their time.

Don’t forget potential member scenarios

Don’t forget that you also want to make it easy for potential member to find out if they are eligible to join the credit union. To make sure this information is easy to find, include a link to your eligibility requirements on every page of your web site.

Why every page? Simply because a member or potential member may enter your site on any page, not just what you think of as your home page. If you have designed your site well, the search engines will index most, if not all, pages of your entire site.

When a potential member types "home equity loan" into a search engine, they may enter your site on your home equity loan page. As hard as it is to believe, they probably don’t know what a credit union is and may not realize that they are eligible to become a member. If they are not eligible, and they find that out on your web site, you have just lightened your call center’s load.

Help Your member Help Themselves

As the internet and other remote technologies continue to proliferate at warp speed, your call center will become increasingly important, and call volumes will increase. However, you can dramatically cut your call center volume, and at the same time increase your member’s satisfaction with your credit union by asking your call center for the top ten questions that they are asked over and over again. Then put these questions, with their answers, on your web site’s FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page. Your member will appreciate that they can find the answer to their question without having to ask someone, or worse, being put on hold. Of course you have to make your FAQ page easy to find on your site.

Member-centered versus credit union-centered

Your credit union can immediately gain a competitive advantage if you make your web site member-oriented. As of June 2001, most credit union web sites are still institutionally-oriented. This simply means that information is grouped logically for the institution itself. Savings products are on one page, loan products are on another, rates are on another page, and newsletter articles are on yet other pages.

In the pre-internet era, financial institutions (and many other businesses) didn’t have to go the extra mile to make themselves customer-centric. With the advent of the world wide web, you can now sharpen your credit union’s focus on its member.

You have an opportunity to propel your credit union even further ahead of your competition, whether banks, other credit unions or other financial service providers, if you organize your website in ways that make sense to your member. By developing your website with a member orientation, you leverage the trust and credibility of your credit union and strengthen the relationship between your credit union and each member.

The most fundamental scenario: Buying a car

Let’s examine a hypothetical member experience. Your member would like to buy a car. She trusts her credit union to give her helpful advice and information on buying a car. A typical credit union web site would have her go to one page to see all loan rates (including ones she is not the least bit interested in), another page to see auto loan types, another page for specials that may be in effect, and perhaps, if the member has a lot of time on her hands (not likely), she could dig through all the past newsletters and find articles on buying a car.

There is no way for her to find all the information your credit union has to offer about buying a car. It is important to get your web site right because it is first-time car buyers who are the hungriest for information, are most likely to search online, and are the ideal youthful target market for credit unions (and your competitors!).

Instead of forcing your member to root through your site, create a member-oriented section of your site devoted to buying a car. Your auto-buying center should include links to all relevant car buying information your credit union has.

Links and information should include the various types of loans your credit union offers, along with your current rates, tips on car buying, links to Consumer Reports and other sites that give consumers car information, web-based auto retailers such as Auto-by-Tel, local dealers (especially if you offer indirect lending with them), Kelley Blue Book and/or N.A.D.A, and an auto loan calculator that ties into your rates. There should be links to all newsletter articles with car buying tips and Frequently Asked Questions when buying a car.

You can probably think of several more automotive links, but the central idea is that your credit union should offer a car buying center. What better way to put the credit union in the center of the car buyer’s experience?

Pentagon FCU and Alcoa Employees & Community Credit Union (AECCU) are examples of credit unions that have executed a basic version of this concept. They both have created an easy-to-use multi-step process that guides the member through the auto buying process, integrating their credit union into that process. The member can fill out and submit the loan app online, with response in minutes (Pentagon FCU) or in one business day (AECCU). These credit unions could improve and even expand on their offering, but the important thing is that they have started to develop a member-oriented auto-buying center.

The biggest financial decision of most people’s lives: Buying a house

For most people, the biggest (and scariest) financial decision they will ever make is buying a house. Does your credit union’s web site contain information that will help your member with this important and complicated financial transaction? Think about all the questions that you had the first time you bought a house. A simple posting of today’s rates doesn’t address your member’ concerns.

Remember your own experience and try to answer the questions you had the first time you bought a house. You may not have had a very good idea about what the process involves. Imagine what a competitive advantage your credit union would gain if your member could get all the house buying information they need from your web site, not to mention the time savings to your mortgage department.

If you do have mortgage information on your site, how much of it is helping your member through the home-buying process and how much of it is menacing-looking legal disclaimer notices?

Your mortgage department has a great deal of information that should be on your site. By designing a member-centered home buying section of your web site, you are putting your credit union in the center of your member’s home buying process. You will also make your mortgage department’s job easier by reducing the number of questions they are answering over and over again.

Putting yourself in your member’s shoes

It takes time to put yourself in your member’ shoes and ask yourself "what would I want to know if I were buying a car today? But the end result, of how much more your members will love you for designing a web site that address their true questions, concerns, and wishes, is well worth it.

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