Core service principle takeaways from CUNA World-Class Service Leadership Institute

This entry was posted by Monday, 1 April, 2013
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Rick Olson, President, Rick Olson Seminars

Every year, credit union 200153517-001professionals gather to seek insights from the masters of service culture, the staff of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Known for its staff empowerment practices and dedication to its customers, the Ritz sets the bar for the service industry, acting as model for other organizations to strive toward.

CUNA World-Class Service Leadership Institute, May 20-22, 2013 at The Ritz-Carlton, Denver, highlights that model and allows credit union professionals to experience top-notch service firsthand. By taking a look at core service principles and seeing them applied outside the credit union industry, attendees gain a comprehensive view of service as an encompassing mindset to live by and not just an element of running a credit union.

Having attended and facilitated CUNA World-Class Service Leadership Institute for a number of years, I’ve picked up on some of the eye-opening insights that have helped transform the service cultures of many credit unions.

What is it that separates the Ritz-Carlton from the rest of the service industry? I asked some past institute attendees from BayPort Credit Union in Virginia the same question. Angela Snyder, BayPort’s Sales & Service Supervisor and Sue Fernaays, VP of Member Services, both attended the institute in the past and discussed with me the valuable takeaways the Ritz staff has to offer:

Learning, not training

Despite being world-renowned for their training programs, ask any of the staff and they’ll refer to the Ritz as a learning organization, rather than a training organization.

What’s the difference? Simply put, learning is active, training is passive. The Ritz staff is hired to learn, not to be trained, because it is much more productive to teach someone who is trying to learn than it is to train someone who is apathetic about knowing the information presented. This mindset puts the responsibility on the staff to know their job and to keep on learning more.

Angela Snyder embraces the concept of learning rather than training, acknowledging the effectiveness of such a practice. “I think we have implemented this approach and we try to instill in our employees the desire to want to learn,” she reported.

Service as advertisement

When was the last time you saw a Ritz-Carlton Hotel commercial on television? The answer is ‘never’. This is because the Ritz doesn’t employ commercial advertising. Their philosophy is that, “Our empowered employees are our number one advertising strategy.” Word of mouth, as well as a pristine reputation, provides enough positive attention to keep their renown growing.

“I think the institute’s most engaging factor was observing the Ritz-Carlton staff,” said Fernaays on the matter. “Seeing their service models in place was beneficial across our organization. It’s ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen and it’s very apparent that they believe in what they’re doing.”

Snyder and Fernaays agreed that even if BayPort can’t always compete with the rates of every other financial institution, they can make membership more than worthwhile through exceptional service quality. The BayPort staff has taken to referring to itself as “members serving members.”

The BayPort Way

In 2010, the BayPort Credit Union invited me to be on site for the launch of their BayPort Way service program. With the Ritz-Carlton’s service standards in mind, they designed a culture shift that prioritized service and staff empowerment.

Utilizing specific practices, such as the Ritz’s values card, which acts as a constant reminder of the organization’s elite service principles and morning huddles to provide motivation and a sense of community, BayPort has constructed a culture that they’re right to be proud of.

“The institute and the Ritz staff played a huge part in our five-year build to critical mass,” explained Snyder. “With the takeaway of the service models and the values card, our standards evolved into something much more like the Ritz. We have a morning huddle on a weekly basis in addition to our monthly corporation-wide meeting. The Ritz staff meets every day, but we think this schedule better fits our industry.”

The Ritz has unraveled the mysteries of pristine service and, for an outsider, such a culture can appear daunting, but for those who attend CUNA World Class Service Leadership Institute, at least a few standards take hold and can be put into practice in today’s credit unions.

“Every year, we go over things and see what new was brought out,” concluded Snyder. “It’s always been a part of us and always will be. It’s the best conference we’ve ever attended.”

Rick Olson is the President of Rick Olson Seminars and is the lead presenter for CUNA World Class Service Leadership Institute.

 For more information on BayPort Credit Union, visit:

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