11/02/2012 11:32 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

4 Lessons From Bank Transfer Day

One year ago, Bank Transfer Day (Nov. 5, 2011) became a nationwide phenomenon for credit unions. What began as a single frustrated bank customer's Facebook event to protest a proposed $5 debit fee transformed into an organic consumer movement that had people voting with their wallets by moving their accounts from large Wall Street banks to Main Street credit unions. In one year, credit unions gained 2.2 million members (June 2011 to June 2012) and topped $1 trillion in assets. But while these factors alone are impressive, they only tell part of the story.

The lessons from this event underscore some of the rules of business today -- rules that echo basic tenets of trust and good, old-fashioned customer service. Simply put, customer relationships do not begin and end at the transaction. Customers today have many choices, so businesses must earn their relationships every day. If a customer loses trust or expresses dissatisfaction, their concerns must be addressed in a timely fashion. Otherwise, be prepared to lose that customer.

Lesson one. Social media not only matters, it has redefined the customer relationship. It can drive online discussions to create actively engaged consumers. That's why it makes sense to maintain an online presence and pay attention to what people are saying about your business. In today's world, when a customer has a negative experience, they immediately take to the Internet, post it on Facebook or tweet about it on Twitter.

Lesson two. Experience matters as much as the transaction. Businesses need to make sure every encounter is a positive one for their customers. They need to look for ways to delight their customers. Every customer can either be a champion or a critic. You determine that status with every interaction and through every experience and touch point. Make sure the experience is one they want to repeat.

Lesson three. Make it easy for people to do business with you. Today, credit unions offer most of the bells and whistles that people have come to expect from their financial institution. Mobile payments, shared branches, networks of thousands of surcharge-free ATMs -- even locations at 7-Elevens make credit unions pretty ubiquitous these days. The soaring popularity of NAFCU's credit union locator site,, has helped many people looking to join a credit union.

Lesson four. The final and perhaps most valuable lesson: Attracting new customers -- or in the case of credit unions, members -- is an ongoing process. While credit unions have done a great job of attracting and maintaining new members as a result of Bank Transfer Day, there are millions more who have yet to make the switch. According to a recent report from Javelin Strategy and Research, only 3 percent of consumers fully abandoned their large bank during the fourth quarter of 2011.

Credit unions have a valuable opportunity to become the primary financial institution for all Americans. Based on Javelin's March 2012 data, 11 percent of consumers say they're likely or very likely to switch to a different financial institution sometime in the next year. Credit unions are making opening new accounts as easy as possible, both online and in person. They are actively reaching out to dissatisfied bank customers creating the motivation necessary to encourage people to make the switch by underscoring their convenience, low fees, and high-quality products and services.

Looking ahead, the future is bright for credit unions and any other business that recognizes the value of trust and service, working to meet their customers' needs, and embracing social media as an extension of the customer relationship.