29 April 2009

The Credit Union Receptionist (Someone Had to Write About It)

A credit union receptionist blogged today about her "pet peeves" at work. I'm not going to link the blog or go into detail about what was written. Not that what was written was all that bad. In fact, many of her mentioned frustrations are quite commonplace - shared by plenty of frontline personnel across the entire universe of service organizations.

I'm not going to go into detail because it doesn't matter...it's not the point. These rants take place all the time. Most of the time, however, they take place privately...amongst a group of friends, to a trusted colleague, or with family members. In this case, it took place on a public blog.

In the world of Google Alerts and Twitter, this was a very, very bad call. Dozens of people found this post first thing in the morning, and the link was quickly tweeted to hundreds of credit union folks. This was a bad reflection on the author's employer, on credit unions in general, and on the author herself. That said, I have reason to believe that it was an honest, albeit naive, mistake.

The point of this post is not to rub salt in her wounds. She took the post down as quickly as she realized her misjudgment (thanks to a phone call from Jeffry Pilcher), wrote a public apology, and hopefully nipped any potential damage to her employer and her career in the bud. Rather, I'd like to discuss the points that this situation brought to light.

1. Nothing on the Internet is private. I've heard this explained in several ways, but my favorite analogy equates posting something on the internet to putting up a billboard on a busy stretch of interstate. If you value your job, don't post negative things about your position on your blog. It's kind of like putting up a billboard that says "ABC Credit Union, along with its members, suck." Not a cool career move. The same thing goes for pictures of you doing keg stands at a frat party, taking bong hits with Michael Phelps, or putting boogers in Domino's pizzas. If you don't want the world to see that stuff, don't put it on the Internet. If you don't care, expect to deal with the consequences.

2. Word travels fast. It takes only a few clicks for thousands, even millions, of people to see what you have written. This can be a very good thing...or a very bad thing. Just because your blog doesn't typically have a huge audience, doesn't mean something you write won't end up on millions of computer screens. Fame is often cool, infamy usually isn't.

3. Credit unions need to decide if we are a cooperative of cooperatives, or an industry of competitors. I've argued for years that if the credit union movement doesn't start holding its member credit unions to consistent and higher standards, we will never be able to create a meaningful national brand. This means calling out other credit unions that have strayed from our founding philosophies, and doing what we can to control our public message. I was criticized today for encouraging the writer to rethink her post. I also saw the critics of her post be compared to an "angry mob". This mindset is unfortunate. To me, credit union employees have a responsibility not only to our employers, but to the movement as a whole. When a credit union rips people off or asks for TARP money, it's a black eye for the movement. When a credit union employee publicly complains about his/her job and members, it's a misleading public account of the entire system. Whether I'm in the minority on this stance or not, I feel like it's my duty to call people out on these misrepresentations.

If we're an industry of competitors, then I totally see the other side. In that case it's much easier to let the writer get fired, her members get ticked, and her credit union become weaker for it. I prefer to believe that our overall health depends on each and every credit union in the system. If we can help one another, we should.

The comments written on the post in question were pointed, but respectful. Had she kept the post as published, these comments would have given the counterpoint to her message. Credit unions are great places to work, and we work every day to serve our members in the best ways we possibly can. Thankfully, she removed the post, presumably saved her job, and gave us an excellent credit union social media case study from which to learn.

Social media rules aren't concrete...they're still being written, and will no doubt be re-written ad nauseam. Some truths, however, remain constant - no matter what the communications vehicle may be: some things are best left unsaid, think before you speak/write/blow smoke signals, and never discount an audience's passion for or against your opinion. While we all have the freedom to write or say anything we wish, we are also free to deal with the associated consequences - positive or negative.


bloominglater said...

i agree with you wholeheartedly. i think that the credit union industry responded quickly and harshly to this "transgression." i saw the tweet from Jeffry and replied: "do you know how many people FOLLOW you?" i knew that his picking up the story meant bad news for her. still, i retweeted it, predicting that this was another "dooce" situation.

there's an old adage: never sh@t where you eat. don't talk about work online - everyone is watching AND listening.

we used this situation to educate our staff on the dangers of posting job related comments online. we will be doing an all staff and we will be encouraging our employees to come talk with us when they have a grievance so that we can have an opportunity to discuss it, work it out and continue to provide our members the customer service that they need and deserve. this doesn't end at 5:00pm. was employees, it is our responsibility to present our credit union in a favorable light - on and off the clock.

great post. thanks a lot. 'preciate it.

Gene Blishen said...

You bring up some interesting points. One that deserves attention is the fact that this person had some issues at her work that led to her posting it into her blog.
If there is one problem that is significant in any organization it is the problem employee or employee with problems. Management needs to realize this and be onto this type of situation as soon as it is recognized because it can be devastating. Any program or plan can be dissolved very quickly by a disgruntled employee. It sometimes acts like a cancer with crippling effects in an organization. If people aren't happy they will tell others and they will show it to the membership in ways you can't imagine.
I am a firm believer in MBWA (management by walking around). This gives you the opportunity to use all your senses in arriving at what you think the emotional health of your staff is. In most cases if you are feeling something is wrong it probably is and you will need to do something about it. It helps to do this before the person posts the bad blog entry.

Matt, the Credit Union Warrior said...

@Gene You're so right! A more perceptive manager may have solved this issue before it became a problem - whether that be in noticing the employee's potential incompatibility with the demands of her position during the hiring process, monitoring frontline staff/member interactions, or simply having frequent, open discussions with his/her staff. While good management can't entirely prevent things like this from happening, it certainly can go a long way toward that desired end.

Jeffry Pilcher said...

@CUWarrior - This is a very thoughtful and tactful analysis.

It's unfortunate, but I believe her post needed to be removed -- for two reasons. First, to protect the young woman's career (and future employment prospects). Second, because it didn't paint credit unions in a flattering light. This means any subsequent comments would also need to be deleted. It would be difficult for her to leave either/both the comments or post intact.

@bloominglater - 95% of the people who follow me are industry insiders. They mostly work for/at credit unions. This situation -- while unfortunate -- is highly instructive. If you work for/with a financial institution, you are glad you know what you know now.

Personally, I'm rooting for her rebirth. She's starting with a clean slate, and as clear a conscience as she can get. I recommend subscribing to her RSS feed and see where she goes from here.

As Tony pointed out: Who knows, she could very well become the next Andy LaFlamme.

Anonymous said...

It’s really easy to say things like “Credit unions are great places to work” but seriously tomorrow the CU nearest me may be closed, or under a different name, or even be a bank. If that happened, would it have been a “great place to work” the day before? The month before? The year before?

This is the reality of the CU movement.

There's a few more thoughts over on the sporadically updated CU Skeptic blog

Matt, the Credit Union Warrior said...

@CUSkeptic Even more reason for the movement to call out its bad apples. Do exceptions exist? Absolutely! Those examples are few, but need to be pointed out.

Matt, the Credit Union Warrior said...

@bloominglater Thanks for your comment! Your point about an employee's responsibility not ending at 5:00 is very well made. Heck, the father of American credit unions, Edward Filene, believed that one of the most important responsibilities in a person's life is to his/her employer. I couldn't agree more.

It would be misleading for me to claim that I never complain about things that happen at work...but I will never do so publicly. My respect for my employer and my desire to keep a roof over my family's head is adequate inspiration to keep those thoughts as concealed as humanly possible. I get to work in one of the finest industries this world has ever seen. Someday, we'll learn to be more appreciative of that fact.

@Jeffry Thanks for your comment and for the great idea to call the receptionist. I think you saved her a lot of additional grief that she did not deserve.

Tim McApine said...

I personally feel the best thing about yesterday's events was Jeffry Pilcher actually taking the effort to pick up the phone and call Jossi. He definitely changed her tune and possibly saved her job. If Jeffry had not done that, this would have boiled all day and not had a happy ending. It goes to prove that there is still room for a good old fashioned phone call in this online conversation age.

I know not everyone agrees with me. Here are two tweets from yesterday that are of a very different opinion.

"@currencytim oh boo hoo. she screwed up. she doesn't need The Savior (aka Fin Brand) to defend her."

"@currencytim why don't we give her a gold star for the day for her troubles"

But that's totally OK, because everyone is allowed their opinion and it just adds to the mix!

Breathe said...

I'm conflicted on this one. We are living in a time where many more people are "living out loud." Their concerns with privacy are nearly non existent and they are as likely to tell you their deepest secret as they are their political views or pet peeves.

It speaks to our need for relationship and connection. I suspect attempts to police comments so we only paint positive pictures of institutions will crash and burn in another 10 years and we'll just not be as mortified. It will simply be everywhere.

I'm not sure the living out loud generation is willing to be brand ambassadors 24/7. Sure we marketing types say it's critical, but even I get tired of that band wagon. After a while, it is tough to sustain. (And I'm the person who actively recruits bank victims on airplanes so they canjoin a credit union)

For plenty of people there is a job and there is their life and there's a bright line between them. But at your first job, or frankly at any entry level job is that realistic to expect? For $10 bucks an hour?

Sigh. I suppose I empathize with someone being amusing for amusement sake. Over a year ago I found a hilarious list from a CU teller at an unnamed CU with a list of things they "wished" to say to members like "No, I don't know your account number," and "No, I don't know how long you've been a member here." If I can track it down, I'll post it in code somewhere.

Yes, everyone is listening. But do we leave our sense of humor at the door? Should we also lighten up? Do you think members join because they think it's all sunshine and roses to work at ABCFCU?

That said, the Texas Credit Union League is the greatest place to work on the entire planet.

I'm just saying.

Ron Shevlin said...

The attention that's being paid to this matter -- and the sympathy for this woman -- is way out of line.

If she had written "I'm a receptionist for a car dealer..." would any of you cared even the least bit? NO. (Granted, you wouldn't have even heard about it in the first place).

So why take action by commenting on her blog and helping her "save her career"?

As for all the "lessons learned"... mularkey.

The lesson this woman didn't learn is one that gets taught in kindergarten -- "if you don't have something nice to say about someone, don't say it all".

p.s. I'd hesitate to characterize the comments of a few "the credit union industry", @bloominglater. Reality is: As a whole, the "CU industry" didn't hear about, didn't care, nor should they have.

Jeffry Pilcher said...

Who's to judge what another person finds interesting or worth their time and attention? What decides whether a person deserves the pity or compassion of another? Isn't it up to each individual to make these choices for themselves?

Janine said...

Matt, thank you. I appreciate those who use social media and battle internally with self censoring and bitting one's tongue. I support the freedom of speech. Yet, there are times I believe people go too far, lashing out, venting, blaming, and so on without reflecting on their contribution to the situation, or the long term impact on a company or other people.

Sometimes it pays to take a step back in a negative environment and see if it's something I'm doing that contributes to the problem. Is there a process that needs to be examined or changed that is the root cause of the problem?

I appreciate in the credit union community that when mistakes occur there are people who care enough to reach out and help.

And yes, we all need to be reminded that what we post online lives on. It's kind of like squeezing all of the toothpaste out of a tube and then tring to get it back in again.

Stay passionate!

Christopher M said...

Great post and another reason why every credit union should have someone using Google Alerts (and other similar tools) to monitor what people are saying about you on the internet.

Here's a primer: