Inside View: Suzette Robinette, Hiway Federal Credit Union


Inside View: Suzette Robinette, Hiway Federal Credit Union

Credit unions are known for their commitment to serving their members. At a time when a growing number of businesses seem narrowly focused on using automation to deflect customer calls, many credit unions still take pride in providing their members with personal service delivered by humans.

Suzette Robinette

A company that is focused on building lifelong customer relationships and exceeding expectations requires a leader who has a deep understanding of customers, the business, industry trends, and who is laser-focused on driving change and getting things done. Suzette Robinette is just that type of leader. Robinette is the Member Service Manager at Hiway Federal Credit Union, headquartered in St. Paul, Minn., where she oversees the day-to-day operations of the contact center.

A Passion for Helping Others

Robinette began working in the credit union industry before graduating from high school. While her professional journey has included multiple promotions along the way, Robinette’s passion for helping others revealed a clear career preference. She recalls that, early on, a manager who she looked to as a mentor told her that member services is where she belongs. Robinette agrees, adding that “serving members is just in my blood.”

Along with her innate understanding of members’ needs and expectations, Robinette’s long experience in the industry has provided her with deep insights into the trends that are transforming customer care. That, combined with her ability to successfully lead change initiatives, has earned her the respect of her colleagues as well as industry recognition of her accomplishments.

The International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) recently honored Robinette’s achievements by naming her an emerging industry innovator and leader on its 2019 ICMI Customer Experience Movers & Shakers list. According to ICMI, “This year’s honorees were chosen due to their hard work and dedication to inspire excellence, motivate peers and shape the future of customer service.”

Growing the Center to Meet Expanding Expectations

Robinette has handled both in-person and phone-based service as part of Hiway’s member services team. In 2006, when the credit union decided to launch a dedicated contact center for phone transactions, Robinette helped to develop and oversee the operation as assistant manager, and then stepped into the manager role in 2015.

Today, Hiway’s contact center handles nearly one-quarter million calls annually, as well as online chat and email inquiries. As a leader, Robinette understands the need to continuously innovate service delivery to keep pace with members’ evolving expectations for speed and accessibility. Over the years, she has witnessed the impact that technology has had on self-service capabilities but points out that “there is still a human touch that is needed in certain situations.”

In fact, the ability to speak to a person and not a machine is a service promise that Hiway makes to its members. “When a member calls our center, they don’t hear, ‘Press one for this, press two for that.’ We’re live. We’re answering those calls and helping our members,” Robinette explains. In recent years, though, rising call volume made it increasingly difficult for frontline associates to spend the time to serve members to the best of their abilities, or to allow time for staff training, she adds.

Earlier this year, Robinette oversaw a project to expand the contact center’s capacity by deploying an additional site to handle overflow calls and reduce wait time. While running the day-to-day operations of the current member services operation, Robinette was instrumental in implementing the expanded contact center. That included training additional staff, as well as helping to build a knowledge base and put in place the processes to ensure that the new site delivered the same quality service experience. The contact center now operates 24/7, answering calls that come in outside of normal business hours to ensure that Hiway members always have instant access to live service and assistance.

Supportive Leadership

Having spent time working directly with the credit union’s members, Robinette can relate to the challenges of the frontline associate’s role. She is a supportive leader, encouraging her associates to trust their judgment and experience in their daily interactions with members. Empowerment, she says, is a vital element of the workplace culture at Hiway.

Frontline teams are empowered to do what it takes to ensure that members are fully satisfied with the resolution, she says. “The associates don’t need to come to [management] to ask what they should do to resolve most issues,” she says. “I don’t want them to look to us for all the answers, but rather build the confidence to engage with our members to make things right on a daily basis.”

Robinette strives to make the contact center environment as engaging as possible for her team, and she is always on the lookout for ways to show that they are valued and appreciated. For instance, the Hiway management team regularly gives out kudos cards to recognize acts in which employees demonstrate the credit union’s core values. And a new peer-to-peer recognition program, called Hiway High Five, encourages associates to give a shout-out to their teammates who are doing a good job.

Empathy Is Key

If there is one trait that makes Robinette excel as a customer experience innovator and leader, it is quite simply her empathy for the credit union’s members and associates. Her advice to up-and-comers in the profession: “Focus on the experience the member is having with your company. Put yourself in their shoes and make it an experience that you’d want to have if you were that customer,” she says. “The same holds true for your associates. Put yourself in their role and think about how you can make that job more enjoyable for them as best as you can.”

For her part, Robinette credits the ongoing support that she gets from her team and company for the contact center’s recent successes and for creating a positive culture for growth.

“I have one of the best teams. They’re always willing to step up, learn something new and take on new challenges. I stand behind them and Hiway always stands behind them,” she says. “Hiway is very focused on our community, its members and associates. The company allows us to live that out day to day by empowering its associates to always make things right for our members, and by giving us so many opportunities to serve in the community. Knowing that I’m going to be able to help someone—that is what inspires me to come to work every day.”