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It’s 1980 and I’m a teller at a credit union in Portland, Oregon. I’m driving a 1973 Volkswagen Super Beetle named Howard. I have to pay for parking. Which makes me rethink driving Howard to work and entices me to take the bus.

Bus pass = $12.00 a month. Parking Howard = $25.00 a month.


I bought a book on How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive because I had to make this car last. You see, to get a new car loan in 1980, the interest rate was around 18%. The prime loan rate hit its peak in July of 1981 at 20.5%. They called this inflation. Not to be confused with recession or depression.

I was making $650.00 a month (before taxes) and paying $175.00 a month in rent. Howard was paid for and the insurance was around $25.00 a month.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Yup, that’s right. Back to school we go.


Our basic needs are physiological. Food and water. Then we move up to our safety needs. Housing. Mobility. (Howard) Insurance. Once those are in tact we can evolve to Social needs – a sense of belonging – love (the water cooler). The next rung up the ladder is what ALL HR research shows us – it’s not PAY that motivates it’s “recognition, status, self-esteem.” And finally, at the very top – we becomes self-motivated – or in my case, self-employed.

I took a night class in college when I was a teller and learned about Maslow. I remember thinking – didn’t anyone at the credit union read this?

If they had, and they believed it, how many things would have to change?

1. Using an employment agency where the applicant pays for a teller job was a bad choice. (physiological needs not met because I had to pay one month’s wage to get the job).
2. Putting a new employee on “probation” for 90 days breeds fear and resentment (no sense of security and no clear direction as to how you PASS probation).All “team” gear was withheld. Business cards, name plate, and a file that said “hired.”
3. My training consisted of me “shadowing” an employee that clearly resented me (sense of belonging? hell no – sense of “getting in the way” big time).
4. Doing surprise “cash counts” on my teller drawer because of my member following was the complete opposite of recognition. It was pure suspicion.

I’m the Norma Rae of tellers. I’m the gal standing in the lunch room with a sign that says “You CAN’T be SERIOUS!”

It’s 2009.

29 years later and nothing much has changed. Not only must they dress appropriately, they need to be personable, detail oriented, accurate, compliant, AND cross-sell our 58 different products and services WHILE standing for 8 hours a day. All for about $10.00 an hour. Wow.

Think about it. Tellers have more control over your credit union’s brand than anyone in management. Think of how many “moments of truth” there are in the business we are in – which is “the errand” business.

That’s all I’m sayin’……..

NEXT UP: Ronald Reagan and the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 – aka “Denise Becomes a Marketer!”

Why do we call “shadowing” training? On my second day in the credit union movement, I was allowed to leave the empty desk by the door, come behind teller row and shadow Patty. Which meant, I watched her work all day.
Patty could take in a deposit in her sleep. With cigarette pursed in her lips I watched a flurry of writing, typing, stamping, and then the one thing I already knew how to do – cash handling.

After about an hour of standing there like an idiot, Patty turned around and said “Do you have any questions?” I had plenty. “What fresh hell is this?” was right there on the top of my list. Patty was not a trainer, she was an experienced teller and a prolific smoker. I asked her if she could walk me through a deposit. She couldn’t believe that I hadn’t picked that up in an hour. Her solution was to slow down a tiny bit when the next member came in – NOW did I get it?

I don’t learn by watching, I learn by doing. I also don’t like to be told WHAT to do I like to be told WHY we do things. When someone begins a training instruction with “You have to…” my brain starts frying. WHY do we have to? Needless to say – Patty and I, not a good fit.

At the end of my 90 day probationary period I sat down with Judy the HR lady again and got to sign up for my medical program. I also finally got the “rule” book that included such things as dress code, calling in sick procedures, what to do if it snows, all the really important stuff.

Then she turned to the organizational chart. I wasn’t on it. I know this because I asked. She held up the paper, pointed to the box that Mean Jean occupied and said, “Oh, you’re down here.” as she waved her hand below the page.

I’m a very goal oriented person, so my first GOAL was to get on the bloody org. chart.

So let’s review. I was admonished in my interview for NOT having previous teller experience, but an exception was made because of my almost 4 years of making change at ‘Enry Beazely’s. My first day I spent at an empty desk sorting through signature cards, looking for strays, then on my second day, I endured constant second-hand smoke while I watched Patty work.

So why did I stay? The members. Once I got my own teller window, I got to start building MY brand. I loved the members. I had a following. Members that would wait for me. I saw pictures of their kids, their last vacation, their dogs.

Mean Jean became suspicious.

Why would members wait for ME? She conducted surprise cash counts on my drawer. You see she didn’t value service. To her, being a teller meant taking in money, accurately punching it into the computer, and handing the correct change with the receipt. That’s it. To me it was about building relationships. The only service training we ever got was this statement: “Ladies, when a member comes to your window, you need to put your cigarette DOWN while you help them.” (referring to Patty’s skills of multi-tasking)

Corporations don’t have values, people do. Was I on the wrong bus? Or was Jean? Actually the answer came the day after Halloween. Four months after I started Dick was “let go.” He was the CEO and I never did find out what happened. He was just gone. There were closed door meetings all day and the tellers were left in a pall of cigarette smoke to figure it out and take care of the members.

But a few weeks later we were introduced to Tom Sargent, first time CEO from St. Helens, Oregon. He was young, and fun and decided we were going to take this bus in a new direction. Shortly after he started I was transferred out of teller row (rhymes with death row) to a desk. A newly created position called “Member Service Representative!”

I had a desk with stuff in it, a name plate, business cards and a feeling like I could make a difference. I no longer reported to Mean Jean and I thrived.

SIDEBAR: Mean Jean ended up in accounting – where she also thrived. She was better with ledgers than with humans.

NEXT: The first ripple of the ripple effect……

I’ve never shared the whole story of how I came to be a credit union evangelist. I know this past year I’ve been pretty outspoken about the movement and some of the struggles with values, purpose and philosophy. So if you don’t mind, I’d like to share a bit about where that comes from.

You see, I was the middle child of five kids in a Catholic family in Northeast Portland in the ‘70s. Yes, the last great recession. My family had some financial struggles and had to pull me out of private school my Freshman year.

I tried public high school for the rest of that year. After seeing a kid get stabbed right in front of me in the lunch room (this was also the period of desegregation) I decided I had to find a way to go back to private school. I needed a job, and fast. A girl in my homeroom heard I was looking, said she was going to give her notice at ‘Enry Beazelys’ Fish-n-Chips that night and she was sure her uniform would fit me.

We went to her locker and she pulled out the most hideous thing I’d ever seen. Burnt orange wench costume complete with ruffled hat. Wow! But it did fit.

I took the dress home, thought about it, and the next day walked into ‘Enry Beazely’s Fish-n-Chips, asked to speak to Mr. Beazely.

Mr. Beazely was a lovely older gentleman, with a firm handshake and a wonderful smile. I said, “Hello, Mr. Beazely, I’m Patty’s replacement.” He chuckled and hired me on the spot.

For the next three and 1/2 years I took a public bus to Beaverton, Oregon to attend St. Mary of the Valley (90 minutes each way). I did my homework on the bus – always. I was working 20 hours a week at ‘Beazely’s to pay my tuition.

On nights I had to work I had just enough time to get home, change from plaid pleated skirt and white blouse to the burnt orange wench costume.

Mr. Beazely taught me about leadership, culture, values and most importantly that if we are serving others, we are doing something that matters. Mr. Beazely also taught me that brand oozed from every pore of the organization. We served ginger beer, malt vinegar, and wrapped our “To Go” orders in newsprint. It was “authentic.” Right down to the serving wenches!

He had these service mantras.

My favorite: “The front counter is like the tide, you never turn your back on it.”

Mr. Beazely would “secret shop” us. Not by sending in a stranger with a script, but rather HE would come usually with his wife and some friends to dine.

If everything was not as it should be, he didn’t write us up, put it in our permanent file, or worse yet, call us out in front of others. Nope, he would simply roll up his sleeves, put on an apron, wash his hands and cook his own meal – elegantly righting the wrongs.

BUT, if everything was as it should be – at the end of the meal he would shake the hand of every employee and thank them for a wonderful dining experience.

On Thanksgiving he invited all of the crew to the restaurant for breakfast that HE would cook. He told us that on that day, he gave thanks for us. Wow.

He made me feel like what I did mattered. And when I gave my notice, I cried. He gave me a big hug and said “I will always have a place at ‘Beazely’s.”

Upon graduation, I decided I could not take the wench-wear anymore. I wanted a “real” job. And so…..I went to an employment agency.

PART TWO: Mean Jean and my first day as a teller.


= find-santa-claus-10

My how Christmas shopping has changed. Used to have to fight for parking at the mall, only to enter the tunnel of hell. Screaming children, butchered Christmas songs, bad decorations, and picked over merchandise sold by surly sales clerks.

Yesterday was different. My niece mentioned over Thanksgiving that she could not find boots to fit over her calves (that would be a problem we both have thanks to years of careful breeding). Anyway, I dialed her up yesterday, said “Get online! I think I’ve found them!” Together we surfed the pages of for “wide calf” boots and found what we think will be the perfect pair.

I practically “one-clicked” ordered them (I’m a huge fan) and up pops this fabulous message – Arrives in time for Christmas and shipping is FREE!! Shut up! I’m telling my niece this and she says “How DO they do it?” Probably pad the shipping in the cost of the boots? Who knows – but it’s definitely a GOOD profit.

This morning I got an email from letting me know the boots are on-time to be delivered TODAY! I went to the UPS site and verified. They are on a truck – in transit! She should get them by 9:30am EST. That’s less than 24 hours from the time we surfed their site. AND there’s tons of snow where she lives (Massachusetts). WOW!

I get to meet the CEO of next month. I’ve been asked to speak at the Satmetrix conference with Tammy Gallegos from America First Credit Union AND Tony Hsieh will be key-noting with this presentation:

If the Shoe Fits: How is Transforming Online Shopping by Creating a Culture Powered by Service!

Word-of-mouth is it baby! If you’re not wowing your members today, you need to attend this conference!

Dear United Airlines,

dataThanks for yesterday. I really appreciate it. Sure, we had to move 188 passengers from a completely loaded plane in Chicago (Gate B18) to a fresh new (not broken) plane at Gate B8. But I still made my connection in Denver. Thank you for giving me my luggage back in Albuquerque. Sure, it was unzipped and my panty bag was sticking out – but I know that’s not YOUR fault. You were actually “early” to ABQ, sadly the gate crew wasn’t ready for us, so we DID have to sit on the tarmac until it was time, but darnit you tried.

We celebrated our 111,670th mile-in-the-sky for 2008 last night. That’s me boarding 113 United airplanes in just under 12 months. Or, on average, 9.41 times each month I stood in line, your “preferred” line, to check my luggage, go through security and board your planes.

I stayed with you after 9-11. I endured your pilot’s strike – twice. I try to be compassionate in the winter months and understand your decision to place your hubs in Chicago and Denver. I’m even okay with you not serving pretzels anymore.

Today I heard some disturbing news. A dear friend of mine told me that she can “buy” my status from you for a mere $25.00 per trip. This can’t be true I told her. That’s why I’m so loyal to United. Because they recognize my undying devotion by giving me that one extra little perk – not having to wait as long as casual travelers as I commute to work (yesterday my commute home was a total of 9 1/2 hours).

Nope, she said, now ANYONE can buy that convenience. Oh, but United wanted to make sure that 1K flyers know they can still get that for FREE! But, United….um, I HAVE paid for it. On average my business spends $30,000.00 in airline travel. To YOU!!! And now it’s going to cost ME more, by giving up a little chunk of my soul on each flight.

Rookie travelers will be vying for my overhead bin space, slowing me down in the TSA line with their bottled water and cans of hairspray, and refusing to queue up to a machine because they never travel and want to talk to a live person (of which there are only two working per major airport) thereby clogging the flow of frequent flyers.

I know you need the money. Times are tight and all that. But if we’re going to go there – and by “there” I mean straight to bad profit hell – then I might as well fly an airline that is cheaper, friendlier, has the best on-time record AND peanuts.

Good bye United.
Hello Southwest!

I am a very loyal Target shopper. I love love love Target’s store layout, lighting, quality merchandise at cheap prices. I’ve decorated my new home in almost all Target stuff! Love Target.

My loyalty is waning. The one thing Target has never figured out (especially during holiday shopping) is that one of the critical components of customer loyalty is the moment when we part with our money. The check-out process at Target has always sucked IMHO. But I put up with it.
I got the Target Red Card a few years back. I got it for a couple of reasons.

1. Cash flow. I’ve been known to lay down some serious coin at the TarJay and it’s nice to have 30 days to pay it off.
2. Discounts. When you use your red card you get these nifty coupons in the mail for lots of money off.

But the number one reason? So the Target checker will stop asking me “Would you like to save 10% today by opening a Target account?” Gawd! Every single time. Now I use my Red Card religiously. Pay it off each month.

So, I’m at the Albuquerque Target this week loading up on Christmas stuff. My cart was FULL, but I had my 10% off your entire purchase coupon burning a hole in my pocket, so life was good.
Grand total $211.36! Wow – swipe my coupon – $190.23. Sweet! I just got my Christmas ornaments for free! Swipe my red card.

Checker casually says, “Your card was not approved.”
“Just swipe it again,” she says, bored with me. Swipe. “Nope, still not approved.”

Even though I KNOW that my balance is zero on this card, you still feel like a deadbeat when you get this news. And I’m sure all the people in line behind me thought the same thing.
I’m embarrassed so I swipe my debit card.

NOW she says, “Oh, if you don’t use your Red Card, you can’t get the 10% discount.” Seriously?
“Okay, can you tell me WHY my card is not working?” I asked.
“Nope, they don’t tell us that,” she says pointing to the computer/cash register.
“Is there a number you can call?” I calmly asked.
“I don’t know,” she replies.

She asks me to step into the penalty box (which is near the returns) and she’ll have a manager help me.

Arty was great.

He said, “Sometimes it’s just the terminal, let’s try and ring this up here.” So he took this cool suspend slip with one bar code on it that magically tallies up my load. Fun to watch. Swipe red card……same message.

I flipped the card over and suggested “we” call the number on the back. Arty lets me.

So now I’m standing in the penalty box on my iPhone screaming into the receiver because Target’s customer service line begins with the voice activated menu from hell and it’s picking up all the noise around me….finally the “computer” says…”I’m sorry, I’m having trouble understanding you, let me transfer you to the next available agent….” Whew. Finally.

On hold message reminds me that the Red Card can save me 10% on all purchase and if I’d like to apply for one, I can visit their website at!!!

“Thank you for calling Target Corporation, how can I help you?”
I explain to him that I’m AT a Target and my Red Card isn’t working.
Punch, punch, punch.
“Nope, says here you have $500 available on your card. Should be fine,” he says. I hand the phone to Arty. Arty listens, hangs up.
“Well, let’s try it again.” Swipe. “Nope, still not working.”

Now I try to reason with Arty. I’ll gladly pay with my debit card but can I still get my 10% discount? And here’s where it goes to sh*t.

“No. We can’t control that, only the computer can (again, pointing to the computer/cash register. You’ll have to use your debit card and lose the 10%. Oh, and we’ll have to take everything out of your cart and re-ring it!”

Poor Arty.

But my favorite part – and I’m NOT making this up. As Arty’s ringing up my purchase he says,

“Would you like to save 10% today by opening another Red Card?”


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June 2023