Maybe you don’t think about our work as customer service work.
That’s the folks at the store or on the other end of the phone when you need help. Or the person at the counter of your favorite bagel place.
But if your organization deals with the public – especially if you do fundraising – then you’re in the customer service business, too.
Your crappy first job? Might have been good training for your future nonprofit career. Because how you see customer service matters.
We’ve all seen examples of poor customer service in our sector:
- Bad data hygiene – when your name is misspelled or you’re given the wrong title
- When you’re not thanked for your gift
- When an organization is in hiding and offers no way to contact a human
- When it’s obvious that “small” donors don’t matter
- When you’re not doing what you say you do
Why does good customer service matter so much?
1. You’ll stand out
In a world of churn and burn, too busy to talk, impersonal fundraising, being good at caring for your donors (and other people who connect with your organization) can make all the difference.
Empathy and connection are in short supply these days. But they’re critical if you want a successful organization and a strong fundraising program. If you’re not naturally empathetic, cultivate the skill. Consider it a baseline, must-have, one.
And remember, your brand isn’t about your colors or font choice or logo. Your brand is how you make people feel. Even a small organization can excel at making people feel important.
2. You’ll keep your donors
It’s better – and easier – to keep donors than to try to re-engage them once they’ve left. Treating them – and everyone else your organization comes in contact with – well can make a serious difference to your bottom line.
Some commercial brands really get this. Remember when the customer was always right? Companies that still believe that – and act on it – thrive.
3. People talk
Remember the part about how you make people feel? People not only make their decisions about you based on that. They talk to other people. And bad news travels much faster than good.
How you treat people also says a lot about how your organization and how you approach your work.
If a donor sees you behaving as if you don’t care, how will she think you’re treating the people you help? Would you want to give to an organization you suspect doesn’t really care?
4. You’ll have happier employees
Yes, if you’re the one answering the phone and dealing with upset people, it can be hard sometimes.
But an organization’s negative view of service can wear employees out. A positive view can support employees and leave them feeling their work is important.
An organization that cares for its donors, volunteers, and anyone in the community is an organization that probably cares for its employees, too.
If you want happy donors, prioritize happy employees who stick around – and develop strong donor relationships.
So, how to?
Research by the Customer Contact Council found something interesting.
With customer service, it’s most important to make interactions with your organization easy. What customers want most is to solve their problem. Hassle is a huge factor. It’s less about how effusive you are on the phone and more about how quickly and easily you fix their problem.
Extra steps are frustrating. For example: when I lose my internet connection at home, I call my provider. I end up on a long wait for help. During the wait, I’m urged to go online for faster help. Right. With no service.
The Customer Contact Council study suggests five tactics:
1. Resolve the current problem AND the next one
Don’t just fix it this time. If you’re in a hurry to just get someone off the phone, you may miss underlying problems. And you’ll hear from them again – not in a good way.
Be consistent if you want to build loyalty.
2. Understand emotions
Fundraising is emotional. Nonprofit work is emotional. Learn how to really listen. Learn how to respond so that someone feels you understand.
3. Offer a channel for help that works for them, not you
Like my internet example above, many corporations offer multiple channels: call, chat online, use the website. But do they all work? I couldn’t fix my internet problem without internet access.
For nonprofits, it may mean thinking through website design from the user’s point of view.
Have you ever needed to contact someone at an organization – and found there’s no information on the website? I had a problem once and it took multiple Google searches to come up with an 800 number. (The website had nothing.) The phone number I found connected me to a call service, and a person with no information or authority to help me. Now the organization’s appeals go straight to the recycling bin.
Fundraisers? You’re in a public-facing business. Be easy to find.
4. Look for feedback and learn from it
Every interaction with a someone is a chance to learn what’s working and what isn’t. But are you collecting and using the information?
One simple way to start: check out the Feedback Widget from Donor Voice. (It’s free!)
5. Empower the people dealing with customers
Can the person answering your phones deal with simple problems? If not, can they get to someone in your organization who can, quickly?
My daughter works for Starbucks. At any of their stores, staff members can offer free drinks or other solutions to disgruntled customers. They don’t need a manager’s permission. They can fix it – fast, professionally and personally. Loyalty is much more valuable to Starbucks than a few bucks for a free drink.
If you have someone dealing directly with the public, make sure they can solve problems, not just pass along messages.
We need to be all about service
Service to our mission, service to the people who are partners in that mission.
I hope you’ve had the opportunity to work in a customer service job. I think every fundraiser needs to have that experience.
If not, do some reading up, watch carefully when it’s done well and commit to thinking you’re in the customer service business. You are.
Photo thanks to Ryan McGuire at Gratisography.