How Is Your Customer Service?
When I first began my career in fundraising, I was told to exceed expectations. I also was told that I should promote customer service. Always prepare for the unexpected because you never know who will walk through the door.
A fellow peer once told me a story about a person who looked homeless that walked into a university building and asked for the president. Because he was poorly dressed, he quickly was escorted out of the building. He was so upset that he immediately drove to another university in town where he was treated properly. He made a multimillion-dollar gift on the spot!
What poor customer service!
When I worked at a hospital, a casually dressed woman walked into our office suite. When I brought her to my office, she handed me a $25,000 check and said more was coming. She had heard about our charity and wanted to support it. She eventually became a board member and chaired a capital campaign under my direction. Due to her appearance that day, she easily could have been dismissed. That said, I taught my staff to be customer focused and always be respectful of others, regardless of appearance.
I recently attended a customer service seminar led by Dr. James Lovaas, director of the Center for Professional Development at Bethel College in Indiana. He emphasized the importance of nonprofit customer service. He noted that everyone has two to five seconds to make a good first impression. If you don’t make one, you need eight future interactions to fix your mistake.
He also noted that there are three levels of service: poor, which is less than expected; good, which is expected; and great, which is greater than expected. He emphasized that all of us need to be friendly and offer assistance. It is important to listen and react positively to what the customer says and needs. Being polite to others is a must.
Dr. Lovaas pointed out that in any customer service activity, think “WE CARE” first.
- W—Warm welcome
- C—Connect and communicate
- A—Address concerns
- R—Resolve and reassure
- E—End with fond farewell
According to Ken Mueller’s “Why Customer Service Is Important for Nonprofits,” customer service isn’t just for businesses. He indicated that nonprofits interact with three primary constituencies. They are:
- Your clients and prospective clients. These are individuals who use and need your service.
- Your donors. You need new donors and the ability to retain current donors through programs.
- Your volunteers. You need to provide excellent treatment to recruit, train and keep these key people.
Mueller stated that customer service is vital to keeping these constituencies engaged and thriving. Individuals must feel valued and appreciated. Respond to phone calls and correspondence quickly. Meet people in person as soon as possible, arrive with a smile, and answer their questions directly and positively. Don’t forget to tell your mission and story to your customers. Always appreciate them, and strive to make every interaction memorable.
As part of the customer service experience, Dr. Lovaas promoted the concept of team. As an organization, you must respect each other internally and support your team in order to provide an outer face to the external customers you serve. If you only work in the nonprofit world for two minutes, you will interact with others. As a true professional, your customers should be your staff, volunteers, administration and everyone in your organizational orbit.
You always should strive to be pleasant, concerned and caring. Be honest in your relationships, and promote your organization and yourself with pride. Always be prepared for every interaction and conversation. Smile and show joy and passion for your work. It is not only what you say, but also how you say it.
How is your customer service?
Make this aspect of your work a top priority. Your ultimate success depends on it.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.