High Performance Organizations today apply simple principles of excellent customer service. In the business sector, customer service can be any activity related to providing its customers with products and services. This same approach can be applied in a way that helps nonprofit organizations achieve their missions.
But wait, nonprofit organizations don't produce hard goods like the business sector. The products of a nonprofit organization are changed human beings, or an increased quality of life - pretty lofty stuff. So, isn't customer service really better left to profit making companies? Actually, the need to satisfy constituent expectations is common ground between the two sectors. Let's look at why this is important and how to apply five customer service principles in the nonprofit sector.
We live in a society where customer's expectations rise faster than organizations can meet them. Once FedEx told us that we could have packages delivered overnight, it quickly became the new standard. People have that same rising expectation of nonprofit organizations. People do not shut off their rising expectations just because they are dealing with a church, a hospital, or university. The more effective nonprofit organizations understand and improve their ability to meet the unique needs of donors, volunteers, board members, end users, and other constituents, as distinct customers.
With that in mind, I will take the liberty to call the people that your nonprofit organization serves, your "customers". And here are five principles for achieving a customer driven nonprofit organization:
1. Start with Mission and Goals
A nonprofit organizations' success is measured by its ability to achieve its mission and goals. Leadership must create, document and communicate this roadmap for the future. The mission and goals define what activities are appropriate. Take time to revisit them periodically. Are they still relevant? Do they need to be modified? Are constituents aligned, from board members to volunteers?
2. Adopt a Customer/Supplier Mindset
Instill the attitude that the only reason for existence is to satisfy customers, and there are both inside and outside customers. This is a subtle but profound attitude that is created by recognizing and rewarding the right behaviors. It leads to a set of behaviors where people clearly define and involve each customer in ways that provide excellence. It is also necessary to evaluate services through the bifocals of the short view, (are you providing value right now?) and the long view (will you provide value over the long term?)
3. Know your customers
Actively understanding each customer's unique needs enables you to refine products and services and create effective marketing messages. The Girls Scouts began one of their most successful programs, the Daisy Scouts, when their research found that 5 year old girls needed a special program. I also have consulted with an EAP organization that successfully created new workplace products for their customers. Both of these examples required a commitment to in depth customer knowledge.
4. Train and develop staff and volunteers
Selecting, training, developing, and motivating the people who carry out day to day activities is critical. Many organizations are finding behavioral style assessment tools useful in hiring for important roles and in identifying areas of individual development.
Training and developing staff and volunteers to provide superior customer service is often necessary. A course that we provide to groups and individuals covers topics such as: What does the customer really want? What does customer service really mean? And cultivating customer loyalty. Participants develop action plans based on their learnings.
5. Continuous improvement
Achieving success in customer service is not an instant process; instead, it is the hard work of continuous improvement over the long term. Periodic surveys that define strengths and gaps and taking action on important issues, reinforce the commitment to customer service.
Nonprofit leadership must insure that customer service is a practice that is deeply rooted in the values and practices of the organization. Striving to be the best at customer service creates a lasting positive image, inspires pride for the mission within the constituency, and helps to create advocates who bring more resources to bear. All of this helps move the organization steadily towards achieving its mission.
Greg Jordan is a trainer, consultant and author who has been in senior leadership roles for two Fortune 500 Companies. He Began the B2B Resource Team to help individuals and organizations achieve a high performance organization. His clients include both for-profit organizations and not-for-profit organizations.