Sunday, September 11, 2011

Building a Loyal Base For Your Nonprofit by Creating Great Customer Service

For decades the nonprofit sector has talked about stakeholders to describe the various groups of people with an interest in your work. They are people who ‘hold’ a ‘stake’ in what you do.  The dry, academic language of ‘engaging stakeholders’ drove away many from understanding the real win that comes with creating loyalty. A satisfied customer is necessary, but not sufficient, to be a loyal customer who will come back repeatedly, refer their friends and family to you, and be faithful.

This is critical in two areas, funders and clients.  About 50% of charitable behavior – giving money and volunteering – is driven not by a person’s passion, but by the passion of friends or family members.  They don’t give to you because they care deeply about you...they give to you because a friend cares deeply about you.

The other part of the equation is your clients.  My focus group research reveals that even low-income residents, who desperately need your service, will not come to your door they know someone who had a positive experience with you.

The rise in social networks has also awakened your donors and clients.  Donors want engagement and clients want personalization. People are tired of being serviced like a commodity by a faceless computer robot.  This means success depends upon intimacy between your organization and your customers.

There are other factors driving this change.  While there are many, kicking up customer service represents a big opportunity to nonprofits.  Building loyalty means a priority on keeping the friends you already have, rather than focusing always on getting new ones. From my own research, here is a collection of top tips on how to build and maintain real customer loyalty:

§         Communicate more personally more often. Get to know your clients and donors - actually call them by name, or even remember their likes and dislikes.  Definitely have systems in place to keep them updated on your work:  newsletters, social media, traditional media.  And remember, your low-income clients are more likely to have a cell phone than a computer with internet connection at home.  Texting represents an overlooked avenue.

§         Educate your customers on your business. Today you have the tools, like blogging, videos, and new web technologies, to explain and make your customers appreciate what you do, and how you do it better than anyone else. They haven’t lost interest in cutting costs, so help them understand how you are a leader in this regard.

§         Enthusiastic customers are created by enthusiastic employees. Staff engagement matters…a lot.  Enthusiasm radiates outward.  This means good communication and training for your staff.

§         Don’t take existing customers for granted.   Nonprofits focus a lot of energy on gaining new clients, donors, contracts….sometimes to the detriment of the existing ones. Spend as much time thinking of special ways to reward existing customers as you do rewarding that first-time new customer.

§         Be dependable. If you tell a customer something is going to happen then work hard to make it happen.  If something does go wrong, be proactive in letting customers know and compensate them for the inconvenience. Be flexible in solving your customer’s problem.

Statistics also show that building loyalty and retaining current customers is 3 to 10 times cheaper than acquiring new customers. Successful nonprofits know that 80 percent of their business actually comes from a stable 20 percent of their customer base. You will grow faster by nurturing this solid base of loyal customers, who then do the best job of selling to new customers, at no cost to you.

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