Thinking Deeply About Customer Service

by Molly Hetrick

I think I am a good customer. I’m always polite, though sometimes firm, and clear about what I am asking for when contacting a business. I try to also be patient and thoughtful, I will even say “I bet you’re really busy this time of year” or “I imagine the pandemic has made things challenging for you” and many times the person appreciates the empathy.

So, let’s consider a few things:

• I had a return of an item to Chewy.com and when I called customer service, they refunded my money but said to keep the item and donate it. This is a wonderful model… but my thoughts were “How can they afford that?” and “I can imagine other people taking advantage of that”?

• The same thing happened a few months ago with Clinique. They refunded my money, but let me keep the item to gift on to someone else. Great! Convenient for me, a friend got to try the product; maybe she will start using Clinique, which is probably what they hope for. (But again, I can see people taking advantage of this?)

So, why are we talking about this?

This is the “new” kind of customer service model, particularly which the retail world is moving to. Customers now expect free shipping, no-questions-asked returns, an end to hidden fees, and a money-back guarantee. AND Consumers are in control with online reviews. They expect customer service to be instant chat, just a click or two away, and 365/24/7. They expect same day delivery options – they don’t want to wait. They want to ask questions and make their opinions heard on social media, and have a fast response.

Even though in Recreation we are not retail, I firmly believe that this is fundamentally changing the mindset and more importantly, the expectations, of customers. They want easy, they want fast, they want satisfaction and are used to “above and beyond.”

No longer is a small business able to say “I understand you used this product for 3 months, broke it and now would like a refund of your original purchase price. But I cannot afford to do that for customers and keep my small business open. So here is what I CAN offer you…” (Slightly more direct language than is probably used, but you get the point).

Large cyber businesses have cushions, loopholes, and volume to support them. Smaller businesses, non-profits, and municipal based departments who offer services do not have such great options. We can’t give a whole summer of free camps because the child had a bad experience on Week 1. We can’t let kids repeat swimming lessons over and over without payment when the parent says it’s the Instructor not the child that is at issue. If we did, we could not afford to pay staff and keep the doors open, or even stay afloat beyond one or two years.

We can’t afford to designate a staff person to cover the Instant Chat and all the social media channels, the phone, the email and the voicemail too!

Please share other examples in the comments, there are so many more!

So, what do we do?

We are just at the edge of this new change and the new habits big retail is training society to expect. So let’s look at two things.

What do Customers Want?

• Satisfaction (Happiness?)

• Their need fulfilled

• An affordable cost  (sometimes they’ll pay for faster)

• A convenient and fast solution

• Their opinions and comments to be heard

Why do Customers Complain?

• Their expectations did not match what was offered

• Their expectations outstretch what the organization can provide

• They did not feel appreciated or they felt confused

• Service was not fast enough

How can we approach this?

• Clear instructions and expectations

• Matter-of-Fact policies

• Excellent friendly customer service (start off on the right foot)

• Empathy with clear solutions of what you actually CAN do when situations come up

• A work-together approach “I understand what you are asking for, here is what I can give, is there a way we can meet in the middle?”

• Decide how you will handle the small number of customers who are repeatedly asking for something outside the policies. (The 80-20 rule)

We are just entering into this new phase of super-fast, delivered to your door, over the top service. Convenience and demand take on all new meanings, and the refunds or customer service hoops to make people happy after there is a mix up sometimes are beyond belief.

How is your organization navigating these new waters?

How are these new business practices in customer service impacting your recreation services and programs?

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Are you ready for Fall Fundraising?

by Molly Hetrick

Fall is the peak time for falling leaves and for fundraising! Here are some ideas and helpful bits of info for you to consider this fall…

Why Fall? What about the Holidays?

Traditionally people give more in the second half of the year as the holidays approach. Here are the important parts:

  • Get your fall appeal letters and marketing out before Thanksgiving.
    • When do other non-profits and big fundraising organizations get theirs out in your community? Try to work around this…
  • Early December is a good giving time IF your appeal is already out. It’s an excellent time to send email or social media reminders that support your original letter to people with a gentle nudge.
    • If not, do not send an appeal letter in the beginning of December. People are busy, holiday shopping is looming, and it will end up in the recycling!
    • At this point, you’ve missed your chance, so, you can try this next idea…
  • December is an opportunity to re-route holiday giving… instead of giving someone a gift that they may not want, people like Alternative Holiday Giving! What options can you offer?
    • Instead of a gift…
      • Put their name on a brick!
      • Sponsor a kayak!
      • Put their name on a scholarship to send a child to camp!
      • Name a wild animal after them…
      • {Insert your unique creative idea here}
      • No ideas? Offer to either send a special holiday card to the person they are gifting for (this requires extra work for your staff, really tragic if you mix things up) – OR offer them a special fun card to give themselves to the person they gifted for.
  • The last week of December is the big giving week – a great time to support your appeal letter with follow up stories, image similar social media or emails, etc.
    • Motivation at this point is often tax breaks and getting final donations made before December 31. With tax law changes, this is not always possible. Many donors still give even if they cannot claim it on their taxes.
    • This is also when donors remember their Top 3 charities. Your work all year long helps to align you to be one of their top three. If it is the end of December and you haven’t done outreach, start planning for next year to connect people and their passions to your mission.

Other Ideas?

  • Remember all year long to collect emails and addresses so you have an easily accessible list to communicate with for fundraising.
  • Is it okay to send fundraising materials to your participant lists? Double check with your Director, Board, or Attorney, but usually the answer is yes. They participate in your programs and enjoy your parks, they care about your organization, so let them know how things are going and the projects you’re raising money for in the future.
  • Remember Donor Centered Language – if you forget, look back at my previous blog posts.
    • Compare:
      • “We can’t wait to build the new picnic pavilion and we need your help to fund it!” (ie: you are the ATM machine)
      • “Your generous support for the new picnic pavilion will provide a large multi-use space for hundreds of community activities!” (warm and fuzzy!)
      • “Your gift last year made such an impact on the children who attend summer camp, will you consider a gift again this year?” (you matter! You make a difference!)
      • How do these messages feel to you? Which one makes you want to support something?
  • If you can’t handle the details of a large Fall mailing, instead:
    • Set up easy online giving and promote it through social media and eNewsletters…
    • Ask your Board Members to write personal notes or make phone calls to ask for gifts…
    • Create a special giving group and call some donors you know to offer them a special opportunity to make an impact gift towards a particular project… (exclusive, small group!)
    • Send hand written New Year’s cards that include a warm message and “please consider a year end gift to support the programs and services your family loved this year.”

I hope these ideas were helpful and got you thinking about fundraising for the Fall. This is a great time to connect with people, keep them up to date on your programs and projects, and ask them to be part of the exciting upcoming plans.

If you’re still feeling stuck, please reach out to me or to Tim Herd, PRPS CEO, as we are always interested to know what resources would be most helpful for you.

Fundraising Review – DIY consultation

I recently had the opportunity at the invitation of a Board President to visit a local non-profit and review their fundraising, in order to make suggestions and help them take their donations to the next level.

What I found was a wonderful warm group of people with a small overworked staff who does amazing work, a super marketing coordinator who puts out some of the best materials I’ve seen in a long time, innovative new programs, ongoing vital community services, and a really exciting new grant funded construction project.

They are rocking! They’ve got this, what can I possibly add to help?

Well, the need to increase their donors and find ways to encourage participants paying program fees to also make donations, plus engage a wider audience to attract new donors.

It occurred to me in sitting down to write this post that what I prepared for them might also work for you. Here are some things to consider:

  1. How is your social media?
    • Consider adding video or images that show how it “feels” to be a donor. Make it look really exciting and enticing to be part of that group
    • Consider using donor centered language. Instead of saying “Help us serve preschool children” say “You can raise up a child by supporting preschool programs” or “You can be the hero for a child!” (See below for more on this)
  2. Do you have a donor database or list?
    • Gather “everyone”: recent donors, old donors, sponsors, program attendees, vendors, grant coordinators, newsletter lists, etc – AND then ask your Board members to each provide 10 names who can be contacted. (They give their valuable time to your organization, why wouldn’t they want others in their sphere to know about your organization too?)
  3. Define Audience or Segments: who are your audiences, or communication segments, and is your message different or the same for each?
    • Insiders – those connected to and active with your programs
    • Connected – those who are familiar with your programs (think grandparents, teachers, etc)
    • Community – maybe these folks don’t know about your programs but wouldn’t it be great if they did?
  4. Make Donating Easy: I’ll say this simply: WHERE IS YOUR DONATE BUTTON? If I can’t click on your website and immediately see it, fix that first. Don’t lose people on their way to give because its not easy enough. After that:
    • Do you allow facebook fundraisers to be held on your behalf? (Awesome when someone chooses you to support during their birthday)
    • Can people set up a monthly gift? (excellent for cash flow)
    • Do you have a wishlist or list of programs/services they can support?
  5. Use Your Board:
    • Having an event? They get four extra tickets to bring people with them.
    • Having a fundraiser? They call people and champion your cause
    • Sending a mailing? They write a personal note on the mailing before it goes out AND write the thank you note when that person makes a gift.
    • (If they don’t or wont – explore why… consider bringing a consultant in to train them)
    • Ask the Executive Committee of the Board to start a “Give or Get” Policy. Each member has 12 calendar months to give or get $1000… if they want to write a check Jan 1, great. If they are not able to or don’t want to, they have 12 months to get creative with their kids, friends, church, pets, neighbors to raise $1000. Sounds fun, right??

If you don’t have time for all of this, then skip it and just read the rest because I want to talk again (like my last post) about Donor Centered Fundraising. In my experience and training, this has been my main focus. It’s a philosophy, a practice, a physiological exploration, and more. AND, it works.

This is the Very Best graphic I have ever seen to clearly show what we’re talking about. Read through – do you see the difference? Does it make you want to give? If you make no other changes, use this and change your wording. The donor wants to know where THEY fit in to the fantastic things you’re doing, not just about the fantastic things you’re doing. The full article that included this graphic is available here, authored by Cathy Elton.

I hope these suggestions were helpful! Please reach out and ask for help if you need it. You can improve your fundraising in small ways, even if it feels impossible now. Good luck!

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