Customer service Engagement Marketing

Customer Service for Nonprofits: Can You Hear Me Now?

To membership-based nonprofits, listen up: the concept of the customer experience also applies to you!


Here’s the situation: about a year ago I joined an organization that serves leaders in the nonprofit field with offerings that include information & idea-exchange, e-newsletter, discounted publications, annual conference, etc. But I decided not to renew my membership since I hadn’t gotten much out of it. It was only when working on my budget for memberships that I even realized they never sent me a renewal notice.) I also realized I never received the quarterly journal promised in their new member material, and they were unresponsive when I e-mailed them with a question about one of their events.


Welcome Back!?

So I was surprised when I got a letter telling me my membership was extended for one year. I e-mailed them asking why — given my service to the nonprofit field as a professional advisor/facilitator as well as a volunteer leader, I was just a bit curious. Was it a matter of member service recovery? Or did the organization have such a great year they decided to “share the wealth” with their members?

Guess what? No response (surprise, surprise). So I sent a letter with a copy of my earlier e-mail to the organization’s Board Chair, a well-known & highly respected leader. This time I got a response (while it wasn’t directly from the Chair, at least I got through to someone). I received a phone call and letter from the staff apologizing for the situation (which was acceptable) and offering an explanation based on insufficient staffing, mis-communication with the members, etc. (which I found lame).

There’s no excuse for this treatment of members, especially given the prestigious founders & supporters of this particular organization. (Sorry, I know the power that dissatisfied customers have in spreading negative word-of-mouth and the more current “word-of-mouse,” but I’m reluctant to divulge the name of this group).

Acquisition Without Retention = Leaky Bucket

Membership-based organizations, no matter how well-intentioned their missions, won’t survive without members. They have to pay attention to the “customer” experience, and I’m not talking about anything complicated here — just the basics of being responsive to members, answering their concerns in a timely manner, communicating effectively to manage member expectations, and delivering what was promised. 

When it comes to member/customer satisfaction, this is Customer Service 101. My friend Mike McDermott and his colleague, Arlene Farber Sirkin, wrote a great book on this entitled “Keeping Members”, published by the ASAE (American Society of Association Executives (Foundation).

What’s surprising and disappointing is that there are member-based organizations out there who still don’t get it. Trust me, they won’t get my membership either.

Customer service Engagement Marketing

Internal Marketing Fundamentals – Gaining Employee Commitment (Part 3 of 3)

Welcome to the last in this series on the 3 Rs of gaining employee commitment as the foundation of internal marketing:

  • Respect – give people the tools to do their jobs [see post 3-14-05]
  • Recognition – catch them doing something right [see last post]
  • Reinforcement – continually support a customer-focused culture.

3rd R: Reinforcement

This involves supporting the importance of customer-care in both word & deed.  Consider the opportunities you have to share this message in verbal, print, and electronic communications — internal memos, staff meetings, intranet, special events, etc.  For example, you can publish success stories of staff who go “above & beyond” when it comes to taking care of customers, recognizing employees as roles models or organizational heroes.

Unlikely media

Financial services giant MBNA has the words “Think like the customer” printed above the doorways in its offices to reinforce customer empathy.

QVC, the shopping channel, has an expression of its values inlaid in the floor of its headquarters: “Customer focus: exceeding the expectations of every customer.”

And a growing number of companies now include their mission statements and/or corporate values on the back of employee ID badges.

Special events

You can also reinforce customer importance through customer appreciation-type events.  Such activities aren’t limited to for-profits — the U.S. Census Bureau celebrates Customer Service Week each October.  Census Bureau marketing staff & employee committees explore creative ways to honor the Customer Service Week event with special activities.  For example, field offices participate by creating customer-focused displays that are peer-judged on the Bureau’s intranet.  Customer Service Week program books are published & distributed featuring service success stories submitted by customers and staff.

It just keeps going & going …

Organizations that successfully cultivate a customer-focused culture know it takes continual effort beyond just using internal media or special events.  It also means management’s actions need to be consistent with its customer-focused message, whether on a daily basis or during extraordinary times.


How does your organization reinforce a customer-focused culture?  Let me know.

Gaining & maintaining employee commitment to serving customers involves an ongoing demonstration of respecting employees, recognizing their efforts, and continually reinforcement a customer-care orientation.  This is the foundation of internal marketing.

Engagement Marketing

Internal Marketing Fundamentals – Gaining Employee Commitment (Part 2 of 3)

This post continues the series on the 3Rs of gaining employee commitment as the foundation of internal marketing:

  • Respect – give people the tools to do their jobs [see the last post]
  • Recognition – catch them doing something right
  • Reinforcement – continually support a customer-focused culture.

2nd R: Recognition

Catch people doing something right  — like going the extra mile for customers & other employees (aka “internal customers”) — so they can continue doing the right stuff.

Recognition is a critical means of making people feel valued.

Unfortunately, it’s not always applied that way.  Positive reinforcement in the workplace is usually a lack of negative reinforcement — meaning you’re more likely to get a slap-on-the-wrist for doing something wrong than a pat-on-the-back for a job well done.  We’re downright stingy when it comes to praise.

A Gallup poll found 65% of Americans received no recognition in the workplace.  So is it any wonder that the number one reason people leave their jobs is because they don’t feel appreciated?

It won’t break the bank

Recognition need not cost much; a simple, sincere acknowledgment can go a long way.  Motivational guru Bob Nelson suggests the things that are motivating to employees tend to be relatively easy & inexpensive: personal recognition (“atta boy!”), a written thank you, or public praise.

Make it fun

If you have a little bit of money, you can send flowers, balloons or special gift to deserving employees.  Spring for pizza or send a goody basket filled with food, and you’re like to start a feeding frenzy!  (Face it: food can be the ultimate motivator in an office setting.)

The Lesson of the Golden Pineapple

One of my favorite examples of the power of recognition comes from Bob Wood, EVP, Sodexho, when he was Chairman of Wood Dining Services.  Bob spent nearly 70% of his time in the field visiting clients & staff.  And when he saw an employee doing something right, he would hand them a small, gold pineapple pin that he carried in his pocket.  (Pineapple is the international symbol for hospitality and was part of the Wood Company’s logo at the time.)

In an interview I did with Bob several years ago, he told me he never ceased to be amazed at employee reaction when he gave out the pineapple pins.

“I think these pins cost 47 cents … but these people think you gave them a pile of gold.  Everyone wants to be part of something … everyone wants to feel that they are valued, that they made a difference.  To the degree we can celebrate our people, that’s our greatest tool.”


How are employees recognized in your organization?  I’d love to hear your experience on what works or what doesn’t regarding employee recognition.

Coming up next, the last in this series — the 3rd R: Reinforcement.

Engagement Marketing Training & Development

Internal Marketing Fundamentals – Gaining Employee Commitment (Part 1 of 3)

In my initial post, I promised to share what’s involved in internal marketing, a concept focused on employee & customer care.  Remember, if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers.

The foundation of internal marketing is based on what I call the ‘3 Rs’ of gaining employee commitment:

  • Respect – give people the tools to do their jobs
  • Recognition – catch them do something right
  • Reinforcement – continually support a customer-focused culture.

This week I’ll start a series on each of the 3 Rs & how they underscore internal marketing.

1st R: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

An organization respects its employees when it gives them the tools & info they need to do their jobs.  This involves communication, training, and empowerment.

Communication – people need to know what their organization stands for & what it’s all about (= mission), what its goals & objectives area, and what’s expected of them in helping to achieve these goals; i.e., how they fit in “the big picture.”

How can people be expected to contribute to an organization if they don’t know where it’s going and what’s expected of them in helping it get there?

Unfortunately, this type of communication is overlooked — it gets mentioned a few times and is assumed to be understood. So managers need to find ways to constantly reinforce employees’ fit in the organization, including explaining how their works contributes to customer satisfaction & the bottom line.  (Substitute “stakeholder satisfaction & mission fulfillment” here for nonprofits.)

Training – respect also means helping employees develop/enhance relevant job skills.  This includes:

  • training on how to do a specific job;
  • orientation to your organization and industry (it’s surprising how often the latter is ignored);
  • product knowledge training (features & benefits of your firm’s offerings);
  • interpersonal communications skills + customer relations skills training (also assumed);
  • and other ‘soft’ but important training like supervisory & management development.

And finally, respect means Empowerment – giving staff the latitude & authority to take care of customers (as well as other employees) without having to stop to ask permission every step of the way.

An easy way to remember Respect in this context is “explaining, training, and refraining” — explaining where employees fit in the organization & what’s expected of them … training them to do their jobs … then refraining from getting in their way.

It’s a no-brainer: employees who are properly equipped to do their jobs can better serve customers.


How does your organization demonstrate respect for employees?  Feel free to share your comments in response to this post.

And stay tuned for my next post on Recognition.


Engagement Marketing

Employee Engagement: Walking the Walk

In this week’s internal marketing workshop in New Orleans, I had a wonderful group of attendees interested in learning how to better engage employees. They came from a variety of organizations at different stages of internal marketing – ranging from those already doing it (and doing it well) to those just getting into it.

What was disconcerting was hearing about situations where management freely “talks the talk” but doesn’t “walk the walk” … i.e., they green light the launch of new employee incentives and recognition programs but don’t follow through consistently to support them.

Cycle of Cynicism

All this does is create a cycle of cynicism where employees don’t buy into company programs because management has no credibility. Then when faced with motivational programs that don’t work, the clueless in charge approve the creation of yet more initiatives that, without appropriate support & follow-through, are doomed to fail. Frustrated by the waste of resources put into these “flavor-of-the-month” programs, employee cynicism only deepens.

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to dealing with this situation. Ideally, someone in the organization needs to convince management of its credibility gap. (“Look, the emperors have no clothes! Or are we into an extreme version of business-casual?”)

Sometimes management just doesn’t get it. So people continue to ride wave after wave of short-lived employee motivation programs.

Crossing the Chasm

If this describes your organization, you need to assess your tolerance threshold:

  • Maybe you can find some amusement in seeing what management is going to come out with next.
  • Maybe you can hang in there despite management.
  • Or maybe it’s time to find a place where management’s credibility gap isn’t an issue.

So have fun with it, hang in there, or best of luck!

Customer service Engagement Marketing

It’s the Experience, Stupid!

I used these very words (in the title) in response to a recent post by a colleague Dana (Feb. 21, 2005) ranting about the lack of customer service. Customers have lots of choices these days, sometimes too much. It’s one of the reasons the “customer experience” has become a critical differentiator – treat customers right if you want to keep them coming back.

Too bad more companies don’t get it. I’m seeing this more & more as a business traveler. Wading through airport security … being herded on planes like cattle … and without the amenities we used to get (a small package of pretzels just isn’t enough on a cross country flight). Fellow passengers share the same frustrations, complaining about a particular airline or the industry in general.

On my last trip I heard a traveler comment about some surly airline staff. A few passengers tried to empathize with the staff given the instability of the industry and the fact that their jobs are in jeopardy. (In my experience, it’s only a handful of staff who have poor attitudes. But if they continue to to alienate passengers, their companies may not last much longer.)

My concern is for those airline staff trying to stay positive while taking care of customers. It truly is a delicate balance: as a result of cost-cutting reductions in staff & operations (needed to remain viable), airline staff have less resources at their disposal. (The good news was the last leg of my flight arrived on time; the bad news was we had to wait for baggage handling staff to unload the carry-on luggage.)

Remember, we’re also talking about employees who have taken pay-cuts, given back benefits, or haven’t had salary increases in a while. So yes, we passengers may need to be more understanding & perhaps lower our expectations a bit. At the same time, airline management needs to know it’s not a good experience – for either passengers or employees.

There’s no magic bullet for this. I just hope airline executives & managers are doing their best to be supportive of their employees — recognizing those who continue to take care of customers (despite the situation), while providing remedial attention to those don’t.

(Hint to those employees with a negative attitude: customers aren’t the only ones who have the option to leave!)

Customer service Engagement Marketing

Pop Quiz: Customers 101

Over the years I’ve developed internal marketing as an approach that recognizes the value of employees in serving customers. (Remember my mantra: take care of the employees & they’ll care of the customers.) 

You can use marketing to communicate with, educate, and motivate employees as effectively as you use it to communicate with, educate, and motivate customers. Especially when it’s based on respect — giving employees the tools they need to serve customers and each other (i.e., employees as “internal” customers).

I’m talking about the basics here … letting staff know as much as possible about your customers.  Basic stuff like:

  • who your customers are (e.g., general customer profiles & product usage)
  • what’s important to them in dealing with you
  • how they feel about your organization (from customer satisfaction surveys, complaint tracking)
  • what competitive options they have, etc.

Does any of this info get shared with employees, or is it kept for senior management’s eyes only? Excluding proprietary & confidential data, the more employees know about their customers, the better they can serve them.

Try giving your staff a quiz sometime about your customers (you can use some of the questions listed above). And if the very thought of doing this scares you, it means you have your homework cut out for you. Communicate with & educate your employees about your customers. The results will benefit everyone involved.

Engagement Marketing

Art Imitating Life

Check out AirTran Airways ad: “Fired” created by Cramer-Krasselt advertising about an employee who gets a phone call from his boss telling him he’s fired. The boss is living it up at a conference when he makes the call. Then you see the fired-employee getting on an AirTran flight to the conference. Just as the boss is making his speech about how important employees are and how profits are up (yadda … yadda … ), the employee rushes across the stage to tackle the guy. (Right on!)

Unfortunately, too many organizations claim employees as their number one asset, but it’s only lip service.

According to Dilbert creator Scott Adams in The Dilbert Principle, guess what line holds the #1 spot on the list of “Great Lies of Management?” It’s none other than “Our employees are our most valuable asset.”

Human capital … don’t you just love that term? Living, breathing “assets” or pure overhead? … What’s more important than what an organization calls its people is how it treats them. The truly smart, successful organizations are those who value both their customers AND their employees, and they demonstrate their commitment to both groups in their culture and operations. It’s what internal marketing is all about.


Engagement Marketing Musings

Warm & Fuzzy Marketing? Get Real!

Since this is my first post on the new Quality Service Marketing blog, I wanted to tell you about my concept of internal marketing.  It can best be summed up by this quote from hotelier J. W. Marriott: “Take care of your employees and they’ll take care of your customers.”

It’s a philosophy and corporate culture espoused by Marriott and many others (whom I’ll be citing over time in this blog). And it’s based on the premise that the way your employees feel is the way your customers will feel.

What’s amazing to me is the reaction I get from some executives when I talk about internal marketing. You can see their eyes glaze over as they say to themselves, “Here it comes, the old ‘warm & fuzzy’ stuff.”

On the contrary, it’s not ‘warm & fuzzy’ but crystal clear in that customer relations mirrors employee relations. Here’s the bottom line: if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers!

Unfortunately, too many organizations claim employees as their number one asset, but don’t walk the talk. In this day and age where employees are expected to create a positive experience for customers and deliver on the brand promise, managers can no longer afford to pay lip service to employees. Employees can tell the difference and so can customers!

I’ll have more to share in future posts …