Having worked in the nonprofit community for most of my career, I have seen varying levels of good and bad customer service. I have always been a proponent of exemplary customer service and feel that it should be the number one priority for any nonprofit organization. Every nonprofit exists to meet the needs of specific customer service platform customers through the delivery of services and programs. As such, shouldn’t their customers be their top priority, as they are their most important stakeholders? This article asks questions related to your customer service practices, and items you should consider in relation to developing and implementing a quality customer service program.
- What type of customer service program do you currently have in place? If you are struggling to answer this question, that should be a red flag. I highly recommend that you develop a customer service program, educate your staff about why good customer service is important, and solicit their input and support to ensure the continuous implementation of exemplary customer service practices. Below, I highlight some areas that I think are important components in a customer service program. However, I suggest that you also investigate other customer service programs in your community to see how they are set up and what makes them effective.
- Do you have any policies and procedures related to customer service, handling customer concerns and complaints, soliciting customer input/feedback, assessing customer satisfaction with services, etc.? If policies and procedures to address these areas don’t exist, I strongly recommend that you develop and implement these types of policies and procedures. To avoid reinventing the wheel, you could ask other organizations for a copy of their customer service policies and procedures.
- How do you treat your customers? Do you treat them with respect? Do you make every attempt to understand their concerns, problems, issues, and situation? Are you patient with them or in a hurry to tackle another issue or problem? If you don’t have time to talk to someone who needs assistance at that moment, let them know that. You can either refer them to one of your co-workers who is available to talk, or schedule an appointment in order to give them the time and help they need.
- How do you handle your customers’ calls and e-mails, regardless of the nature of the contact? Do you return them within 24-48 hours or does it take you weeks before you respond? Unfortunately, I know of organizations that only respond to their customers after the customer contacts them several times. Put yourself in their shoes. If you don’t want to be treated like this, then you shouldn’t subject your customers to this type of treatment. I strongly recommend that you develop a policy related to all staff members returning phone calls and e-mails within 24-48 hours, unless they are sick or on vacation.
- Do you address and discuss customer service in new employee orientation and/or ongoing staff training? If not, you should set aside time to reiterate that your customers are your number one priority and how they should be treated. Although your customers are your most important stakeholders, there will be times when they are frustrated, upset or angry. Initial orientation and ongoing training should include instruction on what to say and how to handle customers when they are angry, how to defuse potentially explosive situations, and when to refer them to your immediate supervisor. Using role-playing exercises can also help staff practice the do’s and don’ts of handling angry customers.
- Do you provide current and useful information to your customers? Do you make appropriate referrals, when needed? Part of great customer service is to ensure that your staff members are knowledgeable, skilled, and equipped to share information and make referrals that will aid your customers in achieving their individual goals.
It is important to keep in mind that nonprofits exist to serve specific groups of customers. It is equally important to remember how we want to be treated as a customer. We all want to be treated with dignity and respect, we want our calls and e-mails returned promptly, we want current and accurate information, and we want assistance that will help us to achieve our goals. Your clients are no different. So, if you don’t have a customer service program in place, or after reading this article you feel that your existing program could be improved, take those steps necessary to develop, implement, and retain an exemplary customer service program. Your customers will appreciate it, and you’ll feel better in knowing that you are providing the best customer service possible.