Business Week just published their annual customer service rankings. The theme this year in the accompanying editorial is the role of service during a recession. They make the case that in these times holding on to your customer base is critical to survival. In efforts to trim budgets, many companies are cutting back on service and thereby risk losing their core revenue.
This strikes me as good wisdom for nonprofits as well. Do you cut back on programs and therefore make them less effective, or do you cut out some programs entirely and focus on doing a few well?
The challenge in the nonprofit sector (and the main reason nonprofit management is harder than corporate management) is that it is unclear who the customer is that you are working to retain.
Do you need to invest in serving your paying customers better (e.g. foundations, corporations, donors, government, etc.) or the recipients of your service (e.g. the hungry, sick, kids, etc.)? Not serving the latter will end up hurting your relationship with your funding partners but that lag could take years, and by then the economy could be stronger. On the other hand, how could you maintain your integrity increasing service to donors while cutting service to clients?
These challenges aside, Business Week offers four great tips to increase customer service during these times that translate well to nonprofits:
- Cross train employees so they can play multiple roles and flex based on market need. None of us can afford to have employees that are only able to do one job. We need problem solvers who can pitch in helping internal and external clients if needed.
- Invest in simple technology that improves touch and responsiveness. There may be small investments that send a powerful message.
- Identify your most loyal stakeholders and make sure they know how important they are to you and the organization. It is more important than ever to give public recognition to the people that enable you to keep your doors open (e.g. employees, donors, volunteers, board members, etc.).
- After trimming your staff, find ways to pamper your remaining team, and they will pass on that attitude to your stakeholders.
I would also add one:
Even if there are no jobs out there, never treat your employees like they have no other employment options. If you want them to treat your stakeholders as royalty, you need to first make them feel that way. You need to win them over every day.
As the article outlines, the bottom line is that we all need to ‘keep the front lines strong’.