If you work within or run an organisation which is largely funded, receives grants for its work or has regular payments for the services and provision you offer, you may not consider those who access your services as clients. Yet that’s really what they are. What’s more I believe that they need to be looked after like clients to help build a stronger organisation for the future.
When are clients not clients?
When I run training courses in organisations like housing associations, councils, charities and not for profits I’m often asked to not use the word clients. Now I know perfectly well that staff rarely refer to service users, beneficiaries, tenants etc. as clients but I want them to see that at the end of the day that’s what they are. Let’s consider the dictionary definition of a client is:
- A person, company, etc. that seeks the advice of a professional man or woman
- A customer
- A person who is registered with or receiving services or financial aid from a welfare agency
- a program or work station that requests data or information from a server
- A person depending on another’s patronage
So tell me, are the people who use your services and access your support clients?
I think the issue many of us have with the word client is that we see it as someone who is paying for a service. But my question is this: should the service, provision or way in which someone is supported alter depending on whether they directly pay or don’t pay? No of course not, that is not how you work or would ever work. So therefore why can’t we just accept that everyone is a client and treat them all appropriately? I have seen too many examples where service users are seen as “lucky to have our support” or a burden on the organisation. Don’t forget, if they didn’t need your organisation, then your organisation wouldn’t need you.
Consider shifting the mindset of staff to see service users as clients for a sustainable future
Many of the organisations I work with are beginning to charge some people for their services. In building a social enterprise or business arm to your organisation it is common that a new venture will offer the same or similar services for a fee to a new client base. This means staff are finding that they do sometimes have to charge for their services especially if someone has a need greater than can be provided for, or where there is no funding or where the individual has the resources to pay themselves. They then consider these people as clients but those who don’t directly pay as service users. How will that effect the way in which they are offered services? My concern would be that the service may alter and this shouldn’t be the case. No one deserves a low level of service or quality of delivery.
By getting staff to think of all those who access your services as customers, it becomes easier to then provide the same level of service to those paying directly as those who are maybe supported via other means.
Why is this important for a sustainable future?
If you need to look at income generation, either via charging for some services or offering new and additional things, your staff are likely to need a cultural shift to ensure the income generation projects work. The way in which they refer to people accessing the services, being offered support and generally their attitude towards them is likely to be one of the biggest barriers to success. Start this shift early and it’s less likely to be a problem.
Interested in a program for your organisation around developing a more enterprising organisation which puts customers at it’s core? Contact me to find out how I can help you.