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Six top tips to improve customer experiences in charities and not-for-profits

1. Stop thinking of the number of people you help and remember they are all individuals

It is so easy to fall into the trap of counting numbers: how many people have been seen at the open access session, how many people have been through a course or how many people have you given support to. I understand that there has to be a way of keeping track, counting the amount of support given, the number of people helped. But often by referring to them as numbers we can start to become disconnected, forget that behind each person there is a story, a reason they need help. It tends to be easier when you are working with people over a longer period of time because you get to know them, but make sure all the team think about people rather than numbers, including office support staff who may not actually meet those you work with. Having case studies displayed and discussing the stories behind the people can really help all staff feel connected and see the value in what they are doing.

2. Think about the person behind the current difficulty / problem they are facing they could be finding accessing support difficult

We often forget that for some people accessing any kind of help can be seen as a failure, for them just approaching you for support can be seen as a sign of weakness. Our role must surely be to help in any way we can to make the experience the best it can be for each individual. Ensuring they can access the support the need with dignity will improve their experience as a customer and your experience as an organisation.

3. Ask informally for feedback and ideas of how things can be improved

I know we all do reviews, questionnaires, reports and all that great stuff but some of the most genuine pieces of feedback we can receive are either unprompted or asked in an informal way. Not only can this feedback be really valuable but for the staff member hearing it the impact can be much greater than an annual report or chart on the wall. Asking customers what can be done to improve the service and provision is often seen as dangerous, opening a can of worms. But most genuine people are keen to help with sensible ideas based on their realistic understanding of your constraints.

4. Be as flexible as you can without it causing difficulties to others

Part of enterprising thinking is about enabling staff to have more flexibility and decision making powers. By allowing staff flexibility they can offer clients more flexible solutions in line with their needs.

5. Look at profit making businesses for examples of fantastic customer interaction

Very little in business is new. It is often worth looking at how others run their business in a different sector and learning from them. Look at the way they do customer care, what they allow staff to do to make a difference, stand out and be remembered. Often it is the small things in a business we remember and appreciate rather than the grand gestures.

6. Don’t forget stakeholders and donors– they are also your customers, but they often never sample your services

If you bring in income via donors or stakeholders you need to consider the way they are also looked after and what experience they have of you as an organisation. If they don’t use your services how do they know what you are like? Do they listen to those who use your service, or presume that your customers have a similar experience to themselves, bearing in mind their experience may only be attending meetings at your head office. Customer service in third sector organisations often focuses on the wrong things like staff training to be polite, handling complaints and dealing with difficult clients, rather than considering what can we do to avoid difficulties or how to engage with our clients so they feel part of the decision making process.

Find out more about my work with third sector organisations here.

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