Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Focusing On The Customer

Non-profits don't often ask themselves the question "Who is our customer?"

It's an idea from the for-profit world that doesn't easily translate for many in the non-profit sector. Some non-profits feel it's crass to frame their work in terms of "customers," others simply don't think about what they do in terms of "customers" or "clients."

Just like for-profit businesses that fail to focus on satisfying their customers' needs, non-profits that fail to do so risk becoming eventually becoming irrelevant - a dire outcome indeed.

So who is your customer? Who does your organization exist to serve? How do you communicate with them? How do you know if you're meeting their needs? Do you have a way to measure whether you're doing a better job of serving your customers this year than you did last year?

For-profit businesses actually have an advantage in this arena. Businesses that sell a product or service can use revenue as one metric (among others) of customer satisfaction. For non-profit organizations, revenue is often generated separately from the services the organization is designed to provide. This means that revenue numbers (while clearly important) aren't a reliable measurement of customer satisfaction. It also means that, generally speaking, much more energy is put into communicating with, and understanding the needs of, donors. If you're donors aren't your customers, what's your strategy to find out what your customers are thinking, what they need, and how better to serve them?

The recent conference "Customer Service is the New Marketing" offered a "Company-Customer Pact" that outlines the ideal relationship between corporations and customers.

Since the image is a little tough to read, I've reposted the text of the pact here:



  1. Be human. Use a respectful, conversational voice, avoid scripts and never use corporate doublespeak.
  1. Be understanding. Show the respect and kindness to company reps that you'd like shown to you.

  1. Encourage employees to use their real names and use a personal touch.

  1. Use your real identity, and foster your long-term reputation with the company.

  1. Anticipate that problems will occur, and set clear, public expectations in advance for how you will address (and redress) issues.

  1. Recognize that problems will occur, and give companies the information and time required to competently address issues.

  1. Cultivate a public dialogue with customers so they feel they are being heard and to demonstrate your accountability.

  1. Share issues directly with the company, or through a forum in which the company has an opportunity to respond, so it can work with you to solve problems.

  1. Demonstrate your good intentions by speaking plainly, earnestly, and candidly with customers about problems that arise.

  1. Give companies the benefit of the doubt, and be open to what they have to say.

While clearly designed for a for-profit environment, these key principals could easily guide non-profit organizations as well as they look to interact with those they serve. Plain language, authentic interactions, public forums and clear problem-solving practices should come naturally tho those who've chosen to work in the non-profit sector, but they often don't.

1 comment:

Sean said...

You sly dog -- I didn't know you had a blog ... though in retrospect I'd be appalled if you didn't!