What we learned about Customer Service from 1-800-Flowers Very Bad Valentine’s Day.

Poor Janet from 1-800-Flowers’s Twitter feed had a very long Valentine’s Day Evening.

Making an In-Demand Organization, Association or Non-Profit

Moving beyond what your constituents want into giving them what they can't live without

            Now anyone who knows me would say I am not the biggest fan of Steve Jobs on a personal level (a friend of mine worked closely with him for 24 years), but giving credit where credit is due, you have to respect his vision and innovation for building brand loyalty and giving the world items we never knew we wanted. As he stated in 1997, "You‘ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology - not the other way around." This before the Ipod, Ipad and a decent cell phone were in existence. You may be saying, "Well sure--Innovation in the technology field is easy-its what 'they do!'"  But don't be fooled.

                The same is true for all areas of business, even though, to those Organizations or Associations providing niche content or serving a niche demographic, innovation may seem like an arcane concept. But indeed, those institutions that can not only keep abreast of the times but even get out in front and lead are those that will prosper, thus expanding their own potential and influence and doing the best work for their members and benefactors. 

                In the Niche Circulation, Association and Non-Profit world, relationships are everything. Without good relationships with your donors, members, and subscribers... you sink. The way in which your organization maintains these relationships is as important as the bond itself; the way you make contact is the determining factor of the strength of that connection. Good relations requires initially good research: What type of person or group makes up your core? What is the age group, the socioeconomic status, the many background factors such as geography, education, etc.? Knowing with whom you are talking dictates how you will both frame your conversation and on what platform that conversation will best be held. Certain people may not use email and may still respond to mailers, while some may loathe them as a waste of time, money and resources. Most folks hate phone calls appealing for donations or requests to attend a seminar, but there are some who may appreciate the direct contact and information.  Do your homework! These people are your lifeline and why you exist!

                Now, to innovation. In the broadest sense, innovation is about two things: Better and cheaper. You already know your organization’s mission and its core model. Now, where can you trim the fat? Where can you use newer technology to speed processes up and implement new systems? Where can you, essentially, watch the bottom line? This is an important path to walk, but one that must be traversed with caution. If you plan to save money by outsourcing certain aspects of your organization, great, as long as you choose who you use with great care. It is rarely worth the savings you will reap if you use an outside company that does shoddy work – it lowers not only the quality of your output, but also can damage the image and prestige of your organization.

                Study what other companies or groups have done. Research technologies that could be beneficial to your organization and its constituents. But above all, make sure that when you make changes you are making them not because they may have worked for someone else, but because they are the right move for you.  Replication of what another organization has done isn't innovation, its mindless duplication...and it can be deadly. You need to find what has been successful for a multitude of org's and see how you could tweak it to suit your member base. How to do this?

                Think like your constituents. What do your subscribers, members or donors want? What do they need? What would make them more loyal to you and your brand?  True innovation is thinking of things they didn't even know they want--but will eventually find they can't live without.  New initiatives are not to be feared. Diversification is a good thing, as long as you follow your founding principles and move forward with vision. One of the greatest things I find one can to get a fresh perspective on things is to look at your Org as if you either just purchased it or just became the Board President. What would keep? What would ditch? Would you restructure?  Many times looking at things through this new view clears the cobwebs of too many projects, too many ideas and releases the dam of stagnation to innovation. Taking your organization to the next level may involve outsourcing, technological innovation or even just a re-imagining of the resources you already have at your disposal. What it never involves is sitting still, for even a moment.

On a final note:

"We're gambling on our vision, and we would rather do that than make "me too" products. Let some other companies do that. For us, it's always the next dream." -- Apple Executives, on the release of the Macintosh computer, 1984

Is this what your Members, Donors or Customers think of you?

....good thing our clients' constituents don't!

Providing Excellent Customer Service: You never know 'their story'

I know this video has been circulated around for a few weeks and months. But I thought it gave a great visual to not only having patience--but also why we as services providers, Associations and Fundraisers do what we do.

Jumping on the Customer, Member or Donor Relationship Bandwagon

They say 'Imitation is the Most Sincere Form of Flattery.' While  validating, it still stings when its your competition.

 

Serving a niche market (Database Management, Response  Processing and Fulfillment Services for Associations, Fundraisers and Publishers) our firm was built on  setting ourselves apart in every way from our competition. Meaning that, most of our competitors at the time neglected building and fostering a strong and real relationship with the people that keep our clients, their work and firms like us afloat...their customers, members and donors.

Seems logical, right?

But for decades, the industry was dominated (and still somewhat is) by firms that, to reduce costs, hire minimum wage staffers who fly through responses and calls focusing on quotas and speed, rather than fostering true relationships. There is little education provided to these staff on the industry, its values or what the client expects past a dumbed down Business Rule Document. The only individuals that 'truly' know the client are the ones that really aren't doing the work--a Sales or Account Rep.

But, you can't blame them really. They responded to what the client wanted and what they were willing to pay for. 

It truly was Quantity over Quality.

On the contrary, we were founded to change all of that--to turn the industry on its heals. To show organizations that the choices were not A or B:  Sacrifice my relationships in order to free up internal resources or Sacrifice my internal resources in order to foster strong relationships. There was another cost effective option!

{In fact, a funny side story--when our Founder left her job at a competitor to begin DirectAnswer with this philosophy in mind: she was told "You'll be back in a week." Last year that competitor closed its doors}

And boy it took off like gang-busters! For two decades, DA attributed all of our growth from referrals alone. No marketing, No PR, No Social Media. Good Old Fashioned Word of Mouth!

With more technology, came more ways we could add those efficiencies of scale but still have the same high-touch relationship building techniques our clients had come to depend on. While our competitors still pushed: Faster! Cheaper! Faster! Cheaper! We sought to educate and prove that it wasn't normal for organizations to hire a staff to clean up the mistakes of your firm in order to preserve constituent relationships--large attrition wasn't normal!

Then, a few months ago, things started to change and it was quite funny to watch.

Automation in our industry and the service industry was so out of control that the lack of true customer service was becoming commonplace, and the general public was getting tired of it.

Hence we saw the Renaissance of Customer Service, prompting AMEX to do a study of consumer buying preferences which noted that over 92% of consumers would pay more and give more if they were treated better.

A fact not revolutionary around the halls of DA or our clients. who valued this decades before their competitors and have been reaping the rewards ever since.

While other organizations and firms are struggling to rebrand and refocus their efforts on "Serving the Customer, Donor or Member in a Cost Effective Way." Our clients can continue to focus on core strategic growth.

As one of those 'industry dominators' I mentioned earlier summed it up on their website today: "The Donor Relationship  Center is a new addition to {our firm}"   ...Exactly.