Yes, customer service is important

I get it.  Nonprofits are often understaffed.  The person answering the phone at a nonprofit organization usually has a bazillion things on their plate, and answering the phone is usually just one of the 10 things they need to be doing at that exact moment.

But regardless of these challenges, I am a strong believer that nonprofits should provide great customer service over the phone.  Lets face it, you never know who is on the other side of the phone or how much they truly need your assistance.

This week, I had a family come in my office that was facing a plethora of problems.  The family is partnering with Habitat for Humanity to address their housing challenges, but there were many other issues that were outside the services offered by Habitat.  I am not a social worker, so I didn’t have the skills or knowledge to help this family, but I did have the desire to connect this family with other nonprofit organizations that could assist them.

As I started to place phone calls to local nonprofit organizations to inquire about ways to connect this family with their programs and services, I was faced with varying levels of rudeness.  And not just at one agency, it happened multiple times at multiple agencies.

I was frustrated, not only for the family that I was not able to help, but also because these are the same organizations that I donate money to, so they can help people exactly like this family.  The poor customer service left me completely disappointed and with a bad impression of a number of nonprofits.

So, yes, customer service is important for nonprofit organizations.  Improving how nonprofit organizations handle incoming phone calls is one strategy to have a dramatic increase in improving customer service, to both clients and donors.

Here are some tips to improve customer service at your organization:

  1. A Real Person:  When people call your organization, no matter how grand your automated phone system is, there is nothing better than talking to a real person.  If you don’t have the resources to hire a receptionist, try staffing the role with volunteers.
  2. Standardized Responses:  Make sure the person who is answering phone calls has answers to common questions, and those answers are given consistently to all callers. Whether the question is about donations that are accepted, services offered or program requirements, make sure the receptionist is equipped with the proper information to answer questions.  A little extra training can go a long way in improving customer service.
  3. Smile:  Trust me – if you smile when talking on the phone, it comes through on the other end of the line.  If you aren’t smiling when talking to a caller, they can tell if you are stressed, frustrated or annoyed by their call.
  4. Website:  Keep your organization’s website up to date.  An effectively organized website can provide valuable information and avert the need for a call.  Increased convenience for the consumer often equals an increased level of satisfaction.
  5. Take your turn:  As a nonprofit leader, there is great value in taking your turn to cover a shift answering the phones.  It will allow you to experience the types of calls that come into the office, which enables you to provide better training to your receptionist, staff and volunteers.

It is important for nonprofit organizations to provide a positive customer service experience for the clients, donors and partners that regularly call into the organization. This is often the first interaction individuals have with your nonprofit, so make a great first impression so it isn’t their last interaction with your organization!

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About Dr. Sarah Wolin Mackey

Putting theory into practice at nonprofit organizations.
This entry was posted in Habitat for Humanity, Human Resources, Nonprofit Management and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Yes, customer service is important

  1. The Ed Buzz says:

    These are great lessons for schools, too.

  2. Pingback: Everyone Starts Somewhere | Sarah W Mackey

  3. Pingback: Work for Free | Sarah W Mackey

  4. Pingback: Nonprofit Communications Confidential: Receptionists | Kivi's Nonprofit Communications Blog

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