I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. – Maya Angelou

I admit it.  When it comes to customer service, I’m a stickler.  And when I experience poor customer service?  Let’s just say I can get a little testy. It’s because customer service is so critical to the donor or consumer experience.  When sectors are so crowded with options from which to choose, excellent customer service can power boost your relationships with your donors and clients.  Alternatively, few things can tank a relationship and destroy trust quicker than really poor customer service (Hi airlines!).  Let me give you a few examples from my personal experience to illustrate what I mean.

First, there was the time I went so far as to demand a formal, written apology from a car salesman who called me a b—h and hung up on me after I confronted him on the fact that he slipped into a sales agreement additional fees that I had already declined.  That time, I spent days going all the way up the company’s corporate ladder until I got the response I wanted. And since I’m telling you this story a decade from when it occurred, I clearly held on to this memory – and have made subsequent car buying decisions based on it.

But, the reverse is also true. I also remember great customer service experiences and become a loyal follower and champion of brands that serve me well. I recently had a fantastic customer service experience that illustrates how providing excellent customer service is crucial to keeping your customers or constituents engaged and happy – and will keep them from going anywhere else.

Here’s what happened.

I attempted to update some plug-ins on my website all by myself.  Within seconds, my website freaked out.*   The next thing I knew, it looked like this:

That’s a white screen of death, right there. I knew that screen wasn’t ideal, but I didn’t realize the extent of the damage I’d done.

Instead, after a few days, I reached out to an acquaintance, Justin Rule of Sparrow Websites, telling him of the glitch and asking if Sparrow wanted to submit a proposal to help with a website update, thinking that while not ideal, I’d let my site languish while I executed an RFP process and sought proposals from a variety of vendors.

Here’s his response:

It reads:  I can call you while I am between meetings today.  It’s too urgent to wait in Google’s mind. Not to alarm you, but a dead site is not a good site and it can hurt Google’s trust (for a while), so I want to chat about a quick ‘back up and running’ solution ASAP.  I’ll call you around 3pm while I am on the road – that work?

Long story short, within twenty-four hours, Justin Rule and Adam Grim, his partner, swooped in superhero style, salvaged my old content just long enough to save it on their back-up server and then created a good-looking, fully functional, new, but temporary website to keep me out of Google jail.**

They provided the emergency fix free of charge and the new, temporary website for a nominal fee.  Talk about excellent customer service!

After this experience with them, I knew I was in expert hands who would be sensitive to the fact that I seriously lack in certain web-related skills.  It was a no brainer for me to contract with them to do the comprehensive website upgrade. I didn’t even bother looking for other bids.***

My story illustrates how powerful responsive, personalized customer service can be.

It’s difficult to set yourself apart from your competitors based purely on what you’re offering.  There are very few brand-new products, services or ideas anymore.  You can count on the fact that somewhere, someone is doing something very similar to what you’re doing. Someone else is offering something resembling the product you’re trying to sell.  Another organization is serving your constituents in a comparable fashion that your donors could choose to support.  You can’t compete on the strength of your product or service alone.

You can, however, have a competitive edge by treating the people you serve better than anyone else in your industry.  You can set yourself apart by providing better customer service than the next guy and making your customer or constituent feel really good about their experience with you.  This applies to the business and nonprofit sectors alike.

In the non-profit sector, we use words like acknowledgment, stewardship, cultivation, engagement and relationship. When we use these words, we’re really describing the level of customer service we provide to our donors before, during and after they make a gift. We’re talking about the activities and touch points that set their experience with your organization apart from all the other causes they support.

There are so many worthy causes and organizations in competition for donors’ attention.  And the national average retention rate of 46% indicates that organizations are not doing a terrific job of keeping their donors loyal and happy. As a result, donors leave, moving on to organizations that treat them better.

What can you do to provide better customer service to your donors?  Maybe it’s offering a shuttle service to people who want to attend events, but are nervous about driving into an unfamiliar city. Or, as one client working on issues of affordable housing does, it could be providing a handy schedule of all the home maintenance activities that should occur for as long as they own that home.  It could also be as simple as making sure your donation form allows for two separate names to be added when a couple makes a gift, because many couples have different last names.

Here’s my hope for you:  That after reading the examples of good and bad customer service in this article, you pull your team together and pick one aspect of your fundraising program.  Maybe it’s your fall appeal.  Maybe it’s an event.  Maybe it’s how you acknowledge your major donors.  Then, after you’ve made your selection, brainstorm how you can add a better level of customer service to the activity. Can you make it so that your donors are shouting from the rooftops because of the way you’re acknowledging their generosity and taking care of them?

The well-known Maya Angelou quotation at the top of this article reminds us that people remember how you make them feel. Great customer service makes people feel understood and valued.  In fact, great customer service just might be the superpower you use to set you apart from other worthy organizations.
Good luck!

*Technical Term
**Another Technical Term
***I’m not receiving anything from The Sparrow Element by telling this story.  I’m just grateful for how they helped me.

What ideas do you have for improving your customer service for donors and clients? Tell me about them!