How to Make Customer Service a Daily Habit in Your Nonprofit

The trick to providing exemplary customer service for your nonprofit is to work at it in little ways all the time. Every staff member and volunteer needs to be aware of the importance of customer service. Here are five key areas to address if you wish to improve (or maintain) your service levels:

  • On the telephone: Talk to all staff and volunteers about how to answer the phone politely and otherwise use it to maximum effect. Provide a cheat sheet with lists of extensions, instructions on how to forward calls, and any other useful information. Simple additions to a greeting, like “May I help you?” or telling the caller the receptionist’s name can set a friendly, professional tone.

    Make a rule for yourself to return all calls within 24 hours or, if that’s not possible, within one week. Let callers know, through your voicemail greeting, when they may expect to hear from you. If you’re selecting a voicemail system, make sure it’s user-friendly for your callers.

  • At the door: Someone needs to (cheerfully) answer the door. If you’re in a small office without a receptionist and the interruptions are frequent, you can rotate this task among staff members or volunteers. If visitors must use a buzzer or pass through a security system, try to balance the coldness of that experience with a friendly intercom greeting and pleasant foyer.

  • Before and after a sale or donation: If you have tickets to sell, make it easy to buy. Accepting only cash is far too restrictive. The banker managing your business account can help prepare you to accept credit card orders. Also, consider selling tickets over the web; a number of web services assist small businesses and nonprofits with web sales and online donations.

    If a customer isn’t satisfied with your service, invite the customer to give feedback and listen carefully. Offer a partial or complete refund. Doing so wins loyalty.

  • With a note: Keep some nice stationery and a rough draft of a standard message handy so that writing thank-you notes is easy. Handwritten notes are more personal and often make a stronger impression than formal, typed letters or e-mail messages. However, expressing your appreciation in a timely way is more important than the form of that appreciation. Use e-mail if you can get to it more quickly.

    If your organization receives things — like a theater group that receives play manuscripts or a natural-history museum that accepts scholarly papers for publication — have an acknowledgment e-mail ready that confirms the item’s receipt and states when the person submitting it can expect to hear from you.

  • *In the details: An old saying suggests that the devil lurks in the details, but that’s also where you find the heart and soul of hospitality and service. Keep notes about the interests and connections of your board members, donors, volunteers, and constituents. Find out the names of your board and committee members’ significant others and be prepared to greet them personally at events and on the phone.

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