Ever had a nonprofit customer experience (as a donor, volunteer or whatever) that left you with a smile on your face? On the other hand, have you ever had an encounter with an organization that left you gnashing your teeth and griping about the event for weeks on end to anyone who’d listen? If you’re like most people, you can answer both questions (especially the second one!) with a resounding yes. But did you ever stop to wonder precisely what its was that went so right or, in the second case, so terribly wrong?
Scott Deming, author of The Brand Who Cried Wolf: Deliver on Your Company’s Promise and Create Customers for Life has the surprisingly simple answer: Great customer experiences happen when organizations keep their word. Most critical, pronounces Deming, is that what you say your organization stands for (brand) means next to nothing compared to what your stakeholders experience. That experience is your real brand or, as my mother used to say, actions speak louder than words.
What’s interesting is that Deming profiles organizations he deems brilliant branders (orgs like Ben & Jerry’s and Saturn who consistently provide an ultimate customer experience) and wolf criers (who claim they do but actually don’t). And guess what nonprofit leads the wolf criers list….none other than the infamous Red Cross.
I find Deming’s perspective a particularly meaningful way to look at the organizations that have really let us down. Others I can name include the United Way and Smithsonian. These are organizations supporters and other audiences trusted to do the right thing; but they didn’t. And they lost our trust and support.
The Red Cross is a glaring example of how trust can be instantaneously eroded. In the hours after terrorists attacked the United States on 9/11, record-breaking pledges poured in from around the world. The Red Cross set up The Liberty Fund as a direct response to the attacks and collected more than $564 million. However, by November 2001, CNN and other news agencies reported that only $154 million of that had been distributed. Dr. Bernadine Healy, who was the outgoing Red Cross president at the time, argued in defense of the charitable organization’s decision to set aside more than half of the money raised for future needs, including possible terrorist attacks. This news angered many donors. They felt like their money was not reaching the intended recipients. Bad customer experience.
“In other words, though donors were not critical of the charity having money for future disasters, the real question was whether the important agency misled donors into thinking donations were going immediately to 9/11 relief,” explains Deming. “I don’t think anyone really believes the Red Cross deceived people for some selfish, greedy end. But in a moment when individuals’ feelings were of raw helplessness and despair, and the only way they had to connect with and help others was through monetary donations, the Red Cross failed to keep its brand trust.”
Here are a couple of Deming’s most useful suggestions for staying on track to deliver the right kind of experience for your supporters:
- Be careful what you promise. If you aren’t, and don’t come through, you’ve probably ruined a beautiful relationship. So when you tell prospects how their donations will be used, make sure that allocation is correct? If you can’t get internal operations right, how could they ever count on your organization to make good use of their monies?
- Get the perspective you need. To really know how things are going at your organization, you’ll have to step out of your own shoes and take a walk in those of your supporters and staff. Make sure you have open channels of communications flowing with each group, 24/7. “When your perspective widens, so does your concern about what’s important. The benefits you receive from changing your perspective will far exceed those reaped from a narrower, more traditional focus, ” says Deming.
- Use this insight to separate your organization from the pack. So many nonprofits are squeamish about looking at the world in which they work realistically, and accepting the fact that they are in direct competition with many other orgs for donors, volunteers, program participants and more. You have to find what you can do to differentiate your organization from all the others that offer the same services or products. You have to find what you can do to differentiate your organization from all the others that offer the same services or products.
- Your most powerful differentiator must be the level of service, the unique experience you offer each of your stakeholders at their moment of engagement with your organization.
- When you work hard to engender their loyalty, honestly, they’ll go out of their way to stay involved with your organization.