“Don’t tell anyone you got this from me”, she stage-whispered as she added an extra wristband to the pile and slid the pile out the window to me. She looked just a bit nervous but also clearly wanted to make, me, the customer happy. Here was a 16-year old girl practicing great customer service but this action conflicted with her employer’s policies. Too bad because her employer was missing out.
I’ll explain the back story. A farm in our area put on a mega-festival this Fall. Pumpkin picking, corn maze, apple cider donuts and new this year, a play area just for small children. The play area had a bounce mat, mini peddle-driven go-carts, a hay bail maze and more. The cost $15. For $15 each children had unlimited play and one parent could go in and watch. One parent. There were two of us, my husband and I. Sometimes, the cashier said, the children’s play area attendant would let the second parent in and sometimes not. I was weighing the risk of both of us not being let in when she added the second wristband. Phew! The problem was solved for me but not for the next 100 families that came after me or for her or for the other cashiers or for the gate attendant. Either customers are unhappy or the staff has to break the rules.
Our Policies Can Bite Us
Sometimes our adherence to policies, rules or this-is-how-we-do-it-ness gets in the way of good customer service. The dilemma for staff usually is triggered by a non-standard request:
“I’m currently laid-off can I attend the conference for free?”
“I think the information I need may be in the research report but I don’t know. Can I see it before I purchase it?”
“I’ve exhausted my budget. Can you bridge my membership one month and I’ll pay 13 months at the start of the new year?”
When confronted by these usually reasonable non-standard requests we see a range of staff reactions. Some are eager to please and they do the member a favor or comp them a benefit but they do it in secret so they don’t get in trouble down the road. On the other end of spectrum, some staff are quick to try to sniff out a “scam” assuming that the member or potential member is trying to take advantage of the association. No is the de facto response. Most times generosity and honoring the request further engages the member to the association and for the very few who swindle us, so what? But even this mindset will only get us so far.
5 Steps to reconciling member vs. association differences
Providing great customer service by a staff person to a member is only step one. Whenever doing the right thing by our members or providing great customer service comes in conflict with rules, policies or the status quo there’s a bigger problem to solve:
1. Recognize the conflict – talk with staff about how to recognize the conflict. Identify some common triggers and illustrate them with past examples.
2. Talk about the conflict – once a staff member determines there’s a conflict they should know how to communicate it internally. They need to know who to talk to, how to spread the word and the steps to a resolution.
3. Resolve the conflict – the staff person or a very small team should quickly resolve the conflict for the member but also determine a course of action or decision for future incidences. The focus of this conversation should be on what is best for members and what is most expedient for them and us.
4. Illustrate our mindset – for staff leaders trying to cultivate a new mindset among staff be sure to talk through the decision making process. For example: Let’s comp this recently laid off member’s conference registration without requiring she prove her laid off status. We’ll happily pay for full registration and meals but she’ll have to pay all travel, accommodations and incidentals. We hope by attending the conference this year she can make great connections that will help her become employed soon. Hopefully the association can continue to help her in her new position.
5. Communicate the conflict and resolution to the entire staff – this incident may be a one-off or it may be more common. Help the next member and staff person deal with the next request by telling everyone about the conflict and the resolution.
How does this customer service process help you? Over time you will discover that less problems like these occur and the ones that do take less time to resolve. You have more raving (in a good way) members. Staff becomes more customer service centric. Fewer policies are made and the ones that are made focus on the needs of members.
- Nice associations finish first
- One problem, two common approaches but, only one works
- Member-centric not membership-centric [guest post on AssociationMarketer.com]