Since I’m a member of several different organizations and since I work as a speaker and consultant throughout the association industry, I’m often paying attention to challenges in customer service. This is such a difficult area to discuss, because providing good service often means something different to everyone.
For example, an old adage is that “the customer is always right.” This is supposed to discourage us from behavior that might leave a client feeling belittled. By ensuring that we think of customers as “never wrong” we avoid getting into arguments or bringing out strong negative emotions.
But in association management, much of the reason we have members is that they seek to be educated. That means we need to uncover their misconceptions and, frankly, correct their thinking. Education is often about gaining new information and perspectives, but also about eliminating what we now realize is wrong.
Still, an easy-to-remember aphorism can be helpful. For customer service in association management, consider these words: “Know what your members know.”
Here’s a common issue I encounter with associations with regard to event marketing and management. A group promotes an upcoming program, and I decide to register for the event. A week later I get a follow-up email, again encouraging me to sign up.
The reason I get the second message is that it’s sent to the same list as the first: everyone in the association. But really, the second message ought to be sent *only* to those people who have not yet registered.
This is a subtle demonstration of poor customer service. When I receive the second message, the best case scenario is that I am slightly annoyed and delete it. However, I might also wonder if my registration was received. Did I sign up, or I intend to and have fooled myself? Perhaps I should register a second time, just in case.
“Knowing what your members know” refers to more than just event management. Good customer service requires keeping your database up-to-date. If your members have interests in particular areas of their profession, you should know. If they are approaching a significant anniversary at their employer or as a member in your association, you should know. If they prefer a phone call over a text message, you should know. If there is any information that a member provides to you, retaining and using that information is a critical component of good customer service.
Finally, a huge part of customer service is resolving problems. There’s practically nothing more frustrating than having to explain an issue multiple times to the same organization. Your member records should include a detailed account of everything that has gone wrong, whether it happened last week or years ago. This is something that the member knows, so your organization should know it as well. This empowers you—or anyone else in your association management team—to make sure that problems are resolved quickly and prevents the chance that they will resurface.
Keep these words handy. Customer service is knowing what your members know. Retain that information. Share it with other employees. Use the information to provide better service, and you’ll have happier, more engaged members for years to come!
Author: Robby Slaughter is a speaker and consultant with AccelaWork, a firm based in Indianapolis. He presents on a variety of topics to associations relating to employee engagement, personal productivity, and intergenerational communication.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Indiana Society of Association Executives (ISAE).