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Achieving Better Customer Service in Your Association

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There is an old adage in customer service that states “the customer is always right.” And while this may hold true for certain companies, it isn’t a universal strategy that applies to all businesses.

Over at the Indiana Society of Association Executives, customer service is an important topic. In fact, it’s an essential subject matter to discuss because it has so many definitions and perspectives to consider. After all, customer service means something different to everyone. Which is why, in the spirit of improving stakeholder satisfaction, Robby Slaughter, a principal of AccelaWork, shares his thoughts on customer service in a recent guest post on their blog. His main message to ISAE readers: “Know what your members know.”

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.

In short, in association management, the “customer is always right” assumption is the absolute worst point of view managers can take. Doing so virtually ensures miscommunications and other “errors of omission” that can create the dreaded “crisis of competence” between an organization and its members. Perhaps the worst mistake any organization can make is giving customers the impression they don’t know what they’re doing. That can be a danger at all levels of interaction, from the time of the “sale” all the way through any customer service issues. When organizations leave that impression, customers inevitably just leave.

Customer Service

© Flickr user Mark Hodson

In contrast, by knowing what your members know, you eliminate confusion, frustration and unnecessary annoyances that may bring about confrontation. In his post, Slaughter outlines a few examples of ways associations can keep up with customer service. Below is summary of his suggestions:

  • Proper event management
  • EXAMPLE: 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.

  • Keep membership databases 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.

  • Establish proper procedures in resolving problems
  • 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.

Only through investing the time and energy into understanding those who are a part of your association can you truly know what your members know. Doing so will create a happier and more engaged environment for everyone.

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Ashley Lee

Ashley Lee

Ashley has been working with the AccelaWork team since 2008. She is a communications expert with a background in corporate work, and a graduate of the University of Dayton with a degree in Public Relations. She lives in the greater Indianapolis area with her husband and four children. Ashley enjoys jewelry, fashion, and coffee.
Ashley Lee

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