Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The United Nations and the United States Being a Christian Nation

Within the American evangelical church for more than two decades there has circulated the claim that the United Nations no longer considers the United States to be a Christian nation. This claim is used to bolster the sermonic statements that the United States is in a period of moral decline, so much so as goes the argument that even the United Nations, a secular group, cannot recognize the United States as being Christian.

Any preacher or Christian leader who makes such regarding the United States is either showing that they are uninformed and are uncritically repeating false statements they have “heard” and accepted as being true. In other words, they are engaged in the same activity, spreading rumors and fear mongering, that they proclaim from the pulpit as being wrong. If the preacher/Christian leader is not uniformed and accepting uncritically the statements, and truly know what they are talking about, then they are willfully misleading their listeners. I prefer the former than the latter.

While it is true that the United Nations does not list the United States as a Christian nation, the same body does not list Iran or Saudi Arabia as Islamic nations or India as a Hindu nation. The United Nations has never changed the religious classification of any nation as it does not make such judgments. When the United Nations was being established in 1944 the founders recognized that the body should not evaluate the nature or quality of the nation’s religious activity, or make any such judgments in any form.

As to the changing religious life of the United States, it has evolved over the decades and will continue to evolve in the coming years as it does in every nation. The degree to which the general citizenry is more or less “Christian” is a highly subjective value judgment. That said, surveys over the decades by Pew Research and Faith Matters clearly indicates that the number of people claiming faith in keeping with traditional evangelical definitions is in decline.

In a few subsequent posts I will note some trends in religious life. Is there a decline in religiosity and spiritual faith? Maybe there is a decline, or it may be a shifting way of defining faith, just as the older generations in the 50s and 60s were concerned about lack of religious respect and spirituality from the teens to 30 yr olds of that era due to the manner in which they were dressing, being willing to go to movies, going out to eat at a restaurant on Sunday after church, going for a swim on Sunday or even put gas in their car…all of which the older generation felt were violations of keeping the Sabbath holy and contrary to holy living.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why Three Businesses Lost My Business

A wise businessperson keeps at the forefront of his/her mind is a fundamental fact, consumers have a host of options and a bad experience can cause the businessperson’s customer to take their business elsewhere. A manager/owner her forgets this fact will lose significant business, and possibly so much so as to put their business at risk.

Most people accept that mistakes are made, but when they are, consumers expect adequate redress. Inadequate redress is nothing short of poor customer care. While it is true that I will accept poor customer care if the results are clearly superior (quality of product and price), on a whole such superiority is rare. Hence, when all things are equal I rarely patronize a business from which I receive poor customer care.

Following are three recent negative experiences with for profit businesses that my friends in the nonprofit sector can readily apply to their work too.

In May I had to select a place for two upcoming business dinners. Hence, our family wen to an Italian restaurant, Da Domenico, in Tyson’s Corner. Evie and I go there from time to time, and I thought I would look at it as an option for one or both dinners. Shortly after we were seated, the waiter asked if we were interested in appetizers. We declined noting that none of us were interested. After getting our orders he returned to the subject of appetizers and said that they were lovely, and he would put together two samplers that were not listed on the menu. He suggested that there would not be too much of any single item and the price was reasonable. I made a big mistake by not asking for a specific price, which the waiter clearly took advantage. What came to our table of five were two good sized platters, more of a party size, from which we ate no more than a third.

When we received the bill, the platters turned out to be about 35% of the total bill. Further, when I asked for the doggy bag from the platters I was informed that they were tossed out. That was in May…I selected two other restaurants, albeit more pricey, for the business meetings. This particular restaurant in Tysons received that night the last dollar I will ever spend there.

The second poor customer service experience occurred three weeks later in early June when I went to American Lube for an oil change. For the most part I have used this shop four to five times a year for the last eight years. In the last seven months or so the establishment has undergone management change. During the most recent visit they mistakenly put in the more costly synthetic oil. When I noted I had not asked for that oil and would only pay for what I requested, the manager explained the synthetic oil was ordered by the customer ahead of my car was put into mine too by mistake. What would you do?

A mea culpa, leave the oil in the vehicle and charge for the regular oil would be good customer care. Instead, the manager did everything wrong. I was given two options, pay for the synthetic oil or wait for the correct oil to be added. I refused to pay the extra. As the drained synthetic oil would be sent out for recycling you would think they would leaving the synthetic oil in the car? At the end of the day, they not only increased their costs of the extra oil, but cost themselves a regular long-term customer.

Lastly, over the last week Evie have been in the process of changing our place of residence. Driven by value and customer service factors, it is a move that was settled this past fall.

The complex in which we reside has undergone four ownership/management changes. The first management firm was warm, helpful and customer focused. If you needed something, they listened and sought to do something to help. When they needed something from you their call or note was respectful while still accomplishing their business.

While the current management is better than the prior one, their customer care is far from being the best. Retaining good customers/tenants is a key to ongoing business success. Long-term tenants are even more prized, or so you would think. Over the years we have had various repairs done. A bathroom drain leak damaged a spot on the ceiling and wall in the dining room. While the leak was fixed, they did not return to repair the plaster. Last fall another request yielded the repair but the paint did not match. We suggested that we could move the furniture from the wall so that the whole wall could be repainted to which we received a flat and cold “no”. Management explained that painting happens only when an apartment or townhome is being prepared for a new tenant.

In the same conversation I noted that we had been there for ten years and as long term tenants it would be nice to have the ten year old carpet in the living room, hallway and stairway replaced. We received the same answer as with the painting even though we were willing to move the furniture out of the space in question. It stands to reason that the longer you remain the more the quality of the carpet wears and the walls fade, and after eight or in years it would be prudent to start replacing some carpet and painting the walls too.

With the same message we made our decision. So we are moving and with Jonathan getting married, we are taking the opportunity to downsize, move a little further out and save some money too.

Those who have attended the Disney Institute would have heard again and again the importance Disney puts upon creating a positive experience for its guests. When something does not measure up, they do not overreact but they will do what is reasonable to leave the guest feeling positive. They have solid customer care.

Donors too can have a bad experience…slow receipts, misspelled names, wrong donation amount, doing a mea culpa, etc. In those moments care must be taken to listen to the donor as well as those being served, accept responsibility, weigh their observations and see what where we can do a better job going forward. Care must be given to not dismantle what is working, but refining is always possible.

While at the Disney Institute I was struck afresh by how Disney values listening not only to their guests but their cast/employees too. They are willing to listen, evaluate and incorporate ideas from all levels of their cast and from guests. They work hard to create an a good guest experience by trying to look at everything they do from the customer’s common experience. There some things Disney cannot change, such as long lines for certain rides and crowds, but they have gleaned ideas from cast and visitors alike as to how they can make the overall experience positive for their guests. Teamwork is valued throughout the organization and outstanding ideas can come from the insight of the newest employee in the most minor position.

Whether it be a nonprofit or a local business, customer service is critical, for without it, the organization’s or business’ health is at risk as donors and supporters can take their money elsewhere. Clients can look elsewhere for meaningful help and thereby cause the rationale for the service and agency to decline. Listening and creating a positive environment for all is a noble yet demanding goal that can be readily be achieved, IF we are willing to listen and change too.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Customer Care and Nonprofits

In the market place, the quality of customer service can make or break a business’ success. In most cases if customer service is neglected, there is significant harm to the company’s bottom line. Rare is the business that so dominate their market that it can afford to give little attention to customer service. People have various options which means when they are dissatisfied they will take their business elsewhere. This truism has struck home in recent months.

On June 18 I posted a blog about a failed donor call from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. On so many levels I was disappointed with the caller and the experience. I am not against receiving calls from nonprofits, but the issue is how the call is conducted. The caller should be respectful and be careful to listen to the donor. Above all, never be pushy. A pushy approach may yield more donations in the present, but it will leave several donors like me feeling more negative about the organization. Negative experiences significantly increase the likelihood that the donor will soon be giving their donations elsewhere.

Not listening and a pushy sell works against the Foundation in my case in that they received a lower gift now at the cost of a larger later. At the end of the call my impression about the Foundation was not broken but significantly shaken. When I emailed the Foundation’s Director of Development I received a short apologetic email saying that the type of call I described should not have happened, and that she was looking into it. The email sounded fine, but the actions after the email would tell if I will continue to give or not to the Foundation. Clearly the much larger gift that would have gone their direction in October is going elsewhere. Also, sound fundraising fundamentals would call for a follow-up engagement email, or better still a phone call, from a development staff member asking if I had any questions or wanted to have some more information about a project or program of the Foundation. The follow-up which should take place two to four weeks later tends to help smooth the trouble waters and draw the person closer to the mission of the organization. A follow-up on a complaint email is the perfect not follow-up leaves the relationship at risk and can send the message that they organization is not concerned whether they want the donor's friendship. If I hear back, they are not only likely to retain me as a donor, but would likely move me to give two to three times higher than my largest gift.

Businesses have long learned that it is seven to eleven times more costly to attract a new customer than retain an existing customer who has had a bad experience. The same holds true in the nonprofit world. Unfortunately all too often the truism is not fully appreciated by nonprofit administrators and development staff.

When a donor expresses disappointment it is an opportunity not only to address the issue but also the opportunity to draw the donor closer to the heart of the organization. It is the opportunity to have follow-up calls and/or emails to not only report on what has been done but also to learn more about the donor and tell them more about the organization’s work. I suspect such follow-up will not be forthcoming from the Foundation for if the first was to be coming, it would have come already.

Being involved in the nonprofit world I fully appreciate the diverse demands, the ebbs and flows that exist in the field. That said, we who are in the development field must take such complaints as opportunities to cultivate a relationship, and if done correctly the effort normally will deepen the relationship and commitment to the organization. That said, great care must be taken to not overpromise.

My experience with the Williamsburg Foundation stands in contrast to recent communication received from another organization, the Civil War Trust whose work I have only recently come to know. Evie, Josh and I recently gave several gifts to the Trust, for two of which we were to receive premiums. Normally I’m not interested in premiums but I was interested in these twos, and as for professional interest was tracking to see a) how quickly the premiums would arrive, and b) how quickly the thank you letters would arrive. At least twice a year I conduct acknowledgment tests within my organization to keep vendors and local staff on their toes, and compare how we are doing against other groups (for the most part, since using lockbox processes we have started to do well against other organizations).

The one premium arrived about two weeks after the gift was given, which is very good for a premium. Evidently the Trust had issues with the second premium as it still had not arrived weeks later. Needless to say I was really starting to wonder until I received an email explaining that the Trust had a supplier issue. The email was excellent customer care and speaks well of their attention to such matters as some organizations may have waited and waited.

As mentioned above, customer care within the nonprofit industry is inconsistent, and arguably generally lacking, particularly when it comes to small donors…of course most organizations fall all over themselves to give attention to the five and six figure donors, and sometimes four figure ones too, a subject which I may write about in a future blog.

Since many of my friends who read this blog from time to time work for nonprofits I would encourage you to give attention to customer care. Take a look at how the phones are answered and messages taken. Are callers passed from one office to another? How are donor’s acknowledged? How are complaints handled and resolved. Are we expecting donors and clients to conform to our processes rather than listening to them? We need to ask ourselves, if I was an outsider, what impression would I have of my office and organization?

In the next few day I will post about my experience with three local businesses and how they lost business due to poor customer care. There are lessons in what they did wrong that can be learned whether we work in the for-profit world, government services or nonprofit sector.