Creating a Customer Service Strategy

Churches and nonprofit organizations are becoming more aware of the need to identify who their customers are and strategically taking steps to create a positive experience. In the church, customers can be defined as members, volunteers and employees.

Creating a positive experience for these key customer groups is important because members fund the church, volunteers are the labor and employees facilitate the process. This focus on the customer experience should naturally line up with the vision and mission of the church by providing services for these key customer groups in an efficient and effective manner.

Creating a customer service strategy is critical to creating a culture that is service focused. To do this, churches need to incorporate service strategies into church goals which are reflected in employee goals. This systematic approach ensures accountability and follow through.

7 Steps to Creating a Customer Service Strategy

1.  Customer Service Vision

The first step is communicating the service vision to employees and volunteers. This is done by articulating the expectations for ensuring a positive experience.  This step helps this critical group of people understand their role in achieving that vision. Ministries that share a customer service vision, and teach customer service skills, will have employees and volunteers who are better prepared to deal with customer issues. For example, a volunteer in children’s ministry who is confronted with a demanding parent should be taught how to respond and what to say to resolve the issue.

2.  Assessment of Customer Needs

ServiceOrganizations can’t meet the needs of their customers without a good understanding of what the customer needs and expectations are. An assessment is done by soliciting customer feedback through customer focus groups, satisfaction surveys, or customer comment cards, and developing a comprehensive plan to meet and exceed the customer needs that fall within the scope of the mission and vision of the church.

For example, a young couple with small children may have an expectation for the church to offer a great children’s program for their kids which would line up with most church visions.  But another congregant may have an interest in setting up a table in the lobby to sell Girl Scout cookies which may not line up with the vision. Being able to support those needs that line up with the vision is important – while meeting unreasonable demands is not.

The first step in any customer improvement initiative is to talk to the customers to find out their perception of the services and programs being provided and determine what their needs and expectations are. Organizations often fail because they put together services and programs that they thought the customer would value, only to find out it was not what the customer wanted. This results in time and money being wasted on developing programs and services that do not meet customer expectations.

The trick is to find out what it is the customer wants and put together plans to meet those needs. Keep in mind that customer needs and expectations are a moving target. What a customer wants today will be very different from what the customer wants a year or five years down the road. As things change, expectations and needs change also.

3.  Hire the Right Employees

Hiring with the customer in mind is another step in an overall strategy for strong customer service. Screening employees and ensuring that they possess the disposition and skill set to support a strong service environment is important. Skills can be taught, but attitude and personality cannot. It’s a fact-of-life that not everyone should interact with customers. Take the time to match volunteers who are great with people in those critical front-line roles and be intentional with who to keep behind the scenes.

4.  Customer Service Goals

Once customer needs and expectations are identified, and customer satisfaction is measured, it is time to create goals for achieving customer satisfaction. Employees need to understand what the target is so they can help the organization reach their strategic objectives. For example, an employee may have a goal to develop a volunteer training program for church greeters that teaches service skills. This goal should be specific and should be incorporated into the performance appraisal process to ensure accountability for completion.

5.  Training

Customer service skills are innate in some people, but everyone can benefit from practical teaching on the organization’s approach to customer service. Much of the training should be focused on how the organization would like the employee to behave in every situation. Things like:

These can all be part of a customer service training curriculum.

6.  Accountability

Employees need to be held accountable for achieving customer satisfaction goals. This is part of a comprehensive performance management system and should be a cultural expectation. Employees should have a good understanding of how their service to the customer affects the organization’s overall performance.  For example, the person over the information technology function should understand that addressing the issues of the secretary’s computer is important because it impacts her ability to do her job.

7.  Reward and Recognition

Create a system for acknowledging and rewarding employees for demonstrating good customer service skills. Employees need positive reinforcement when they demonstrate the desired behaviors and should be rewarded for doing so. For example, develop an annual award recognizing employees and volunteers for exemplary service.

Sharing a compelling vision and strategy for customer service is a critical component to the success of any organization. Organizations need to identify who their customers are, what they want and develop strategies to achieve those customer requirements. Creating a customer service strategy, and focusing on the needs of key customer groups, is one of those things that separates the successful organizations from the rest. Does your church have a customer service strategy?

photo by: tilitran