Service Minded

Debra Helwig on Marketing & Leadership in Professional Services

The Buck Stops – Where?

Posted by debrahelwig on March 27, 2009

checkbook-photo1 Tax day is coming. And like a good little do-bee, I’ve been shuffling together all the paperwork I need to happily release my tax return dinero. I was so glad when I thought I’d gotten it all done!

But then, when I started to package everything up, I noticed that one of my charitable statements looked incomplete. I checked the checkbook again, and uh, oh. We’d missed donating for the past few months. Our mistake. I felt terrible. But it should be easy enough to straighten out. Right?

I wish.

I sent the charity a groveling apology email, basically saying, “I don’t remember receiving invoices like usual, and I forgot to pay. I’m so sorry – how can I make good and start getting regular donation invoices again?”

You see, I really believe in this charity and want to give them money. I was highly embarrassed to be behind on my pledge. I really wanted to fix it. A little positive intervention could have sealed my loyalty for life, and – knowing my guilty streak – would probably have earned an extra donation too.

Instead, I got a one line email from the finance department: “We do not send invoices. When you make a donation, the receipt has a tear-off for your next donation. Thanks.”

What a singularly unhelpful response! Evidently I had missed a donation, and they stopped mailing me. My mistake, I agree. But not only did this response make me feel worse about it, it didn’t tell me what to do next. So I emailed again, asking for more help.

The emailed response was – drum roll, please – the address to mail a check.

That’s it.

No “thank yous”, no offer to help, no acknowledgement that I was trying to do the right thing, not even a list of reasons why it’s important to remember to donate, or a mention that my money might actually be needed or useful. Nothing.

Now I felt really terrible – and not just about me, but about them.

Because I love this charity’s mission, I didn’t want to let it go. I called their executive office to relate my unhappy experience. The reply? “Oh, I’m so sorry, our relationship manager is on vacation, and you got sent directly to accounts receiveable.”

Whoa, Nellie.

Here’s what I told that company’s officer – and what I hope you already knew:

Every person in your organization is a relationship officer.

Every one of them.

When it comes to customer care, the buck doesn’t stop in the place you decide. No matter how you try to funnel communication, someone is going to go astray. Someone who needs help. And that means every person, from the mailroom guy to the Managing Director, should be steeped in the organization’s culture. Every employee must be taught to appreciate their clients and communicate that appreciation, in every transaction, no matter how small, every day.

This principle applies to your firm as well. Because that’s what builds relationships. It’s what keeps clients/customers/supporters coming back again and again, even in troubled economic times like ours.

Listening. Communicating. Making people feel like their activity with your firm or organization means something. That’s what will secure your future.

I did write another check to my charity, and the donation stubs are coming again. But I don’t feel as warm and fuzzy about them as I did before. If a similar charity approached me, I might – just might – be wooed away.

In a comparable situation, your clients might be too.

Don’t let it happen. Teach your folks to express their gratitude and care to every client they touch.

Photo by Oblivion9999 (license)
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