How working for a charitable NGO can give you insight into great customer service

My Work

This is a guest post by Pam Warren.

Over the course of my career, I have been involved in a fair amount of work with charitable organisations. The obvious fundamental distinction between charities and companies are that charities don’t make money: so whilst companies attempt to get to their ultimate goal (which is profit) via satisfied customers, a way of looking at a charity is a company whose ultimate goal is purely ‘customer’ satisfaction. Given this fact, there are three things that charities do particularly well that can be applied to the customer service sector:

  1. dissecting customer needs
  2. creating a dialogue with the customer and
  3. creating a more democratic working environment.

Engaging with what your customer needs.
One of the ways that I have become involved in charitable work is through my involvement with the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust. Recently, I was involved in their project Get on Track, a 12 week course where retired athletes help to inspire young people who aren’t in education, employment or training schemes to contribute to community work, go to interviews and get a job. When they first arrive, the young people have little confidence and no motivation, at the end of the project the transformation is palpable. They no longer wear their hoods up and mumble; they wear suits and speak with remarkable self-assuredness.

The way that this works is through a fundamental understanding of the dynamics of these people: the government and the media is overly keen to point the finger, forcing those out of work into strings of unsuccessful interviews with no sign of change. What this project did was talked to the young people themselves and asked the question: “why are you so unmotivated?” The answer was that they lacked self-belief, and the way to create that is through establishing role models and confidence.

The aim of the project therefore wasn’t to get these kids a job, but it was to give them confidence and role models; because the organisers knew that once you had those two factors, employment would find itself.

Bringing the customer into the discussion
The driving force behind a PM2 qualified practitioner like myself is the need to understand the customer. One of the ways you do this, and the way you make sure that you’re always on the right track, is constant reporting back to them: transparency.

When you’re working for a charity, the dialogue between you and the customer is open: you are always reporting back to them, telling them where you are on a project, what you’re doing, how much it’s costing, and how much time it is taking. Because of the tight project budgets for most charitable projects, at each stage you have to get the go-ahead to then continue. This has to come from the people who the project is trying to help: and individuals from communities involved are contacted at every stage to contribute to the discussion.

Each project is broken down into stages, and at the end of each stage you check to make sure everything is still on course. If something has gone off course you then have to go back to the customer and give an honest report. Occasionally, there will be times where everybody thought that the project was a really good idea but as you go down the line you realise that the benefit is not going to outweigh the cost. So sometimes, a successful project can be a project that you close down, that you don’t actually finish.

Making ‘teamwork’ work
What I’ve noticed is that the most successful teams are those that allow each member to contribute creatively to the overall project. Sometimes (and particularly in customer service), allowing more people to contribute to the discussion within a team can really help with solving problems.

After the Paddington train crash, I ran a group of 81 survivors who campaigned for rail safety. We all had one goal: to make sure the government made the railways safer. When you’re in a volunteer group like that, you have to go by consensus.  You can’t just put your own ideas forward and say ‘this is the way it is’ even if you are the designated leader: because that would not benefit the group. In these circumstances, it is far more important to look at each problem that you are faced with, and use an open discussion to work out what might potentially be the solution, sealing the decision with a majority vote.

I’ve carried democratic leadership techniques into my project management life as well. There are points where you have to be decisive and turn around and say “that’s the choice we’ve made, let’s follow this route”. You have to be the one that stands back from everything and evaluates: “Right, if we do follow this route, what’s going to be the consequence?” before you actually go on and do it. But, ultimately, the most innovative and successful teams are those that are led by someone who understands the customer, talks to the customer, and works together thinking of creative ways to achieve the customer’s ultimate goal.

About Pam Warren
Pam WarrenSince overcoming life-changing injuries from the Paddington Train Crash of 1999, Pam has become a master of re-invention and a catalyst for change not just in her own life but in the lives and work of others. Building on her skills as a businesswoman and Independent Financial Advisor with 13 staff, she retrained as a Prince 2 Practitioner project manager. She was also the lead campaigner in securing a safer rail network for Britain and has since worked with a number of businesses and charities to help them achieve their goals and aspirations efficiently and effectively.

You can find out more about Pam Warren at www.pamwarren.co.uk, connect with Pam on LinkedIn here and Twitter @pamwarren06.

Photo Credit: …-Wink-… via Compfight cc

Comments

  1. Great article, thanks! Customer service is probably one of the most underrated things in this world – truly a dying art. I have come across a website which allows me to receive the customer service I deserve. By writing reports about my Suppliers, and allowing them to respond to me regarding the matter at hand, http://hellopeter.com/ has helped restore my faith in customer service.

  2. Hello Adrian and Pam
    I loved reading this post especially as I have limited experience of the charitable sector even though I was a trustee of a mental health charity for a little while. The following paragraphs really speak to me:

    “The way that this works is through a fundamental understanding of the dynamics of these people”

    “the need to understand the customer. One of the ways you do this, and the way you make sure that you’re always on the right track, is constant reporting back to them: transparency.”

    “What I’ve noticed is that the most successful teams are those that allow each member to contribute creatively to the overall project. Sometimes (and particularly in customer service), allowing more people to contribute to the discussion within a team can really help with solving problems. ”

    Thanks for writing and sharing this.

    Maz

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