Thursday, April 22, 2004

1:57:00 AM EDT

Putting Members First



"Without a clear vision, an organization becomes a self-serving bureaucracy. The top managers begin to think the sheep are there for the benefit of the shepherd. All the money, recognition, power, and status move up the hierarchy, away from the people closest to the customers, and leadership begins to serve the leaders and not the organization's larger purpose and goals. The results of this type of behavior have been all too evident recently at Enron, World-com, and other companies." [Ken Blanchard, The Vision Thing]


I was once told it was the delegate's job to represent the membership. My first contact with USCF governance was when I sent a letter to our delegates asking why members could not vote. The general response I received to my letter was, in my view, hostile and was characterized by the statement "who are you to tell us how to run our federation." My response was simply "I am a USCF member."  Many times over the years when I have dealt with our representatives, rather than addressing organizational concerns, the question turns to a comparison of how much one volunteers for chess, how high one’s rating is, or one’s activity in serious chess tournaments, as if these have some bearing on the ability to run a multi-million dollar not-for-profit. The real issue is not what you have done for chess in the past but what you will do for the USCF membership in the future.


For some reason the membership is still placed at the bottom of the pecking order in the minds of many. This pecking order or hierarchy has developed over the years in relation to how much work a volunteer in their mind has done for chess. It appears those who think they do more believe they should have more say and higher status. They often rely on past efforts as they feel they have earned this right. They feel you cannot contribute a skill or effort unless you first work your way up from the bottom as they have. We still often hear the idea that if a member does not like how the organization is treating them or has a suggestion for betterment they should volunteer to help change things or they should leave as the USCF doesn't need complainers as members. Suggestions from current or former members not an insider are ignored or ridiculed. Not surprisingly new people who try to volunteer are also often ignored. Elected officials continue to believe they know what is best for the membership without even asking. We often hear from our leadership about how the membership has no real interest in USCF governance. The regular membership has heard this message and has been leaving in record numbers over the past few years.


Real membership appreciation needs to go beyond just recognizing insiders. To be successful in the future the USCF needs to rethink its mental model of the governance hierarchy. We need to invert the traditional governance pyramid. Without a purpose the USCF would have no mission or reason to exist. Without the members it would have no money to advance its mission. With the granting voting rights to the full adult membership, governance has become the trustees for the membership and their money. If managed properly more members will mean more talent, more volunteers, and more money. More money should mean more mission related results. Each and every member needs to be valued as one who provides the fuel to make the nonprofit ship go. Because they are a dues paying member they deserve good service, mission results, accountability, to be heard, and due process. A member should accept nothing less.


Sunday, June 20, 2004

4:46:00 AM EDT

Membership Service


“Improving membership services and the image of the organization are the key for turning the situation around.” [Beatriz Marinello, June 2003 Chess Life]


Just as board members must focus on advancing the purpose and mission of the organization on behalf of the members the staff and volunteers must focus on providing good customer service to the membership. I have received many suggestions from our members that our service is in need of improvement. You must assume every interaction with a member, customer, patron, donor, funder, or person from the community -- even those you are totally unaware of, have an impact on some part of your organization: a decision to come to you for services, a decision to refer someone else to you, a decision to join, a decision to donate, or a decision to fund. Below are some ways we can improve service consistent with best practice. Since responsiveness and consistent service can be considered an important part of accountability to the membership our USCF officials as well as staff should heed this advice.


Commit to quality service. The member is in a sense the owner of the corporation but is also a valued customer. Everyone in the corporation needs to be devoted to creating a positive experience for any customer. Always try to go above and beyond customer expectations.


Know your programs. Conveying knowledge about your mission, programs, products, and services will help you win a customer's trust and confidence. Know your corporation's products, services and return policies inside out. Try to anticipate the types of questions customers will ask.


Know your customers. Try to learn everything you can about your customers so you can tailor your service approach to their needs and buying habits. Talk to people and listen to their complaints so you can get to the root of customer dissatisfaction.


Treat people with courtesy and respect. Remember that every contact with a customer — whether it's by email, phone, written correspondence, or face-to-face meeting — leaves an impression. Use phrases like "sorry to keep you waiting," "thanks for your order," "you're welcome," and "it's been a pleasure helping you."


Never argue with a customer. You know darn well that the customer isn't always right. But instead of focusing on what went wrong in a particular situation, concentrate on how to fix it. Research shows that 7 out of 10 customers will do business with you again if you resolve a complaint in their favor.


Don't leave customers hanging. Repairs, callbacks and emails need to be handled with a sense of urgency. Don’t ignore their emails or calls. Customers want immediate resolution, and if you can give it to them, you'll probably win their repeat business. If you can’t resolve an issue or answer a question quickly tell the customer you will get back to them shortly – and then do so. Note research shows that 95 percent of dissatisfied customers will do business with a corporation again if their complaint is resolved on the spot. Note there is nothing worse you can do than ask for suggestions, then don’t acknowledge or ignore them.


Always provide what you promise. Fail to do this and you'll lose credibility — and customers. You must always deliver what you advertise – you need to do what you say. If you guarantee a quote within 24 hours, get the quote out in a day or less. If you can't make good on your promise, apologize to the customer and offer some type of compensation, such as a discount or free delivery. If all else fails offer to cancel the transaction and to refund the customers money. You should always make good to the sprit of your rules or policies. Don’t be bureaucratic.


Assume that customers are telling the truth. Even though it sometimes appears that customers are lying or giving you a hard time, always give them the benefit of the doubt. The majority of customers don't like to complain; in fact, they'll go out of their way to avoid it.


Focus on making customers, not making sales. Salespeople, especially those who get paid on commission, sometimes focus on the volume instead of the quality of the sale. Remember that keeping a customer's business is more important than closing a sale. Research shows that it costs six times more to attract a new customer than it does to keep an existing one.


Make it easy to use the service. The experience on your Web site or through your catalog should be as easy as possible. Eliminate unnecessary paperwork and forms, help people find what they need, explain how your programs and products work, and do whatever you can to facilitate transactions.