By: Eric Thorn
Almost anyone who has contact with association members has had a call where the caller is a member that wants to complain or the caller has a request or complaint but the caller isn’t even a member of your association.
Because these calls are often challenging and time consuming, it can be very tempting to simply spend as little time on these callers as possible and get back to the numerous other pressing or more pleasant work tasks that you are working on.
While it may be surprising, member complaint calls and non-member calls are excellent membership retention and recruitment opportunities that are easy to miss out on if you do not recognize this. “Balderdash!” you say? Ok, maybe you are not actually saying the word, “Balderdash”, but I would not be surprised if at least some of you are a little skeptical. If you are willing to temporarily suspend any skepticism, let’s take quick look at some of the membership retention and recruitment opportunities that member complaints and non-member calls present.
It’s unfortunate but true that the overwhelming majority of unhappy customers don’t take the time to complain when they’re unhappy. The research shows that most unhappy customers simply leave and don’t come back. So when a member calls to share their negative feedback, they are providing you a valuable opportunity to address their concern and retain them as a member. A member retained is a member gained.
Complaints can also be a valuable as negative feedback that lets us know what our members want to see improved or corrected. With proper follow up, addressing these complaints or suggestions can help us to improve association services, websites, communications, systems or processes and increase member satisfaction.
If there really has been a mistake made, make sure you offer a sincere apology. Thank the caller for bringing the issue to your attention, and let them know you will fix the error or follow up with them once you have communicated the issue internally. Even if the answer is not the one they wanted, by showing them that you respect their input and treating them fairly, at least you will have some impact on what they say when they speak to others about their interaction with the association.
It is well established that if someone feels that they were mistreated they will tell others, and today’s social media makes this even easier. However, if you fix their problem they will also tell others of their satisfaction. It turns out that when a problem or concern is addressed to the member’s positive satisfaction this creates an even stronger relationship than with those who have never experienced a problem. By taking the time to turn a negative into a positive you may retain a member and create some positive word of mouth for your association.
While some member calls relate to a specific fixable issue, a misperception, or piece of bad information that can be dispelled, some member complaints are more general in nature.
For these it is important to look beyond the articulated complaint to what the caller is really saying. An honest appreciation for their feedback, a little empathy and good follow up, will turn many of these calls into a positive.
While it may be helpful to point out association resources, market information, training, and other resources available to assist association members, sometimes it is just as important to let them know that you respect their experience and try to connect with them on a human level. To let them know that you care enough about your members to listen to what they have to say.
On Thursday we will be sharing the second half of this blog post and will continue on the subject of non-member calls. Stay tuned for the final portion!