Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Three lessons for volunteer programmes from customer service

Dan, a colleague of mine at the volunteer management software provider, Better Impact, recently recommended a new blog to follow called "Win The Customer". Initial impressions have been good so I've added it to my already lengthy list of blogs I follow.

Here I want to share one early highlight, a post entitled Three Retail Experience Trends That Will Change Your Service Approach.

I highly recommend reading this article before you go any further with my post as I want to highlight three parallels for leaders and manages of volunteers. So, off you go and I'll see you back here in a couple of minutes.


Right, I hope you liked that. Here's my thoughts on three applications of those lessons for us in our work with volunteers.

The Rise Of The Mobile Wallet
In retail the use of mobile devices as a method of payment seems to be growing. How is is or could this be manifesting in volunteer management?

Well, online searching for volunteer opportunities is nothing new. The soon to be re-launched Do-It is a teenager already and similar sites exist across the globe.

What is less common is online signup to volunteering. So many organisations, if they even have a good webpage dedicated to their volunteer programme, still ask people to download a form and submit it via email in order to apply to become a volunteer. 

The aforementioned Better Impact system enables volunteers to fill in a form online and apply directly into the organisations volunteer database. No more print and send. What’s more volunteers can do this, and manage there profile, sign up for shifts, log hours etc., via a smartphone.

Mobile use of the web is skyrocketing and the expectations we all have to manage our lives on to the go - from banking to online shopping - continue to grow too. Volunteering is not immune. Volunteers want to manage their volunteering online and not being able to do so could increasingly turn people off your organisation.

Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned things like paying you volunteers’ expenses via mobile payment systems like PingIt or people applying to volunteer direct from Facebook with their applications populated automatically with the data Facebook holds on them (which is probably more than they even know about themselves!). 

Brick-And-Mortar Gets Interactive
The point the original article makes here is how can we enhance a shopper’s experience in store via mobile technology? For example, wan we give them free wifi and augmented reality apps so they can virtually try on that item of clothing and see all the different colour choices available, perhaps including those not available inshore?

In volunteer management terms I think there are two ways we can consider this trend, both relate to that period between the volunteer signing up and actually starting their role, a period that can be drawn out if intensive screening is involved.

First, how can we use online and mobile technology to provide or enhance the induction and any training we offer. Could volunteers take a virtual tour of the site via a YouTube video? Is there online learning material specific to their role that they could be working through? 

Second, if the vetting period takes a while, are there roles volunteers could be doing online that would be suitable for them until vetting is completed? What needs doing that could be packaged as a short-term, bite-sized opportunity that could lend itself to mobile? For example, monitoring the social media feeds of similar organisations to broaden the new volunteers awareness of the issues they will deal with (whilst at the same time perhaps gaining insights into ‘competitor’ behaviour for you).

Harnessing The Power Of Social Shopping
We’re all used to rating our shopping experiences online. Amazon has provided that facility for years and whether its a war and peace review or one of those “quick delivery” two-worders, chances are most of you reading this have rated something somewhere online.

I remember the idea being mooted a few years back that volunteers should be able to rate their experiences online on sites like Do-It. The reaction from Volunteer Managers and Volunteer Involving Organisations was less than enthusiastic. Perhaps because the Volunteer Involving Organisations involved are all too aware that what they offer volunteers is far from satisfactory and their ratings would reflect this?

Social media has opened this up regardless of whether a formal rating system exists. If someone has a bad time volunteering with you they can be straight onto their social network of choice ensuring their friends, family and colleagues don’t repeat their mistake.

Conversely, however, give volunteers a great time and they may be all to happy (perhaps with a little encouragement) to share their positivity about your agency with their networks.

Erik Qualman, in his book Socialnomics, refers to this as both ‘Word of mouth to world of mouth” and “Word of mouth on digital steroids”. In other words, social media is not to be feared so much as embraced as a key way to enhance the form of recruitment that consistently comes out as most effective around the world - word of mouth or personal recommendation.

You can do simple things like give your volunteers a hashtag to put on any posts they make about their volunteering, or give them some simple guidelines on what is appropriate for them to post on Instagram or Pinterest when they are volunteering?

So, there you have it, my three lessons for volunteer programmes from customer service, or at least adapted from the blog Dan shared with me.

What lessons can you share from customer service for volunteer programmes?

Specifically, what ideas do you have for how the customer service experience we give our volunteers can be enhanced via online and mobile technology?

Finally, if you’ve embraced online and mobile in this way, what did you do and what did you learn?

I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts.