Delivering outstanding service in today’s fast-paced and high-tech marketplace is an essential survival skill.
As we have made the subtle shift from a product-driven to a service-driven economy, consumers continue to be a determining factor in the survival of the fittest. This applies to both for- and not-for-profit businesses.
Unfortunately, a myth persists among some in management positions that “customer service” costs a lot of money. Make no mistake. It can be fatal to treat customer service merely as a line item on the expense report, cross it off when times get tough and focus exclusively on the marketing and sales side of the budget. Better to consider customer service a worthwhile investment and bury the myth in an unmarked grave.
Marketing and sales are important, but dazzling existing customers, whether they be buyers of products or members of an association, will rule the outcome on the year-end balance sheet.
Fortunately, providing outstanding service is not an impossible dream but an attainable goal when you follow four simple steps:

Step One: Identify your REAL customer.

Heck, that’s easy! It’s the guy or gal with the checkbook, right?
Sometimes, but not always.
Everyone in your organization, from the CEO to the person who empties the trash, has a customer. And anyone who relies on you for a product or service is your customer. That customer, in fact, can be internal or external. For instance, the members obviously are the most important customers of everyone who works for the association. But if you are in charge of ordering supplies for the marketing department, you should also consider the marketing department staff as your customers.
Bad service at any level affects the quality of service at every level. So it is vital that association executives emphasize and embody good service everywhere. Education to permeate your organization with this core value should begin on Day One for every new hire through orientation and training. Staff should learn to identify who their direct and indirect customers are and how to best serve those customers.

Step Two: Identify your customers’ expectations.

How can you exceed customer expectations if you don’t know what those expectations are and don’t know the minimum standards the customer will use to evaluate how well they’re fulfilled? Surprisingly, anxious marketers often overlook this obvious and basic point. And so they burst from the gate with inadequate preparation.
Here’s a tip: Research needn’t be expensive. Look to your files for customer feedback. You should already have a gold mine in the form of customer complaints.
Complaints are often treated like hot potatoes instead of valentines and passed from one recipient to another. In the right hands, however, they are cherries and chocolates, rich morsels of knowledge that will enrich and inform your marketing and service efforts in ways that might not otherwise have occurred to you.
Here’s an example: If a small minority of customers complain about the time lag between making a request and receiving the desired result, the first inclination might be to dismiss these as isolated incidents. Don’t. Pay attention. Otherwise you risk overlooking the beginning of a trend that snowballs into 10 percent of your best customers, whom you should by now have identified, becoming unhappy about a service feature. Before that happens (and because you’ve been paying attention), you will have identified a problem in its early stages and devised a solution. In the case above, you will know an internal procedure needs to be adjusted to deliver the service within a shorter time span.
A complaint is a direct alert from your customer of what was expected and not received. A customer who complains still has enough faith in you to feel it worthwhile to share valuable information with you

Step Three: Coach, coach, coach.

Part of any association exec’s job is coaching staff. You may not deal directly with all members on all service needs, but they are still your responsibility. Educating then empowering staff to give superlative service begins with you as coach and role model. The formula for success is threefold: Recruit; train; trust. The star basketball player doesn’t ask for permission to shoot every time she gets the ball. Neither should your staff. Hire for quality, train with care, then coach from the sidelines. You’ll build an enviable customer service dream team faster that way.

Step Four: Follow through.

An all-star team delivering stellar customer service combines follow-through and follow-up. Likewise, customer service training is an ongoing process. Books, training programs, classes and seminars are conventional but effective forms of ongoing education. But don’t overlook role-playing and other tools for driving the message and the method of superior performance home. Staff meetings and cross training can also yield excellent results in your customer service training program.


Outstanding customer service need not signify a huge demand on time, money or metabolism. It’s mostly about listening — to your members, to your staff — then taking action on what you have learned. A lot has been written about the new paradigm that has come about because of exciting new technologies. It’s true that binary language has become the most prevalent language in the world today. That doesn’t alter the fact that the human variable is still an important part of the equation. In our service economy, great customer service is essential. Otherwise, we are not.