Why your supporters are wealthier than you expect. Course details.

‘Computer says no’ is not the answer supporters want to hear

No sign (or number sign). Photo: Unsplash

There is a Little Britain TV sketch showing the funny side of what passes as customer/supporter service in modern Britain. It parodies the fact that many front line staff appear to have been totally disempowered when it comes to dealing with the public. ‘I can’t do anything as it’s a system-generated decision…’ is heard from call -centres all too frequently. 

This provokes two questions:

1. Do organisations think that supporters and customers care in any way shape or form that THEIR system is the problem?

2. Do the same organisations think customers and supporters can be placated by hearing that it’s the computer’s fault?!?


Why your supporters are wealthier than you think... Course by Catherine Miles. Background photo of two sides of a terraced street of houses.

This doesn’t just apply to multinational corporations either.  Last week I heard a friend tell a story about their charity’s membership services which illustrates the point perfectly.  The charity in question knows that its database needs cleaning up and is making significant efforts to do so but all that positive action can be undone if the experience of the supporter calling in goes something  like this:

Supporter: Hello, you’ve written to me about arranging legacy and in-memoriam funds for your charity before and during funeral services. Staff member:  Yes, that’s right, we really need help from people in your industry to help make a difference to people with XXXX. Supporter:  (audibly upset now) Well I need to tell you that I’m not and nor have I ever been a funeral director or a fundraiser for you.  We did set up an in-memoriam fund when our son died a few years ago and you keep writing to us about it…. (angry now and breaks off mid sentence) Staff member:  Well, we’ve been having some problems with our database, I’m sorry but it’s not my fault…

Things would have gotten a lot worse if it weren’t for a switched on team manager over-hearing the conversation in the open-plan office.  She asked for the call to be put through, apologised profusely, thanked the supporter for everything they had done and personally undertook to sort out the database entries.

This week, I’ve had a similar experience with Santander.  Their customer service teams seemingly only need to learn the phrase “the system has made the decision sir, there’s nothing I can do…”! I’m not naive. I fully appreciate that not every organisation has the resources to staff-up front line services.  And those that do seem to prefer to cut costs by automating way too much and relying on technology to think for them.  But I don’t agree that customers and supporters can’t be dealt with as humans, by humans where it’s warranted. I believe there are actions every organisation can take to ensure at the very least, its automations and cost-cutting isn’t at the expense of being able to retain supporters and customers.

  1. Empower your people to take ownership of the problem.  It doesn’t matter if it’s not a specific individual’s fault, front line staff represent the organisation as far as the customer or supporter is concerned.  So listen, take down the relevant information, apologise if necessary and make the caller/writer feel like you give a whatsit and the organisation values their contribution or custom.
  2. Closely linked to this, empower your front line staff to DO something – even if it’s only to escalate more quickly.  Everyone is after resolution so action is key to maintaining any kind of loyalty.
  3. Follow up meaningfully with the customer or supporter.  That means don’t call back with nothing to say and certainly don’t call just to reconfirm everything that’s been said already! (remember the action point above)
  4. Wherever possible, actually have a decision-maker available or at least accessible!  No need to explain this any further, I think.
  5. Do not, do not, do not blame ‘the system’!
  6. Lastly, don’t expect front line staff to be able to do all of this without training and coaching.  These people are an organisation‚Äôs most powerful brand ambassadors (if you like, they are the repeat-sales or supporter retention team).  Give them the skills and confidence to do all of the above for the supporters and customers and by default, the organisation.

What do you think?  Do you have any examples to share of organisations that have cracked this?