Can charities improve efficiencies in a tight marketplace?

      

Can charities improve efficiencies in a tight marketplace?

Ian MitchellWith figures released this week suggesting that the UK is in its worst economic situation for more than 50 years it's little wonder that fewer people are giving to charity.  Those that are continuing to give money are making smaller donations and some charities are fighting for survival. 

The good news is that it's not all doom and gloom as many charities are responding well by putting in measures to protect their fundraising efforts and to retain key donors. 

In the front line of improving their service is the increasing use of dedicated and trained call centres - both for individual fundraising campaigns or as part of an organisation's wider marketing and income generation strategy.  Working with an outsourced partner, charities are finding that they can better manage the variable volume of inbound calls generated from fundraising and marketing promotions.  Useful for collecting donations and ensuring calls are answered promptly.

With charities trying to maximise revenues from advertising or a traditional mass marketing approach there are invariably resource issues when the calls come in.  These issues are heightened when call volumes "spike", in other words there are a large number of calls coming in that need to be handled in a short period of time.   

Managing these "spikes" is a key challenge.  There are few charities that can afford to keep an in-house resource to manage a high level of calls directly.  Equally, it would not be a good use of charitable funds to set up a call centre capable of dealing with calls from potentially hundreds of people responding to a campaign advert that has just been aired.  The space needed, the cost and the resources involved quickly negates the benefits of the campaign.

The option to divert calls to an outsourced partner during these busy periods may not only be a cheaper option, but critically will ensure that high levels of customer service are maintained regardless of volumes.  Additionally, during periods of low call volumes, charities already on tight budgets are not paying for 'slack' staff.

As well as donation lines, call centres are proven to help with supporter services.  Regular supporters are vital to the on-going sustainability of any charity so call centre staff provide an important role in maintaining and developing these relationships. These regular donors need nurturing and if the service provided is poor the charity runs the risk of losing out on any future donations.

Taking things one step further, good call handlers can also capture donor details and personal information which in turn should feed into a charity's own customer relationship management and fundraising database.

But how to choose the right outsourced partner?  My advice to charities looking to select a call centre would be to make sure you choose one that replicates your charity's brand. Having trust in your outsourced partner is vital and the call centre must act as an extension to the charity itself so the caller experience is seamless.

Make sure the staff are well trained and charity employees should input into this, particularly with regard to new initiatives and marketing activity.  Also try and work with a quality provider that has experience in 'selling' to the caller and is of course fully compliant so donations can be processed.  

Call monitoring helps improve customer service, budgeting and is useful for training.  The management information (MI) and reporting is also great to help with future campaign planning, providing vital feedback and performance information.

 

So what is the bottom line - how much does it cost?  Typically costs are structured in one of two ways with most service agreements containing a set up cost, a monthly management fee and call charges.  Pay as you use, which charges a price per minute is ideal for charities that have peaks and troughs in call volume, as one only pays for calls that are handled.  Alternatively a fixed seat approach would be more suitable for a charity needing cover for phones that are regularly busy.  This model works best when there is a clear understanding of the call volumes required to be dealt with.

Whether a call centre is used or not, it is likely that the tough times are here to stay for the foreseeable future.  But in a competitive environment it's important to remember that very few things can damage a reputation like poor customer service, particularly unanswered phones or mishandled enquiries.  So to improve efficiencies and maintain margins in a tight marketplace, the answer could be just a phone call away.

Written by Ian Mitchell at 15:00

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