Listen Up! Developing A “Voice of the Constituents” Culture

Constituents in brand advocacy

We all have experienced it: eating at a favorite restaurant—perhaps even a restaurant we’ve patronized for years—and having a less than stellar experience. We may contact the manager to complain. And here’s the crucial point: if we felt listened to, it is likely we will come back to restaurant again. In this article, I wanted to discuss recent findings from a report prepared by Higher Logic along with other findings on constituent relationships which framed the importance of listening in order to improve customer (constituents) relations in nonprofits.

The Voice Of Your Constituents (VoC)

Keeping your members and donors (customers/constituents) is such a hot topic today. Retention, Retention, & more Retention!

As a result, I am always intrigued to learn what strong for profit and nonprofit leaders use in terms of technology to keep their constituents engaged and participating. As a result of some research for a client, I came across a recent handbook provided by Higher Logic, a leading private online community software provider, which sparked my thoughts about fostering the value of “the customer” today in the nonprofit community. Before I get to far, for the sake of this article I am going to be using the term, customer and constituent interchangeably.

According to Higher Logic, what is a Voice of the Customer (VoC) culture? To paraphrase, it is an organization culture in which routinely seeking feedback from members and/or donors and listening to the feedback is more than just a value statement—it’s the expected norm.

Higher Logic’s Voice of the Customer Handbook lays out the concept and value of VoC programs. One of the most insightful ideas in the Handbook is the Pareto Principle’s 80-20 notion that your current member/donor base is the source of the largest share of your organization’s future revenue stream. Once that notion sinks in, hanging on to every member or donor will become your secondary mission.

A VoC culture is the sound way to ensure that your members and donors make the shift, as High Logic puts it, “from basic consumer to brand advocate.”

Here’s the difference in a nutshell:

  • A basic consumer feels no loyalty. A consumer may or may not continue on as a member or donor. He or she may bring a friend or colleague along once in a while. If you close shop, the consumer simply goes elsewhere.
  • A brand advocate exhibits loyalty. A brand advocate will continue on for years as a member or donor. He or she consistently will introduce friends and colleagues to your organization, and promote your organization and its mission on social media—extending the reach of your marketing team. If your organization should be struggling to survive, a brand advocate will shift into overdrive to work with you on saving it. (Note: it’s much less likely that your organization will struggle to survive with enough brand advocates on board.)

Building that level of loyal enthusiasm which erupts into brand advocacy is all about engaging customers emotionally, according to High Logic. And listening is Ground Zero.

Benefits of The Voice of the Constituent Culture

Creating a posse of enthusiastic brand advocates is the highpoint of a VoC culture, but there’s more. When members and donors exchange feedback and ideas with organization staff and each other, magic happens that may stretch beyond marginal enhancements to produce innovative programming and marketing ideas.

Per Forester, online adults are five times more likely to trust a brand or product recommendation from friends or family than from an online ad, and they are twice as likely to trust them over information found on a firm’s website.

Why is developing a customer advocate so important today, here are few examples from a Forrester qualitative research conducted in July/August 2015:

  • More credible first hand experiences are shared socially than ever before
  • Online social media makes it easier to mobile around a cause or initiative
  • More digital ways to harness word of mouth
  • Prospects trust less and want authentic information from those who have experienced it
  • The subscription economy makes customer retention vital
  • Advocates enjoy more value than referencing/referring alone

The Digital Age and Constituents Goodwill 

If you are looking for an example in the for profit sector, you don’t have to go to far to find evidence in the value of listening to the voice and peer influence to have folks buy today. Customer stories and testimony are among the most powerful tools which you find on the websites of many database software marketers today. Why? It works!

In my opinion, what is interesting to note too is the parallels between dues and donation revenue (subscriptions or voluntary contributions) to that of subscription based software licensing today. It has made a huge impact in how database software vendors are taking to heart this VoC culture and the importance of listening to their customers feedback. Many of the leading database software vendors today are providing private social media platforms to allow for collaboration and forming software user groups (conferences) to strengthen the relationships they have with their customers. If you are an association, does this sound familiar?

Per a the study cited by Forrester, a subscription-centered economy makes retention essential. Today, for profits and Nonprofits alike must continue to demonstrate value to their customers to retain their business. They must keep the relationship with their constituents fresh and top of mind in order to do that. The fundamental changes in the nature of business buying (participating with your organization) makes advocate marketing not simply a way to develop participant goodwill, but also a fundamental ingredient to creating lasting relationships.

To underscore the point, a Forrester report cited a legacy donor software vendor executive in the following excerpt:

“We have been a provider of nonprofit fundraising solutions for 30 years. as we move some of our solutions to the cloud and the new subscription model links our success even more closely with our customers, it’s even more important to keep customers engaged in the long run. advocate marketing, along with stronger customer success programs, ensures we can do that.” (Amy Bills, Customer Marketing for general markets, Blackbaud).

Your members and donors who have a personal story or expert perspective to share about your agency is huge. In my mind, listening to what your members find valuable and then helping them spread the word about you is a valuable “advocate marketing” technique which should be leveraged to increase retention and also grow more brand advocates. Finding software and technology to help you execute a strategy in an authentic way may help your nonprofit lead and do more than just survive in the years to come.

Getting Started on a Voice of the Constituent Culture

So you now are a believer—or perhaps you always were—in the value of listening to your members or donors. You just aren’t certain of where to start.

Here, courtesy of Higher Logic, is how HubSpot , a marketing automation software provider, makes VoC its norm:

“HubSpot … is able to gain insights on what customers need by putting an ear to the ground and listening to what customers have to say … through its online community, online and offline engagement channels, effective customer feedback initiatives and vast library of resources created for the most important person in the company’s ecosystem—the customer.”

Higher Logic suggests in the handbook that you “Allow customers to exchange ideas and best practices constantly, not just when it’s convenient for the organization.” Social media platforms facilitate this outreach for you if you create the outlets.

But whether you turn to routine surveys, focus groups, group coffee sessions, or private social media platforms, finding ways to listen to your members or donors will reap significant rewards for your organization.

The one question that remains is this: is your member and donor software up to the challenge? If not, the right software already is out there.

Matching the right software to your organization’s requirements to ensure your long-term sustainability is our mission. Contact us for more information on management software which can help you harvest your brand advocates today. Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

Resource Note: To get your hands on the Higher Logic’s, Voice of the Customer, handbook cited in this article, you may download it here.

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