Disempowered Customers – Professional Growth Systems

Disempowered Customers

Having worked with countless non-profit organizations over the years, I have noticed that they typically perceive themselves in a different light, one that can have a detrimental impact to their customers. Non-profits operate in a vastly less competitive world than for-profit entities. In fact, using the word “competitive” is outside the comfort zone for many non-profits. They have no direct competition, their customers have no other source for what they offer, they are not in a battle with like companies for market share, etc.

But herein lies the problem. Because a non-profit does not have to take a highly competitive stance in its operations, it can grow lazy in its focus on customer service. Why should they expend the time and energy? Customers are often not paying full price for their services, if they pay at all, and they can’t take their business elsewhere. Thus, the customer can’t demand a certain level of customer service as can be done in the for-profit world.

But, customers are experiencing high-performance organizations in the other areas of their life. Grocery stores, restaurants, auto mechanics, etc. all live in highly competitive markets, and those that prosper are performing at a high level for their customers. These same customers are comparing their experiences in high performance organizations with performance at a non-profit, and the non-profit often comes up short.

An organization might argue, “It costs too much money to focus on customer service. We are underfunded as it is.” I would counter that there are benefits to be gained in a focus on better customer service – both for the customer and for the non-profit. Oftentimes, providing better service to the customer is simply a matter of running your internal operations more effectively and efficiently. This translates to savings in time and money for the organization.


I offer up the example of our work many years ago with a government agency responsible for six different permitting processes. Complaints from customers on unusually long wait times and exhaustive paperwork, as well as inconsistent processes across 3 regional offices, were the catalyst to bring us on board. The agency was looking for an outside expert to design six new processes, however, we convinced them to allow the staff currently working in permitting to create the new designs. The process improvement work resulted in a man-hour savings of 50% for each of the six processes. And customers were better served. For example, one improvement had the customer beginning their permitting process on-line, rather than coming in and waiting in line. In an address the following year, the governor cited the project as saving the state a million dollars a year.

I challenge our non-profit readers to look for ways they can better serve their clients or customers by making improvements to their internal systems. Not only will your customers be more satisfied, you will likely find yourselves with a healthier bottom line.

Questions or thoughts? I would love to hear them. I would also be interested to brainstorm with you on ways you can use process improvement tools to work on your internal systems. It is a particular passion of mine and an expertise of Professional Growth Systems.

Drop me an e-mail to get the ball rolling.