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The key role of contactability in rebuilding the public image of third sector organisations

By Chris Robinson, CEO Yonder Digital Group

The UK third sector comprises over 167,000 charities in England and Wales with a total combined income of £73.1bn annually. Yet the charities sector has recently taken some hard knocks to its reputation. The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) has been in the headlines with a series of fines to charities for poor practice in fundraising. In addition to this a string of international charities have been prosecuted over unethical working practices and behaviour so it is not surprising that 2017 saw a staggering over 50,000 complaints about fundraising practices, up from just under 4,000 in 2013. As a result, good practice and regulatory initiatives such as the Fundraising Preference Service (FPS) have been put into place.

Yet is seems that in spite of these issues, the third sector has not been very engaged in improving its contactability for clients and donors: Yonder Digital Group commissioned research canvassing 2,000 UK consumers to find out whether they thought the third sector was easy to contact and found that they score surprisingly badly. Despite the increased media and regulatory scrutiny charities ranked worse than Airlines and Delivery Firms. This is particularly worrying for a sector that relies on goodwill and accessibility to secure funding.

SECTOR Ease of Contact standard
Excellent Good Basic Poor
Online-only retailers 25% 33% 28% 14%
Banks 24% 34% 28% 14%
Hotels 23% 37% 31% 9%
Electrical appliance brands 20% 37% 30% 13%
Supermarkets/Department Stores 19% 34% 33% 14%
White goods brands 19% 34% 32% 15%
Mobile phone companies 17% 33% 33% 17%
Charities 17% 26% 34% 23%
Utility companies 17% 33% 32% 18%
Internet providers 16% 31% 34% 19%
Insurance companies 16% 32% 37% 15%
DIY stores 13% 29% 42% 16%
Fashion shops 12% 29% 41% 18%
Car brands 11% 24% 46% 19%
Delivery firms 10% 27% 39% 24%
Airlines 10% 26% 41% 23%

If donors and clients are unable to easily find contact details, answers to their queries and resolution to their problems they will soon become disappointed and choose another charity to devote themselves to or, worse still, simply stop giving to just causes as a result of their disillusionment with one poorly performing organisation. Put simply, charities need to provide clients and donors with easy access to contact details, and preferably a range of options for getting in touch, and a seamless experience across all channels – phone, webforms, chatbots, email, mobile apps, post – whatever the donor may prefer.

An omnichannel presence and a full range of contact points that are all equally well maintained and equipped to provide answers and resolution to issues is critical to ensuring that donors get the information they need when they need it. But not only that, being fully and constantly available, with an awareness of that particular donor’s preferred channel of contact drives greater engagement and builds a real relationship with the donor.

Ensuring that queries are resolved efficiently also relies on 24/7 multi-channel support including live agent interaction at key times of the day and night. Having this support in place and being more responsive and efficient in answering queries is central to improving client and donor service and therefore satisfaction.

But in practice what does good contactability look like? Consensus between a range of expert commentators on third sector practices tends to point to a handful of best practice highlights which can be summarised into 4 key factors:

  1. Full integration of ‘customer’ data systems

A basic layering of call handling systems on top of CRM, ERP, field management and other systems rarely provides a good integrated contact management experience and can require very large capital investment to hook into legacy systems. IT directors are now evaluating in-house resource to achieve this level of seamless integration or choosing to enlist the help of cloud platforms and/or third-party outsourcers to achieve their objectives in shorter amounts of time and with fewer surprises.

  1. Best-practice-by-design, transparency and auditability

Governance standards and best practice processes cannot be implemented effectively or economically unless they are built into the system workflow – and that means across all channels a single enquiry ranges across from the start to the end of its journey. When effectively implemented, dashboards, spot-checks and audit trails are generated automatically, whether for management information or regulatory reporting, providing transparency at low cost and a feeling of seamlessness to the donor.

  1. Automate where relevant

The capabilities of automated query handling, such as AI-driven chatbots, are vast, but by no means exhaustive.  There is no question of total automation – some queries will always require expert human handling, backed up by timely, accurate and cross-channel information.

  1. Seamless enquiry handling across all channels

There is much talk about merging all channels (omnichannel) into a seamless experience, but rather less success in implementation. In-house resources need to be supported by experienced partners that know what to expect every step of the way.

Finally, it is clear that the recent events have rather taken the lustre off the third sector and endangered its reputation. This is particularly damaging for an industry that thrives on reputation and the goodwill it engenders so it is critical that charities re-evaluate their first points of connection with donors and clients and make themselves easy to contact and approachable.

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