My message today is primarily directed to AIP staff, to share my thoughts and expectations on the important issue of customer service, especially with respect to the AIP Member Societies.
Customer service can make or break a relationship. I believe that we have to give the same level of care and attention when dealing with customers that we would hope to receive. This seems straightforward enough, but many of us fall into common foils of customer care.
Perhaps the first and most prevalent misstep is not taking responsibility for the customer interaction. Many times people view themselves as just the “middle person” and not ultimately accountable for the customer experience. Have you ever run across someone in retail who was obviously unaffected about an issue you raised? They see their job is doing “x,” and “y” is someone else’s responsibility. Oftentimes the customer is in limbo, not thinking that they or their concerns matter.
But let’s extrapolate to the office . . . Think about an inquiry (phone call, email, etc.) that might have inadvertently come to you. Some common courses of action:
- Ignore it, reasoning that the individual will eventually realize their error and reach out to someone else.
- Give it your best guess and route them to someone else, wishing them luck.
- Say that someone will get back to them shortly, and later in the day when your schedule clears, identify the right person and pass along the information.
- Take ownership of their question, making sure that their inquiry is answered sufficiently and expediently.
I assert that only this last approach is acceptable. We are all representatives of AIP and responsible for the overall customer experience.
The importance of good service is magnified when fostering relationships with a well-defined customer base. At AIP we have many stakeholders—the users of our products and services, the physical sciences community, and the public at large. But our most significant customers are the Member Societies. These relationships must be of the highest quality, and all AIP staff have a role to play in cultivating good relations.
AIP Member Societies vary widely in both size and interests, which poses some unique and fascinating challenges for AIP as a federation. Sometimes I find it useful to think of AIP as essentially a business. All businesses are tasked with providing solutions for identified needs, and the most successful businesses excel at being responsive to the changing needs of their customers. The AIP Board of Directors, Member Society leadership, and AIP management have been examining our collection of benefits and whether they sufficiently address each Member Society’s specialized needs, in order to better serve their unique communities. We are directing our attention toward this effort right now, with the full knowledge that it will be an ongoing process. As with any business, we must be nimble to operate in a dynamic environment.
Yet the principles of customer service are static—attentiveness, listening, patience, acting on feedback—regardless of a business’s current offerings or potential future offerings. No business survives for long without excellent and highly responsive customer service. Keep in mind that under the AIP federation are more than 100,000 scientists, engineers, educators, and students who are members of our Member Societies. All AIP staff interact with these stakeholders, as well as the Member Society staff and volunteers. We must all endeavor to develop better understanding of our Member Society customers, to communicate frequently and clearly, to be exceptionally responsive, and to recognize our individual roles in fostering these relationships.
One good customer service experience can change the entire perception a customer holds toward an organization. Let’s continue to work at this for our valued Member Society customers. Always try to exceed expectations.