Voice-of-the-customer (VOC) and customer-centric marketing are basic enterprise strategies these days, but not so for nonprofits. These concepts are just taking hold in this sector, and the American Red Cross is one of the trendsetters.
"In many ways, the not-for-profit sector has not ever had to think in this way," Banafsheh Ghassemi, VP Marketing for ECRM and Customer Experience at the American Red Cross, told me in an interview earlier this week. Ghassemi, who joined the organization a year and a half ago from the mobile industry, said she finds her role unique among nonprofits. "It's rare at best."
But a changing environment will no doubt prompt more nonprofits to take on initiatives aimed at better understanding their customers, or, as Red Cross calls them, "constituents."
For example, in the last decade the number of nonprofits has grown by 70 percent, resulting in more competition for the public's "compassion and generosity." "Millennials and digital natives" have far different expectations and drivers than previous generations," she said. And, of course, social networking is changing the nonprofit worldview. "New technologies and platforms that make up the social Web are providing public and amplified outlets for constituents to talk about us."
That means that the CRM and VOC expertise Ghassemi cultivated in her many years in the tech sector are now perfectly suitable for her goal of making the Red Cross its constituents' favorite charity. "The problem statements... and the methodologies and approaches for getting insights into the customer expectations, needs and wants, delighters, and dissatisfactions aren't much different."
Ghassemi is evangelizing the Red Cross's efforts to better understand and serve its constituents -- financial donors, blood donors, and volunteers -- next Wednesday, Nov. 9, at the Sentiment Analysis Symposium in San Francisco. In a panel discussion, she's joining executives from Harris Interactive and PayPal in discussing how to exploit sentiment in social and enterprise sources.
Sentiment analysis is but one means of understanding a customer, and the Red Cross is only just beginning to establish the discipline as part of its VOC program. "Today, in many ways, it serves as a leading indicator, showing us trends or patterns."
To be sure, the Red Cross is paying attention to the "fire hose of customer opinion and sentiment" out on the social Web, Ghassemi told me. The organization has an active presence on the social Web, but more importantly than that, it's a social listener -- "We listen. We listen a lot, and then we engage."
But more traditional channels provide richer constituent sentiments for the Red Cross to mine. It's a generational thing, with the Red Cross's older constituent base favoring other touch points, she observed.
As such, the Red Cross finds valuable sentiments expressed in surveys, constituent emails, or notes from its public inquiry or donor services groups. In analyzing comments coming in through donor services and captured in Salesforce.com, for example, the Red Cross learned about 10 topics donors were calling about, the sentiments around those, and the strength of that sentiment, according to Ghassemi.
The value already has manifested itself, though this is early days for the Red Cross's VOC program: "We have been able to integrate those wants and needs into the scope of our existing strategic efforts where they previously hadn't been incorporated."