Does Deceit Build Customer Loyalty?

Posted by Harry Hertz, the Baldrige Cheermudgeon

Obviously you know my answer to the question stated in the title. And yes, this post is the “mudgeon” side of me raising its head.

I have become accustomed to “abuse” from magazines that send renewal notices six months before your subscription expires, saying your subscription is about to expire.  Don’t miss an issue, resubscribe now. And of course the burden is then on you to check your subscription and see if you really want to renew early. I have cancelled some subscriptions as a result. But, unless all subscribers of the world unite, while I feel better after unsubscribing, I am sure my protest does not impact the publishers’ practices.

More recently, this early renewal has leaked over to charitable giving. You give an annual donation and six months later the charity sends a note saying last year you donated x$, won’t you donate again this year and consider raising your donation to y$. Knowing that most of my more significant charitable giving is at the end of the calendar year, the June (or so) request is generally ignored if I am not interested in making an additional donation. When I do give a second donation the communications really proliferate. Then I wonder if my second donation went totally to new solicitations, rather than the intended cause.

But, here’s the straw that broke the camel’s back and made me decide that it was time for a blog rant. My wife and I are members of a few museums. This weekend I got a membership renewal notice from one of them. I checked and my membership runs through November. OK, so the early-up phenomenon has spread to them as well. But this one went one step further. It included a temporary membership card good through the end of July, implying my membership had already expired. That drove me over the edge and to Blogrige! Now the moral dilemma, do I tear up my card and not support a good cause or do I grin and bear it? Or do I just get it off my chest by way of this blog post?

What do the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence say about all this? Here are a few questions for these organizations to ponder:

  • How do you listen to customers to obtain actionable information? I am not sure they try to listen.
  • How do you determine customer satisfaction and engagement? Do they ever ask their donors?
  • How do you market, build, and manage relationships with customers to retain customers, meet their requirements, and exceed their expectations? They certainly aren’t marketing to me in an acceptable manner or meeting my requirements, much less beating expectations.

Donors of the world unite! I am willing to listen.

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9 Responses to Does Deceit Build Customer Loyalty?

  1. Denise Haynes says:

    Harry, I feel your pain. I have stopped sending checks to some organizations for the same reason. While I continue to “drop significant funds” to at least one of them anonymously, I don’t send checks. Their follow-up tactics have become a major consideration in how I spend my “charitable giving” budget.

    The Baldrige Criteria also have a question “How do you listen to former customers, … to obtain actionable information and to obtain feedback on your products, customer support, and transactions, as appropriate?” I find that most of these organizations don’t have a systematic approach for listening, other than evaluating their own results. (clearly lots of people “fall for” the tactics they use). My first take on that question is “how do you solicit information from former customers about why the’re now in the ‘former’ category, rather than still being current.” But, this is one of my favorite questions, because it has also changed my thinking from a customer perspective – “listening” can start by the customer speaking up about why they are now “former,” or soon will become “former” if the undesired behavior continues.

    Most of those solicitations include a return envelope – frequently postage paid. You know that envelope is going to “get through” into their system, because they will think it contains money. So, I use that envelope to let them know why I’m not giving to them, and asking them to remove me from their mailing list. As you say, maybe it doesn’t make a difference, maybe it would make a difference if enough people did it, but at least I feel better for having given them the opportunity to listen (and hopefully learn) why a contributor has now joined the ranks of “former,” and my charitable giving budget has now found another worthy cause.

  2. Robb Richardson says:

    This is a great article and I’d like to make a suggestion to all who read this piece….specifically, as consumers with an understanding of matters such as these, we need to inform the organizations of the disconnects.

    Naturally, that puts a burden on us to be the “news-carrier”….but, it does make a difference in many cases.

    I sit on the Board of a local non-profit. They’ve struggled with retention of donors and event participants. As we discussed this issue, it became apparent that they were creating many of their own challenges. Thankfully, the local staff has been willing to listen to why some of their current “best practices” aren’t very helpful.

  3. William Robinson says:

    With the current state of the recovery, I am sure the museums and others like them are feeling a significant pinch. Also, I am sure there are overtly aggressive fund raisers and marketeers out there selling that pitch of play hardball, get it now and to heck with tomorrow. I wonder if a survey of institutions would reveal who those folks are? I also wonder if the institutions ever were confronted with the alternative of having a real person call the members and asking for more “face to face”, with a legitimate explanation and a real “Thank you”.

  4. Bryan Zak says:

    I also had become frustrated with the number of membership renewal, or donation reminder forms that I receive in the mail. As a result I have decided that if I cannot be personally involved with the organization that I am supporting that I will no longer donate only cash. I was watching “Charlie Wilson’s War” on DVD and he did request to be placed on the Board of Directors for the Kennedy Center as it was difficult to obtain tickets otherwise. Perhaps there is something to learn here:)

  5. Mike Kalman says:

    Why not communicate your concerns to the governing boards of the museums to which you belong? If they are well intentioned they will probably care that your are tempted to quit because of their marketing tactics. It is likely have hired a consultant or fund-raising service who instructed them in these aggravating practices and insisted that this is the way it must be done, these days. Get with the program, they are told. If you don’t use such methods you will lose out to other charitable organizations that do. But there is is down side to such practices, too, a risk of losing subscribers and damage to good will. I certainly agree that for-profit businesses who behave this way (e.g., magazines) are annoying and perhaps acting foolishly; if so their profits will ultimatley suffer as a result. But I am drawn to comment mainly from the vantage point of those museums you belong to — the non-profit organizations whose behavior is raising your ire. The most important contribution you give them this year could be to open their eyes to what happens when they pull out all the stops trying to raise money in ways that are manipulative and, I imagine, divergent from the values that one might normally expect such institutions to hold dear. When they adopted practices that placed you, the donor, in a dilemma it is a good indicator that they place their good standing at jeopardy with other donors as well. Any for-profit business had better be proactive about listening to customers and learning about such mis-steps, rectifying their mistake ASAP. A non-profit charitable organization worth its salt will be very glad to hear from donors such as you who proactively reach out to let them know, so they can reign in their consultants and restore greater integrity to their fundraising practices.

    • Harry Hertz says:

      Thanks for the comments and support. You have given me food for thought and action. I received another early renewal this weekend and replied in their return envelope that my contributions would be stopped if they continued to start billing renewals half way through the year. Anybody want to guess what the outcome will be?

  6. Denise Haynes says:

    It probably depends, at least in part, on whether you “rewarded their bad behavior” by also including the donation. I would be willing to guess (or even bet my typical bet of a quarter) that if you did not include the “early donation,” they will send you another solicitation and envelope before the year is ended.

  7. Ginger W says:

    That was an interesting article. I have often wondered about where my donated monies end up.

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