Roger Swannell

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Why I love customer service

The majority of my role is focused on improvement projects. Only maybe a sixth of my time is spent on the operational side of the business. And maybe only a sixth of that time is spent on answering customer service queries.

But, I think customer service is the most important part of what I do. I look at customer service queries every day, not because I’m necessarily the best person to answer them, but because it’s a good way to see what’s going on for our customers.

‘Getting closer to customers’ is one of the principles I think a lot about in how we improve and grow the business, and of course providing excellent support for our customers is a vital part of that, but more than that, our customers tell us how we should improve the business so we should definitely listen to them.

Philanthropy Vs. Capitalism: rambling towards understanding giving to charity

Ahead of a fundraising innovation workshop next week, I’ve been thinking again about the differences between philanthropic and capitalistic thinking for charities.

For the purposes of this rambling stream of thoughts about how charities can understanding ‘giving’ in a different way, here’s some definitions:

Philanthropy: private initiatives, for the public good.
Capitalism: private initiatives, for the private good.
(For completeness, Government is public initiatives for public good)

From a Charity (big ‘C’: organisation with charitable aims, rather than small ‘c’: being charitable) perspective, philanthropy is a one-way value exchange, meaning supporters pass value, mostly through financial donations to the charity but don’t receive any value in return. And capitalism is a two-way value exchange, meaning customers pass the value of their cash to an organisation or other person in return for receiving the value of goods or services.

Capitalism, as the dominate economic model in western society, has lots of history and theoretical models behind it to help us understand it and apply some of that thinking to charity fundraising, but first where did philanthropy come from?

Where does making charitable donations come from?

Financial donations to charitable organisations was fashionable among the middle classes in the 19th century, and through the twentieth century, with shift social classes and social mobility, making donations became something other classes did too.

This means that the making of charitable donations has always been very closely connected to social class.

The BBC class survey showed the class make up across the UK as:

  • 6% Elite – the wealthiest and most privileged group in the UK
  • 25% Established middle class – the most gregarious and the second wealthiest of all the class groups.
  • 6% Technical middle class – a small, distinctive and prosperous new class group.
  • 15% New affluent workers – this group is sociable, has lots of cultural interests and is in the middle of all the class groups in terms of wealth.
  • 14% Traditional working class – this class group scores low for economic, social and cultural factors, but they do have some financial security.
  • 19% Emergent service workers – this class group is financially insecure, scoring low for savings and house value, but high for social and cultural factors.
  • 15% Precariat – this is the poorest and most deprived class group.

Understanding social class is important in understanding charitable giving as class is made up of income, education, social networks, and social contacts, and all of these things that affect a persons ability and proclivity to donate.

Donating is a social act.

What makes people donate?

Reasons for donating to charity can fit into three broad categories:

  • Purely altruistic – motivated by supporting the good done by the charity.
  • Impurely altruistic – motivated by the expectation of getting some value from knowing they have contributed to the good for the charity.
  • Not altruistic – motivated by wanting to show friends and family that they are a ‘good’ person.

Charities assume, under the philanthropic model, that all charitable giving is ‘purely altruistic’. Capitalistic thinking might say that pure altruism is a myth and that a donor is always motivated to derive some value, even if it’s just feeling like a good person.

Supply and demand in charitable fundraising

Supply and demand
“In microeconomics, supply and demand is an economic model of price determination in a market. It postulates that, holding all else equal, in a competitive market, the unit price for a particular good, or other traded item such as labor or liquid financial assets, will vary until it settles at a point where the quantity demanded (at the current price) will equal the quantity supplied (at the current price), resulting in an economic equilibrium for price and quantity transacted.”

The same thinking could be applied to the supply of fundraising products by charities against the demand from impurely-altruistic and not-altruistic supporters. In this context ‘price’ means the value derived by the customer.

Quantity of fundraising products in the market

If there are fewer causes to donate to (either perceived or actual), the value of those causes increases. The value here can be thought of in terms of greater awareness for supporters and so an increased propensity to donate.

The more ‘asks’ that are put in front of supporters, the lower the value of those asks. A flooded market is no good for charities or supporters as it drives down the value of each fundraising product.

Imagine a world with perfect social equality, no environmental damage, and no disease or life-threatening health conditions. The majority of charities would have no reason to exist. Those that managed to find a reason would operate within a high demand market, pushing up the value of their fundraising offer.

Value of fundraising products in the market

This is where social contracts/act of donating comes in. If making a donation meets the needs of affirming a donors values, triggers empathy and connection, allows to let people know they’re doing a good thing, etc., then it has a higher value in the market than an ‘ask’ that doesn’t deliver these benefits.

Would you rather donate £10 anonymously to provide massages for stressed businessmen in Tokyo or to provide nurses for sick children in your local town and be able to post about it on Facebook? Option A doesn’t meet the social contract of donating and so has low market value, whereas option B has a higher market value as it includes aspects of the social contract.

The right number of asks giving the right value return equals equilibrium and so optimisation for the fundraising offer.

However, it often seems that charities, working under the philanthropic model, do a lot of work in trying to get the ‘ask’ right; creating new campaigns, testing images, optimising donation forms of web pages, etc., but do very little about delivering value to the donor. Made a donation? Here, have a thank you letter. Not a great value exchange, if you think about it from a capitalist point-of-view.

So, charity fundraising as an industry, charities, and those who work in fundraising, need to shift away from the idea of philanthropy as one-way value from donor to charity, to capitalism as a two-way value exchange between donor and charity. Once this kind of thinking is embedded, then they can start asking the question: what do donors really want in return for their donation.

Risk assessment by certainty of cost and value

When assessing the risks of a new piece of work the questions should be around how certain are we about the cost and value of the work. The more certain we are about the cost of a piece of work and the value of the outcomes, the lower risk of the work. This leads to prioritising more certain work over less certain, and making more uncertain work less uncertain.

Customer service chatbot using Freshdesk API

Having built a chatbot that uses the eBay API, and with the idea of a customer service chatbot floating around, I decided to see if I could build a chatbot that uses the Freshdesk API to pull content from the Help Articles into a chat flow to answer queries from customers.

The bot introduces itself as any good bot should, and then asks the customer how it can help.

The buttons that the bot displays are dynamically populated by querying the results from the Freshdesk API to find out what top level categories are available in the Help Articles section on Freshdesk.

When the customer selects the appropriate category the bot dynamically creates buttons again from what is returned by querying the sub-categories in Freshdesk.

And when the customer selects a button the bot will calls the content of the Help Article and displays it in the flow.

The bot then checks if that Help Article is what the customer is looking for. If the customer selects Yes the bot tells the customer that it’s glad and ends the conversation. If the customer selects No, the bot allows the customer to contact a human by raising a ticket in Freshdesk.

The bot is very simple, partly because there aren’t very many Help Articles to pull from, but it demonstrates that using the Freshdesk API to populate the buttons on the fly can work and means that the content only needs to be maintained in Freshdesk and not within the chatbot.

Backwards looks like the right way round

A director emails two managers about building something new to solve an existing problem.

The first manager says:

  • Let’s have a meeting.
  • We’ll have to get more resource.
  • We’ll need to understand the requirements.
  • I’ll write a Proof of Concept Document.

The second manager says:

  • Let’s build it.
  • We’ll get customers using it.
  • We’ll learn loads about what customers actually want.

The first manager is solving organisational problems. The second manager is solving customer problems.

In a large, traditional organisation, the first manager looks like the one who’s doing it the right way. The second manager is a heretic who isn’t ‘thinking strategically’ and is considered to be doing it the wrong way. But it’s backwards. Delivering value to the customers and starting to learn about their problems as soon as possible should be what’s important. That’s the right way round.

First Aid at Work Training

Completed First Aid at Work Training with St. John Ambulance.

The way the course is run has changed since the last time I did it. There seemed to be more of a dumbing-down of first aid techniques, perhaps in recognition that the majority of first aiders are unlikely to retain more complicated techniques and apply them correctly, and that making the course simpler means more people will do it. So, it’s better to have more people with less knowledge than fewer people with greater knowledge.

Talking about first aid, and the causes of injuries got me thinking about complacency again. I think complacency is the root cause of the majority of injuries; didn’t think driving fast would be a problem, didn’t think to check the smoke alarm batteries, didn’t think to look both ways before crossing the road, etc., etc.

Developing a mindset of planning ahead, figuring out what the right procedure is, and following it in a habitual way is the solution to complacency. Then its ok to not think about the thing that you would be complacent about because the procedure takes care of making you do the right thing.

Testing images for charities

A selection of our images and stock images were tested and this is a summary of some of the outcomes:

  • People look at facial expressions, especially mouths.
  • People facing towards the camera offer better impact and being able to see their eyes to gauge emotion is useful.
  • Images with a clear purpose resonated, for example seeing someone wearing a branded T-shirt helped better connect with a fundraising ask or gave that sense of wanting to help. People wanted to be able to visually identify a charity and will look for badges and logos.
  • When showing a survivor, provide clear visual clues such as scars from surgery.
  • Don’t use shots of people wearing high-fashion (really well-dressed people) as apparently this is off-putting.
  • Don’t show images that could bring people to do the opposite of what you want, e.g. someone eating chocolate when we would want them to abstain –we’re not good at processing negatives.
  • Show images with hope, not shame – people connect emotionally.
  • Staged images weren’t well received – such as a baby dressed up in a Santa outfit. People felt manipulated. There is a fine balance between making people feel bad about themselves, against tapping into emotion to prompt people to react and donate.
  • Images showing concern makes people want to take action, but with a medical image of someone with discomfort made people turn away.
  • Natural poses and settings make people identify and comes across as warm and genuine.
  • Selfies did not read well, as people in them did not comes across as connected to cause.
  • Everyday people were more relatable – not super-fit super models.
  • Moments at the end of the race and demonstrating a sense of achievement were well received (rather than mid-race, partway through ‘the struggle’).
  • Groups of people / crowds tested well.
  • Images of babies tested better than of older children to show a sense of urgency and to prompt donations, as did black and white photography.
  • Real (recognisable) medical equipment tested better than graphics – and even more so if in use in a realistic setting such as a hospital.
  • To demonstrate ‘money making a difference’ images of researchers tested better than images of survivors as the latter give the impression of helping ‘only one person’.
  • Showing several researchers working rather than a single researcher gave the impression that more was being achieved.

Digital Design Principles

10 design principles to help charities build better digital services:

  1. Start with user needs, and keep them involved
  2. Understand what’s out there first
  3. Build the right team
  4. Take small steps and learn as you go
  5. Build digital services, not websites
  6. Be inclusive
  7. Think about privacy and security
  8. Build for sustainability
  9. Collaborate and build partnerships
  10. Be open

From betterdigital.services

Being happy at work

Apparently, according to this tweet, the things that make people happy at work are a nice desk, gym membership, and a paid day off on their birthday.

Those seem like very superficial things to me, like expecting a new car to bring you happiness in life. And they are things that are separate from and external to your job.

I think we should look to our work to make us happy at work, not chase superficial outside gratification to distract us from our work. It suggests that an attitude of ‘I don’t like my work but at least I can go to the gym for free’ is the route to being happy at work. How can that make sense?

Finding and doing the right work for you will bring you more happiness than a new desk. Feeling meaning and significance in your work is what will make you happier at work. Appreciating how you contribute, having positive relationships with colleagues, learning and growing, this is what will make you happier at work.

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Copyright © 2018 Roger Swannell

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