The Volunteer Brand Trap

by | Jan 26, 2015 | Branding, Marketing

A long time ago the president of the airline SAS asked his senior staff how many employees they had. The answer was more than 100,000. The president said that gave them an opportunity. The staff assumed he would say they have 100,000 opportunities to make a great impression  on their customers. What he really said was that they have 100.000 opportunities a day to screw up the brand.

Now that may be a little harsh but it is not entirely untrue. A bad customer interaction not only leads to a bad experience with that one customer, but they will share it with their thousands of friends on the internet on every forum possible.

I am not suggesting that companies can control every customer interaction, and bad experiences do happen, no matter how strong your culture or your training. Just accept it and be ready for it. I am not going  to try and tell you how to fix those problems, because there has already been plenty quality of articles written about that.

I  do want to shine a light on a brand trap, we might ignore. The volunteer. That kind hearted soul who freely gives their time to help your cause, either because they believe in you or they are looking for something to fill their time.  I know corporations don’t have volunteers, but hospitals, fundraisers and large sporting events do, and protecting their brand is as important as protecting the brand of any corporation.

Let’s take a fundraising campaign. Your volunteers can range from people going door-to-door asking for money (always around dinner time) or they can be in a meeting asking corporate giants for a million dollars. If they appear uninformed or give wrong answers, it can affect the perception of your brand. It doesn’t matter that volunteers are not paid, they carry your brand and can have an impact on it.

This summer, Toronto is hosting the Pan Am Games, where Toronto hopes that untold thousands of people will come to visit, and spend lots of dollars.  More important, they will come back and spend even more money.  This is not only the reputation of the Pan Am Games in play, it is the reputation of Toronto. The public will see more volunteers than they will paid officials or possibly even athletes, so what happens when an unsuspecting family from  Panama asks which bus to get on to see the cycling, but the time or transportation has changed, and the well meaning volunteer sends them to the wrong place at the wrong time. We will read about this bad experience through social media somewhere, #lostinToronto.

We cannot expect volunteers to know everything or have the same commitment as paid staff, but it is crucial they have access to information, and instant access.  That may mean having permanent staff assigned to act like a call centre, or it can be online meetings.  They need instant access to information whether in  meeting with a million dollar donor for Heart and Stroke, who wants to know research ethics, or the people who need medical help during a marathon. Don’t leave your volunteers without that easy access. It will help them and help your brand.

I would not be a good marketer if I was not self-serving and tell you of a product we at Marshall Fenn have developed to address this issue. We have built an App that resides on a smartphone or tablet of the volunteers of an organization. It provides all the key information they need and can be updated on the fly. It also allows volunteers to contact head office for any information that might not be there. It is currently being rolled out with two of Canada’s largest fundraising organizations, and the volunteers can’t wait.

Remember volunteers want to help, but they can still have an impact your brand. Make sure you support your brand  and your volunteers in real time.