Often I talk about members of volunteer organization as if they were customers, and customers as if they were members. As far as executive relationships are concerned these two groups are one in the same. Similarities between members and customers include:
Aspects of community for volunteer organization applies directly to cultivating relationships with a customer base. Happy customers are always more profitable, and when they choose you, they tend to be more loyal. Organization members are different from customers but like employees in the following ways:
Most characteristics of members apply to both customers and employees. It is important to recognize most that applies to volunteers is applicable to those critical individuals that make your organization possible. How satisfied are the people involved in your success?
Members of a community are silent most of the time. Does your community facilitate learning about fellow members even when they don't want to speak out on their own. Often these quiet members want others to know about them but are too shy to do it themselves.
The same goes for customers, most have things they want you to know about them. Those things your customer keeps quiet are the same things you could use to dominate your competition and provide outstanding customer service. Think about how these strategies apply to customer relationships too.
Some ideas to facilitate inner-member learning include:
Some communities isolate individuals who spend more time listening. Encourage everyone to be involved, but respect those who decide they would like to keep quiet. Make communications tools available, encouraging members to use those they feel comfortable with.
Give members ways to express their interests, concerns, and individualism (in Applying Strategic Relations, members can create a profile about themselves, feedback is gathered on-line and in person.) While most community members will say nothing, understand even that message can have important value to improving relationships in your organization.