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What volunteers can teach us about customer experience

If you like looking around gardens, you should make a visit to York Gate Gardens on the outskirts of Leeds. Not only is it a beautiful garden, it is an example of excellent customer experience. Everybody who works there smiles and welcomes you. It is well staffed with knowledgeable people who love to talk about plants, garden layout, and the history of the garden. If you have time to eat at their excellent restaurant, you will be delighted with the quality of the food and the service. What is exceptional about this great experience is that only the head chef and the head gardener are paid. Everyone else is a volunteer.

This isn’t the first time we’ve enjoyed wonderful service from people who are not on a payroll. If you go on an HF walking holiday the standard of customer care is exceptional and again, it is delivered by volunteers.

What is it that generates this amazing customer experience from people who work for nothing?

  • Volunteers are driven by a genuine passion and commitment. They give their time, skills, and energy freely, usually with high levels of dedication and enthusiasm. This motivation can contribute to the overall success of the organization.

  • People who volunteer are often from various backgrounds and professions. This diversity brings a wide range of skills and expertise to the table. Volunteers may possess specialised knowledge, professional experience, or unique perspectives that can be very useful to an organisation. This collective pool of skills can greatly enhance the organisation's performance and problem-solving abilities.

  • Volunteer organizations often have more flexibility compared to large bureaucratic entities. They can adapt quickly to changing circumstances, respond to emerging needs, and implement innovative ideas without being bound by rigid structures or bureaucratic processes. This agility allows them to seize opportunities and address challenges efficiently, leading to improved performance.

  • Since volunteers offer their time and services for no remuneration, the organisations they help can operate on lower budgets compared to those that have to pay their staff. This cost-effectiveness allows them to allocate more resources directly to the programs and initiatives they support, leading to efficient use of funds and potentially greater impact.

  • Usually the volunteers who work at an organisation live locally. Their grassroots nature fosters connections with local stakeholders, including beneficiaries, donors, and supporters. This strong community engagement provides a valuable network of support, resources, and collaboration opportunities, which can contribute to the organisation's success.

  • Last but not least, volunteer staffed organisations are usually led by individuals who are also deeply passionate about the cause. These leaders can inspire and motivate volunteers, set clear goals and strategies, and provide guidance and direction. Effective leadership plays a vital role in harnessing the collective efforts of volunteers and steering the organization towards success.

It’s one thing managing an organisation that people are passionate about such as an open garden or a walking holiday company, and it’s another thing managing a chemical works. There is no way the chemical works will attract a volunteering workforce. But what we can learn from these voluntary organisations is what drives great customer experience. In summary:

· Be clear about the purpose of the business even though it may not be delivering a particularly exciting product. People like a goal and they work better if they know how they are helping achieve it.

· Assemble a workforce with a variety of skills and experience. Like poles repel and unlike poles attract. It’s good to get a range of different people in the workforce. They are more likely to gel and bond.

· Keep bureaucracy to a minimum and encourage workers to use their discretion. If good people have been recruited they will not require a great deal of supervision and can be left to get on with their jobs.

· Pay people an appropriate wage for their time and skills. However, praise and treats that reward exceptional work will go a long way in motivating the workforce.

· Build links and associations with the communities where the business is located. Giving staff time off to do some litter picking or painting fences in and around the business will make everyone feel better.


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