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January 24, 2007

Uncomfortable reading on ASAE's ExecSec listserv

In a comment to an earlier post, Jamie asked why I found it uncomfortable to read the emails from members blasting ASAE's customer service on the ExecSec listserv. I wrote that post in about 90 seconds as I was literally out the door for a meeting. My visceral reaction made it into that post.

I felt sympathy for my friends on the ASAE staff who I know are trying to live up to their guarantee: "...to provide truly exceptional offerings and service..." I perceived a "piling-on" or "feeding frenzy" atmosphere. Someone drew first blood, and then the mob mentality set in.

Frankly, I also was disappointed in my fellow members for airing their grievances publicly. This behavior is not unlike rebuking a member of your team during a staff meeting. How many of us association executives would appreciate being attacked for isolated customer service incidents in a public setting?

This got blown out of proportion, IMHO. As they say, all the thousands of airplanes that took off and landed safely today won't make the news tonight. Only the mistakes seem to be capable of capturing our attention.

Let's suppose ASAE has a 99% positive customer satisfaction rating. If they take 10,000 customer service contacts per year, they're going to screw up 100 times. Over ten years, they'll have 1000 people who have felt they received poor customer services.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, 99% is probably going to be a commendable standard to leadership and management, don't you think? But through the power of the Internet, those 100 people who don't get serviced to their satisfaction each year can air their discontent, find each other, and have a gripe session in public view.

The only negative customer service experience I've had with ASAE in memory was in Nashville for the annual conference. Someone from (I presume) the Nashville CVB refused to give me another conference bag (I had left mine in the hotel) because "the conference sold out." And then ASAE staff saved my day. I found Amy Lestition (now with SNAP) and told her about my problem. She just walked me into a back room and handed me a new bag. Problem solved in two minutes flat.

This is more representative of the experiences I've had with ASAE's customer service, and I have to believe mine is far more common than the other side. I personally think the ASAE staff do an AMAZING job in customer service. Here's what I saw from ASAE staff as I prepared to walk across stage as a new CAE. This is just one of dozens of positive experiences I've had with ASAE staff.

Is there room for improvement on ASAE's staff? Obviously there is. There's always room for all of us to improve.

Tagged: ; ; ;

7 comments:

Samantha Spears, CAE and MBA said...

While I was in Nashville, same conference, same staff I was told by a member of the staff (found later that night by looking for the offices) the reason none of them could be found was because they were busy trying to take care of details for the conference. And that was why there were no ASAE staff on hand on that 'pre-meetings' day.
In the absence of ability to find or contact a single ASAE staff member for the first two hours after my arrival, I missed the workshop I had paid to attend, came up a day early, and incurred an extra night of hotel expense. The meeting was not on a map, a calendar, the CVB people had no idea where or what I was talking about, and they couldn't find the staff either. When I did eventually find a member of the meeting planning team she told me they were still working out details for the conference, it was after all over 1,000 attendees. (As if that were a reason to not have onsite items complete in advance). And having coordinated meetings for more than 1,500 with just myself and a team of three or four, the small army this was even less of a 'rationale' for why the team wasn't a) visible b) accessible or c) prepared.
I stayed at a hotel across the street, a Marriott, and saved $50/night over the ASAE "housing" arranged hotels. The night of the social event I approached a group of "staff" members to ask about the night's activities and was literally 'waved off' as they told me "We're busy" -- Name badges still on, sporting the new star logo and all. Perhaps 'meetings' and service outside D.C. are not ASAE's forte. I received my refund on the conference and left before the last day.
I'm glad you have positive experiences with ASAE, however I don't think yours is necessarily the norm. I think your percentages are overly optimistic. I do think what is happening on the listserv is a mob mentality. But not in a hop-on-the-bandwagon fashion, I think people have found a chance to voice their dissatisfaction in an arena where they are not alone. There are members who are genuinely dissatisfied, but are just 'accustomed' to the level of service/lack thereof.
Perhaps if you are in the D.C. area, your experience may seem more the norm. So many members are obliged to pay dues for continuing education and CAE continuance. In my association neighborhood, noone is surprised, the experiences expressed on the listserv are common knowledge -- not a mob mentality, but an opportunity to see "I'm not alone in my experience." Being tied to an organization to retain certification and access to education does not a community make. Obligation yes, community no.

Fred Simmons said...

Not one degree of separation?

Darnit, I really should have used that obscure reference for a blog post.

Ben Martin, CAE said...

I'm not an ASAE apologist; like you I also think ASAE could do a better job negotiating room rates for its members. Your story notwithstanding, I can't accept your theory. Only 3000+ people have their CAE and ASAE has over 20,000 members, so the "golden handcuffs" argument is lost on me. From what I hear, the Nashville annual meeting was perhaps the best one they ever had (count me among those who thought it was the best ever) -- so much so that ASAE set an attendance record the following year based in part on the positive buzz of Nashville. If the customer service at ASAE was a systemic problem, I don't think you'd see their membership growing. And remember, I live and work outside the DC area too. For every negative experience you tell me about, I can give you 9 positive ones. We just don't remember it when things go right. Bad news makes headlines and being a critic is the easiest job in the world. I'm drawing mental parallels to the hedonic treadmill. At what point is anyone's customer service good enough?

Samantha Spears, CAE and MBA said...

I have very little interaction with ASAE anymore. I promote our industry, CAE, and the importance of advancing the profession.
For my limited interaction with ASAE I have a few positives, some non-engagement (strictly virtual), and some negatives.
I'm also one of those members who for five years has tried to find a way to get involved, offered to participate, subscribed to sections and never heard back from ASAE/the sections/etc. My experiences do indeed have me a bit soured on ASAE, and as a result I no longer direct my energies there. I find far more fulfilling and active interaction within the Allied Societies.

caekris (mba, too) said...

I have to respectfully disagree that the complainers are the few vocal minority. In discussions with fellow ASAE members in my area, our impressions are much more like Samantha's. We don't get involved and are members more because of our credentials, the magazine and promoting our profession. NOT because of the customer no-service they provide. I have felt for years that they are more interested in my dues dollar and soaking every last penny out of everything, than they are actually providing quality customer service. I can count on one hand the number of happy ASAE members versus the many that are not pleased with their service. I think the real reason why you saw the rant is because they have complained - for years - about this kind of stuff, but to no avail. Perhaps a more public rebuke will get them to realize that this is a bigger problem than they'd like to admit.

I've become much more involved in my state SAE and now sit on my state board. I feel that I can accomplish much more, feel like I've made a difference, and feel part of the assopciation community through this route, than I have ever done through ASAE.

While I'm on my little soapbox, I am going to rant a little about the CAE program. I have been certified since 1997 and proudly display my placque and recertification bars. It it so disappointing that future CAE's will no longer be able to get their well-deserved, well-earned placques - not even for purchase. In addition, those of us who are committed to maintaining the certification will no longer be able to get our 'bars'. Nope, cannot even purchase them for the very high rate that it costs to recertify. Instead, new CAE's can get a printed certificate (which if I really wanted that, I could print my own on a printer and buy a frame at a local store). This all from the cash cow that is their certification program. Penny wise and pound foolish in my not so humble opinion.

Sorry, Ben, but ASAE's customer service has been a joke for years and I don't forsee any big changes in the near future. This is not an isolated opinion. They need to start walking the walk. Talk is cheap and I have yet to see anything that will change my opionion.

Samantha Spears said...

Not being a bitter betty, let me tell you about the most personable exchange I've had in years with ASAE just now with Scott Briscoe.
He was engaging, polite, responsive, and had data availalbe to him via the database.
I sent him a very nice note, and have also copied that letter to the board.
You mentioned noone notices when things go well. That is one area I have to tell you I do specifically note. I write letters of thanks and appreciation as well as please take note of the service/experience I had that highlight positive engagements more often than I write letters of complaint in all areas.
And sure as I put my reflections of negative experience 'out there' for consumption, someone at the heart of the recent drama has pleasantly shown me the other side of service, to which you refer.

Ben Martin, CAE said...

Scott is a really nice guy. Did you know he's ASAE's carnivore?