Membership Retention & Rotaractors Satisfaction Print
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Written by Corina Mihaela Paraschiv   
Tuesday, 10 February 2009 21:54


Even though we try our best to lead a Rotaract Club successfully, it can happen, as a Club President, as an Executive, as a Rotaract member, that we make mistakes. 


Does it matter?  Yes it does, since volunteers that are not satisfied may decide to leave the club and then that brings on a rentetion issue.  Is all lost?  Certainly not, by acting quickly, a Rotaract Club can mend the broken relationships with members and continue to thrive. 


Let's look at this phenomenon more in detail.  We'll discover what courses of action unsatisfied Rotaractors usually take, why they complain and what you can do about it if the members chose to complain, why you cannot simply rely on waiting for Rotaractors to tell you they're not satisfied before acting, and the benefits of paying attention to what Rotaractors want in your club.


Possible Reactions to a Negative Encounter in Rotaract

Alright, now you're in a leadership role with Rotaract, and you've been around for some time, so when something bad happens, you probably feel confident enough that bringing it up to the attention of whoever is responsiible of the problem can help fix it.  But think back of when you first got involved into Rotaract. Maybe you didn't want to make a bad impression if you criticized something, or maybe you just didn't care enough to invest all the effort yet.  So you can already see there's a very wide range of possible reactions for a Rotaractor when things aren't going well.

Now what are the roads a Rotaractor can take when faced with dissatisfaction?

  1. The Rotaractor can decide not to take any action, to keep it for himself and just bear with it.  So then you never know you did something wrong or that the Rotaractor isn't too pleased with a given situation.
  2. The Rotaractor can decide to take some form of private action without really telling you what's wrong.  He may for instance join another club or he may spread bad rumors or tell what happened to others without coming up to you and working it out.  This can have a particularly bad impact on the morale of a team.
  3. The Rotaractor can decide to take a form of public action by either complaining directly to you (which is the ideal scenario), by complaining to a third party (like your supervisor, or a community newspaper), or by taking legal action although I highly doubt this would happen in the setting of a Rotaract Club (unless you've done some pretty big mistakes!).

 Of course, the Rotaractor can do more than just one of these actions.  He can complain and switch clubs and bad mouth you all at the same time -- now just imagine what kind of position that puts you and the club in!  Better avoid it huh?   But if you are facing this, then what do you do?  That's what we're going to discuss next.


Why Rotaractors do Complain

 Before we understand what we must do, we must understand why Rotaractors complain and why they sometimes chose not to.  Not all people complain for the same reasons. 

  • If they think you've been unfair, for example that they incurred an expense for the club at the district conference when they reserved the hotel rooms for everyone, and the club still hasn't paid them back, then they complain with one goal in mind: to be compensated for their monetary loss.
  • In other cases, I've seen Rotaractors being straightdown outraged and venting their anger on things I really couldn't change (ex.  how rude a person from another club had been with them).  These things happen and while you can't change everything you'd like sometimes, and while that person may very well be right, sometimes the right solution in those cases is to listen and be empathic, if nothing else. Sometimes, that's all the Rotaractor really seeks from you.
  • On yet other occasions, Rotaractors complain to help improve the club, for themselves, for the club itself or for future members that may be coming in the next years.  Because so much of your club's success depends on the work of volunteers (aka people who give you their most precious resource : time, in exchange for nothing), complaints like this can actually be a really beneficial thing!


Why Rotaractors Sometimes DON'T Complain

The reasons why a Rotaractor would complain and the fact that their complaints should be taken into accounts may be obvious to you but did you know that only 5-10% of unsatisfied people typically let the organization know about it?  What happens with the other 90-95%?  They either "take some private action" (resulting in everyone knowing... except you!) or they just don't say anything to anyone and become increasingly irritated by the situation.  These are both potentially dangereous situations.  To understand how to handle that situation, let's see first why Rotaractors may be reluctant to issue complaints. 

  • Rotaractors may not be convinced about whether their complaints will be listened to and acted upon, or that they're not important enough for their complaint to be considered (for instance if they are new to the club).  They may suspect that complaining will not make them better off.
  • They may believe that their complaint is not really worth the trouble - either because the procedures are too complicated to complain to someone in charge (example if you run a very large club where executives are not close to members) or they might simply be embarrassed to bring up the issue.


How to Break the Silence

There are, however, ways in which you can encourage Rotaractors to give you feedback instead of chosing to take a private action or no action at all.  

  •   You can make it convenient and easy to access whoever is in charge.  If you cannot manage to see every single meeting (either because they work on committees that don't meet at the same time, or because there are too many people to be able to really exchange meaningfully with every single one at a meeting), offer easy alternatives.  Make it a point for members to know your phone number and email, respond promptly, or even have the Socials Club Officer inquire on Rotaractor's satisfaction on regular basis and bring to your attention issues that must be solved.  Whatever you do, though, don't make it complicated.
  • Directly asking Rotaractors how things are going is a good way to prompt them to give you feedback.  While it is sometimes intimidating to go up to a club executive to tell them about an issue, it is easier to answer to this simple question, which shows concern and that the complaint will be taken seriously
  • You can try providing incentives, too, for members who write in to suggest a way in which the club can be improved.  Either with a giveaway each month (candy, etc.) or recognition and mention in the newsletter, etc.
  • Wander around -- or have someone else like the Social Club Officer do it for you.  Move from committee to committee simply as an observer. Listen to the interactions between the members and observe non-verbal behaviour.  Try to imagine how members feel during the reunions and whether you could bring changes to improve the situation.
  • Empower your executives or committee (project) leaders to act.  Don't create a culture where the president is the only one who can solve things. Require of each committee leader and each executive that if something is not working too well, it is part of their mandate to solve the conflict and improve things immediately to the best of their abilities.


How to Handle Complaints

There are three basic ways in which you may help Rotaractors when they do complain -- and all three MUST be met for the encounter to be positive:

  1. Distributive Justice : to get back to the examples previously mentioned, you may pay back the Rotaractor who lent the club money, you can offer an apology to someone that was hurt, etc.  Distributive justice is essentially the first thing we think of, which is fixing the outcome and making things fair.  There are, however, to more dimensions to handling complaints.
  2. Procedural Justice is another dimension: it relates to how easy or difficult it is for Rotaractors to solve their issue with the club.  So for this you want to be clear on the procedure you'll take to handle the complaint, you want to be prompt in doing it and not keep delaying it because you have more urgent things to do, and you want to minimize hassle for the person who put in the complaint (for instance, take down the issue once and then deal with it directly instead of having the Rotaractor repeat his issue to another and yet another person).
  3. Interactional Justice is the last dimension and it really is common sense but it is sometimes forgotten in the heat of the moment:  You want to act repsectfully, without blaming others, without raising your voice, without being dishonnest, etc.  It's all about how you (or whichever executive is hearing the complaint) is acting in, your goal is to preserve everyone's dignity in the process.


The Importance of Reacting to Complaints

You'll be surprised to learn that a Rotaractor that has had a bad experience with you but that you've worked things out with and for whom you've successfully handled the complaint will be more loyal to the club and more satisfied with the club than the person who might now have had any issues with the club in the first place.  So if you screwed up once, don't screw up a second time by handling the complaint poorly -- instead, view it as an opportunity to build a beautilful relationship between your club and the Rotaractor that is presently complaining.

Now beyond this, there are more obvious reasons for which you should pay attention to complaints.  Look at the graph below.  What is it telling you?


This graph shows how many Rotaractors would remain in your club if they were not satisfied


Basically, you can interpret it as follows.  Out of the unsatisfied Rotaractors you'll encounter, 5-10% will complain, and the other 90% won't.  Now look at the difference between the ones who would not complain (and just remain unsatisfied) and the ones who did but for whom you didn't solve anything.  Do you see?  While only 9% of people who didn't complain would remain with Rotaract, 19% of those who did complain but didn't see their complaint handled would remain.  This means that even if you can't do anything about it, you should still try to get Rotaractors to voice their concerns when they are not satisfied -- because just doing so will double your chances of retaining a member.

 What else does the graph say?  It tells you that while 19% of people who voiced their issue but didn't get a proper response would still remain with the club, up to 54% (that is one person out of two which complains) would remain with the club if their complaint was handled.

And guess what, if you resolve the issue quickly in a reasonnable delay, 82% (and up to 95% if the complaint was minor) of unsatisfied people who complained would actually stay with Rotaract (and be very satisfied with you).  Which means if you do act and if you act quickly you can virtually repair the mistake you've made and most members in that situation will forgive you and not hold it against you.

Although the percentages may vary with volunteers (since this study was ran for the for-profit sector), you can still get the bottomline which is that if anything, you should encourage people to complain, and that by handling the complaint in the first place you get a chance of retaining one member out of two who are complaining, and by doing so quickly you retain practically all of your members.  This is very useful information to know if you are experimenting with a new leadership team and things have not gone very smoothly.  Maintaing the connection and trust with your Rotaract members is the key as goodwill is the only thing that will get you out of the critical situation. 


Why You Shouldn't Rely on Complaints to Fix Things

So we've shown how practically all of your members that complain and for whom you solve the issue completely won't hold a grudge against you and will actually be more loyal and enthusiast about the club than the Rotaractor who did not encounter any issue in the first place. Does this mean you can go ahead and be unnattentive to potential issues, and only solve them as they come up?  After all, if you do end up solving the issue quickly, it'll be as if nothing happened, right?  So why focus on preventing issues?

Well here's the catch.  Only 5%-10% of the unhappy Rotaractors will complain.  That means if you run a club of say 20 members, 18 could be mad and not tell you anything.  Then what?  Then they switch and you have a high turnover rate and only 2 loyal Rotaractors who did stay.  Although this example is a little extreme, it does illustrate the type of rentention issues you're going to run into.  And as you may already know, it takes you about 5 times more effort to recruit a new member than to keep an existing one.  And never mind the negative effects on your clubs' reputation, due to word of mouth.  As a result, your club may come to be known as unreliable, as the club that always screws up - while getting Rotaractors who are already into the club to stay by recovering from the bad experience, you'll find it's hard to attract new members with that kind of reputation.  

Additionally, the time you spend fixing mistakes is probably going to be greater than the time you would have spent avoiding them.    On too of that, even out of the people who complain and get their problem solved quickly, you STILL have people (even if very few) who will chose to leave anyway, so why risk it?  Lastly, you incurr two big problems with this logic : first, Rotaractors will then raise their expectation in the future for you to handle issues increasingly better than you did the first time - so that means little margin for you to mess up in trying to repair mistakes the next few times - and second, members will have a reduced zone of tolerance for mistakes of the same type (they'll accept you screwed up once in that regard, but will expect you to have learned from it and never to do it again).  You're basically setting yourself up to the impossible task of being perfect in the future... not the best of approaches!


Implications and Additional Resources

Bottom line is this:
- If you can, do things right the first time.
- Welcome and encourage complaints
- If you do screw up, try to address the problem and resolve it quickly
- Explain what's going on to Rotaractors (if you're overloaded, if you lack experience, etc.) to get them to be a little bit more flexible and understanding
- Treat Rotaractors fairly
- Learn from the whole process of recovering mistakes, as you go.

The information in this article is taken from the course notes of Prof. Kim in Services Marketing.  You can find two very good textbooks on the topic by Lovelock and Zeithamls printed respectively by Prentice Hall and McGraw-Hill.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 11 February 2009 19:21 )