What charities can learn from Airbnb

By Lucy Gower

Fundraising is going to get tougher. It is becoming more important than ever to nurture your supporters and provide them with an exceptional experience so that they are inspired to continue to support your charity. Quite simply, without them you can’t deliver your services.

Successful commercial businesses understand the value of, and invest in, keeping their customers. Their customers are also your supporters. This means that the benchmark for exemplary service and experience is not only set by the best of the charities, it is set by the likes of Amazon, Apple and Zappos – and emerging business models like Uber and Airbnb. The organisations that are known for providing the best products and services in the world.

I recently booked a property via Airbnb. I emailed several hosts who all replied to me straight away, the very longest response took 45 minutes. The best properties have eloquent descriptions, lots of information on the local area and beautiful images. Airbnb even send a free professional photographer to photograph properties because it drives more business. Professionally photographed places are booked 2.5 times more frequently, and on an average, the images brought in $1,025 a month.*

I booked a beautiful place with sea views at an excellent price. The next week I noticed that Airbnb had charged me twice on my credit card. One of my first ever jobs was in the customer service team at a large travel company, during which time I spent several hours a day being shouted at by angry holiday makers. This has upped both my expectations and my cynicism when it comes to complaints being dealt with swiftly and satisfactorily.

I trawled grumpily through the Airbnb site trying to find a way to contact a human being. There wasn’t anything so I filled in a standard enquiry form and waited, half expecting my message to fall into the usual black hole of a customer service inbox.

I got a predictable automated response by return and mentally prepared myself for battle.

Then less than an hour later I received an email from a real, actual person. They apologised, asked for more information and promised that this was getting their upmost attention and they would sort it out as soon as possible. I was pleasantly surprised.

I sent the information they requested and they replied straight away!  Now I was verging on impressed.

The very next day they instructed that the additional payment that had I had been mistakenly charged be refunded into my bank.  Not only that, but they also gave me a £20 voucher for the inconvenience.

Now my story has changed. Instead of another tale of poor customer service, I’m telling lots of people (including the readers of this blog) how brilliant Airbnb are and how they should use them.

So, what can we learn from Airbnb?

  • The benchmark for your supporters’ experience is set by the best commercial customer service experiences in the world; not just the best non-profit supporter experiences.
  • Murphy’s Law tells us that something that can go wrong, probably will. But get this: when something goes wrong it is an opportunity to exceed expectations.
  • Speed is important; the days of a 28-day response time being acceptable are long gone. You must provide people with immediate responses.
  • Automation is expected, but then access to a real person must be possible where required to deal with some enquiries.
  • Ditch the scripts. Instead, equip people with the skills, information and autonomy to take initiative and to do a good job of customer service.
  • Add value for you and your supporter – what is your equivalent of the free professional photographer?
  • Surprise and delight – I didn’t expect a £20 voucher but very much appreciated it. You won’t want to be giving away hard-won donations, but think about what else you could give that would set the right tone? Is it a free ticket to your next event? Or a reduced membership fee?
  • The rules of marketing have changed, what your supporters say about you is more important that ever before so give them every reason to say something great.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>