Powerful Service, One Customer at a Time

Would you take a member's call at home at 5 a.m.? One dedicated association staffer has.

How productive would you be if you were strapped to a ringing cell phone all day? For some, it would be a curse. But Holly Carson, CMP, meetings director at the Community Associations Institute, wouldn't have it any other way.

"She literally walks around the office all day with her cell on her hip and her Bluetooth in her ear, and members, vendors, and anyone on planet Earth can and do call her," says David Jennings, CAI's vice president for education. "This would drive me nuts, but it fits her style well."

Here are a few lessons Carson has gleaned from more than a decade of having a cell phone clipped to her belt.

Carrying a cell phone at all times ultimately makes life easier. "It's actually made my nonwork time nicer," Carson says, "because when a vendor can't get ahold of anyone at the office, sometimes they start panicking." But more often than not, "they're panicking because they can't reach anybody, not because of the situation that they're in. Once they get somebody on the phone who can help, or try to help, then it just makes my life and theirs so much easier."

It pays off in the long run. Being available to vendors at any time of day "creates a trickle-down effect of positive customer service, because they'll share that information with other people," Carson says. "In the meetings industry, relationships are so key. Especially long-term relationships. I have long-term relationships with so many of my third-party vendors, and it's because we've established a friendliness through so many conversations. We're like family."

Sometimes digital isn't best. In an age in which email and instant messages often reign, Carson bucks the trend. "I'm old school," says Carson. "I'm still a firm believer that getting a person on the phone and having a personal connection really helps." She adds, "For some people, asking questions in an email is difficult, and emails aren't always interpreted or understood correctly. That can cause hostility and confusion. On the phone, the people I'm doing business with know that they've communicated exactly what they needed to and I've understood."

You won't be taken advantage of. Surprisingly, Carson says that not once in 12 years has anyone taken advantage of her being available 24/7. She has, however, gotten quite a few 5 a.m. phone calls, especially when she's working with people in different time zones. How does she deal with those red-eye calls? "You just learn to clear your throat before you pick up the phone."

Lauren Kelley is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, New York. Email: [email protected]