Communication has long been regarded as the key to success for many organisations. Effective communication with staff and with customers is of huge importance to ensure people feel engaged and involved. With charities, the importance of communication is even greater; unless the core message is clearly communicated the support that charities depend upon will soon disappear.
For many charities the focus is on external communication – to donors and other supporters. But internal communication, to and from staff and volunteers, is just as important. People need to feel valued, listened to, and involved if their enthusiasm is to be sustained. For smaller organisations, this is simpler; people have the opportunity to speak face-to-face and most staff and volunteers will have a direct line of communication to a senior member of the organisation. But as a charity grows, these clear communication lines can become distorted or lost altogether.
This is a people problem, but there are ways that we can use introduce technology to support and improve lines of communication as a charity grows. Choosing the right technology is important – deliver a solution which relies on everyone being a regular smartphone user and you are destined to failure. Even assuming that people have an email address which is checked regularly could be one supposition too far. What if there were a device which all your volunteers were comfortable using and with which they interact multiple times a day? What if you could start using your POS to communicate directly with your volunteers? The prime benefit is that you’re not asking volunteers to seek out new information – you have the means to seamlessly integrate it into their day-to-day routine.
Let’s take a look at the main channels of communication and how they can be enhanced through technology
Communication from head office to the “ground troops” working in their shops is essential, but varies greatly in effectiveness. The most common group communication we see is the internal newsletter. Unfortunately producing an engaging, professional-looking newsletter is a cost that most charities will be unwilling or unable to bear, and we are told that such efforts often go largely unread.
By using the POS as a portal to communicate with volunteers, charities can quickly and simply deliver high-quality messaging through a piece of equipment that most volunteers already use every day. A newsletter which is easily accessible from the POS can reinforce the charity’s core messages, carry information on current campaigns, and keep staff updated on changes within the organisation. We can even start thinking outside of the box by including rich interactive content such as animations or even videos.
It’s important to realise that this now does not have to be a one-way street; volunteers can use the POS to communicate feedback and queries to head office. Positive feedback and success stories can be picked out and recommunicated to all shops in an area, becoming a conveyor belt of good news that reinforces the message that volunteers are highly valued by the organisation.
Communication between stores can be difficult to achieve. Setting up regional meetings is challenging and it is not unusual for volunteers to have little or no contact with each other outside of their specific shop. Even where regional meetings are successful, the interactions are often fleeting – it can be hard to capture the value which has come out of conversations.
A facility on the POS which enables and encourages communication between shops allows volunteers to build an important sense of community and belonging. Postings or forums can allow volunteers to discuss ideas or share best practice, letting all shops benefit and helping volunteers to tackle and overcome problems. Automated bulletins can give shops the ability to share specific customer requests or ask for items which sell particularly well in their stores, boosting sales and customer satisfaction.
How many of your stores have a fine collection of hastily scribbled notes? From reminders to phone numbers to “Dave said he’d pop in on Tuesday” – it’s not the most reliable way for shifts to communicate with one another. Memory and habit can keep a store running well for a while, but it’s a fragile situation – illness and staff turnover can quickly leave you stranded and unable to trade effectively.
A structured virtual noticeboard on the till gives your shifts a handy place to leave “to-dos” and informational notes, and has the added advantage that they are searchable and won’t pick up coffee stains. Going one step further, the ability to set up check lists for in store processes such as the end of day means that there’s an easy reference to ensure things don’t get overlooked. It also provides a great opportunity for less confident staff to step up to positions of more responsibility – the ability to quickly run down a checklist of the tasks needed to close up the store gives them confidence that they’re doing the right thing. From the point of view of head office, the knowledge that there’s consistency in operations gives a confidence that all shops are running to maximum efficiency.
Nobody disputes the importance of communication between all branches of an organisation. Historically thishas been difficult to effectively deliver, hampered by the dual prongs of inconsistent takeup of technology on one hand, and the cost and effort needed on the other. Using the POS system – a familiar, regularly-used feature of the store – to enable frictionless communication at all levels effectively addresses both of these concerns, and can begin to truly unlock the skills and knowledge present at all levels of your charity.