Client Satisfaction Versus Engagement

Many nonprofits equate client satisfaction with client engagement.  However, client satisfaction leads to client engagement.

A typical customer satisfaction survey includes questions that relate to the speed with which clients are served, the competitiveness of the pricing, the hours of operation, and the friendliness of the staff.  Those are all things that are completely under the control of the organization.  Examples of questions you might find on a customer engagement survey: Was our staff interested in understanding your needs before attempting to provide you with a solution; Was our atmosphere inviting; Where you comfortable discussing your needs with our staff; Were your goals understood by our staff; Did our staff enable you to reach the goals that were important to you?

Obviously, every organization wants every client to be in the top right corner of the following matrix. The left side of the matrix measures the transactional value of your services.  The right side of the matrix measures the relational value of your services.


Client satisfaction depends on how well your nonprofit serves its clients.  Client engagement depends on the relationship you build with your clients.

Highly satisfied clients receive what they expect from your services.  They are unlikely to be passionate advocates or referral sources.  Highly engaged clients receive more than they expect from their relationships with your nonprofit.  They will be advocates and refer others.

If you map a client on the matrix before beginning to serve the client, it will be obvious how to serve and cultivate the client.  If after each interaction with a client, you map the new position of the client on the matrix, it will be easy to determine if the relationship is growing or declining.  When a client is in the bottom left corner then they are a new client or they are on the verge of becoming a past client.  Either way, it is going to take significant effort to move them to the top right corner.  It indicates that a new client relationship is off to an uncertain start.

The higher the client engagement is, the easier it is to retain a client.  When the relationship is important to the client, it is easy for the client to overlook satisfaction issues because they understand that the relationship is about more than service.  They also feel personally invested in the relationship.  Engaged clients are a source of referrals and have the potential to be donors.  They are important to the future sustainability of your nonprofit.

Next Step:

Map each of your clients before and after each service opportunity

Develop a plan for transitioning each client to the top right corner

Use the client’s level of engagement as an early indicator of the potential the client will achieve the desired long-term outcomes your mission promises

Since each client is unique and part of a unique relationship, it is important to have a transition plan that is tailored to the specific client’s needs, wants, and goals.  While that process lowers the efficiency of serving clients, it significantly raises the effectiveness of your services.  Since donors want clients to be successful, giving effectiveness priority over efficiency is in keeping with the donors’ desires.

Engaged clients are invested in the relationship.  Engaged clients have more at stake than their own satisfaction.  Because they care about your nonprofit, they are motivated to try harder and achieve more.  As a result, they are more likely to gain more from your programing than other clients and more likely to achieve the long-term outcomes that are promised by your mission statement.  Your relationship with them will enhance your nonprofit’s reputation and increase its sustainability.

When every client is highly satisfied and highly engaged, you know that your nonprofit has done everything possible for its clients.

Take It Further:

Train your client services staff to spend as much time on relationship building as it does on service delivery

Create a culture where relationship building is as important as program completion

Share the mapping of your clients on the matrix with your board and ask your board for the resources necessary to move all of your clients into the top right corner

Use the same process to ensure your nonprofit has highly satisfied and highly engaged donors and volunteers (especially board members)


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