June 1997 // Volume 35 // Number 3 // Ideas at Work // 3IAW3

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Major Customer Turnoffs: Implications for Extension

This article compares the twelve "Major Customer Turnoffs", as identified by Sanders (1995) as barriers to customer satisfaction in business and service with parallel "Turnoffs" to customers in Extension. These barriers challenge Extension professionals to consider their role in the community, and to understand what drives customers away. Once Extension agents/educators are aware of and understand these "turnoffs", progress can be made toward developing a more appreciative and supportive clientele by fully serving and meeting their needs.

Ken Culp, III
Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist, Volunteerism
4-H Youth Development and Agricultural Education
The Ohio State University
Columbus, Ohio
Internet Address: kculp@agvax2.ag.ohio-state.edu

Who are Extension's customers? How can Extension best serve their needs? Are we serving their needs if we're merely "open for business"? If so, what difference does Extension's presence in the community make? What is Extension doing to meet the unique needs of the community?

Sanders (1995) identified twelve "Major Customer Turnoffs" as barriers to customer satisfaction. These have great implications for Extension's role in serving clientele and communities. Examining each of these "turnoffs" for business and service will determine the parallel "turnoff" and its implications for Extension.

The desired products are not offered. "Products" include education, information and service. Can Extension's clientele easily receive the educational materials, information and services they request, and do we understand our clientele's greatest needs?

Help is unavailable when it is needed. Are offices fully staffed during business hours? Are clientele able to visit the Extension office during business hours? If not, staying open until 8 p.m. one night a week during peak periods and having a drop box for people to leave forms and materials after hours may be a consideration.

Employees who are poorly trained, uninformed, or distracted. Regardless of the job, all employees should receive training and information. In Extension, perhaps the most serious offense is disseminating incorrect information. Make sure all employees receive proper orientation. Be sure to include the mission of Extension and the Land-Grant university in the orientation. There should be regular training and in-service updates.

Bureaucratic processes and red tape. Do policies and procedures make Extension "user friendly" or are policies restrictive? All organizations and businesses must have rules, policies and standards by which they operate, but some can become so cumbersome that they detract from achieving organizational mission and goals.

Waiting in line, on the phone, for calls to be returned, or to see someone. No one enjoys waiting in line; although sometimes, it cannot be avoided. Do support staff feel comfortable asking an available agent to assist with walk-in traffic or answer a ringing telephone? Seeing an agent leave their desk to serve someone waiting in the front office or answering a phone when support staff are busy can go a long way toward strengthening public relations.

Information that is not easily obtained. Most Extension Offices have ample information to deliver to clients. Often, the trick is not in providing the educational information, but in first determining exactly what the client's specific need is! Knowing which questions to ask is critical in order to provide the correct answers! Extension bulletins should be current and kept in adequate supply. Outdated bulletins that give application rates for DDT or recommend thge open kettle method of preserving food should be tossed.

Misleading advertising. Perhaps Extension's most misleading form of advertising is "lack of advertising"! Consider contacting a reporter and photographer from the local newspaper to write regular feature articles about Extension's "success stories". (Depending on the size of the newspaper, agents may need to write the article.) Human interest stories are important components of daily newspapers; if you've done your homework and come up with a good story, a good volunteer to highlight or an interesting "hook" or angle for the story, newspapers are likely to cooperate with you. The increased visibility, public relations value, and goodwill may be rewarded next year during county budget hearings!

Value is not commensurate with cost. No one ever complains when value exceeds cost, but most balk when things are not worth what they cost. Going the extra mile for a client rarely costs, and can add a great deal to the perceived value of Extension. Calling volunteers to offer encouragement and support, spending time with 4-H members or parents to give suggestions on a project and following up to see if a recommendation made last week worked for the client will communicate interest, care and compassion. Add value to your "product" whenever possible.

Quality that does not live up to customer expectations. In Extension, customers seek alternatives or choose not to participate when programs do not meet expectations. Parents discourage their children from joining 4-H, volunteers terminate their service, unhappy clients seek alternative sources of information, and dissatisfied county councils and commissioners reduce funding levels in subsequent years.

Failure to stand behind products or services. Failure to stand behind products or services erodes loyalty and diminishes customer support. In Extension, this turnoff can be caused by people who won't do what they say or don't deliver what they promise. For example, once a board agrees upon and publishes rules for an activity, they have an obligation to stand behind and enforce the rules fairly and consistently for everyone involved. Confidence and support is built when and groups "say what they'll do" and then "do what they say."

Poor housekeeping: dirt, disorder, safety hazards, inaccessibility. Image is everything. Few people would frequent a restaurant whose chef went barefoot or which featured week-old desserts. By the same token, should clients seek educational information from an office where casually-clad Extension professionals rummage around in disorganized files and distribute old versions of bulletins and project manuals a year after the revised issues have been printed?

Inconvenient: location, layout, parking, access. Is the Extension office easy to locate and access? Can clientele park right out front, or are all of the spaces taken by Extension staff? Can volunteers quickly and conveniently obtain what they need to perform their service?

These "Major Customer Turnoffs", as identified by Sanders (1995), are illustrated to challenge Extension professionals to consider their role and image in the community. By understanding and considering those factors that antagonize customers and drive them away, progress can be made toward developing a stronger, more supportive and more appreciative clientele as well as fulfilling our mission.


Sanders, B. (1995) Fabled service: Ordinary acts, extraordinary outcomes. San Diego: Pfeiffer & Co.