A step back for CEA customer service

by Ben DeGrow (Originally posted on Ed News Colorado blog)

If you pay attention to this sort of thing, you may have noticed that the state’s largest teachers union has overhauled its online digs. Kudos for a new web design that’s both attractive and functional. (It can’t be said that I never write anything nice about CEA.) But customer service has taken a step backward.

I’ve written here before about the Colorado Education Association (CEA)’s opt-out political contribution scheme, known as the Every Member Option (EMO), so I won’t rehash the details. In fact, I once noted that CEA did a somewhat better job of notification than did their building-mates at the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA). CEA at least put up a webpage explaining the EMO and an online form for members who wanted to exercise the right to opt out.

Somewhere along CEA’s bridge to Web 2.0, however, both the page and the form vanished. Presumably, some sort of oversight occurred. The deadline for asking back the 2010-11 school year’s automatic $39 political contribution passed in December. Any teacher or other member who doesn’t want their funds collected along with dues to influence elections will have to ask all over again in 2011-12.

So maybe union officials just are waiting for August or September to roll around to put up the EMO information and refund request form. Even better if CEA were planning to implement an opt-in political system, but there’s no evidence to give that notion a second thought. Whatever the case, I’d like to think the disappearance did not occur because the EMO refund has become too popular and too convenient for union members.

Because posting the political refund info online is just one small part of needed union transparency — a topic I wrote about in depth a couple years ago. Take my advice for what it’s worth: Transparency is a cornerstone of good 21st century customer service. Especially for organizations with roughly 35,000 member employees, growing competition, and a deck that’s grown slightly less stacked in its favor.

A blog, a Facebook page and a Twitter account are nice features. Yet if CEA uses neither these tools nor its new and improved website to make known basic important information, they less resemble customer service than corporate-style PR. While that approach may be more functional for union leaders, it’s not more attractive to the broader base of potential members.

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