From Good to Great: How Critical Collection Staff Interactions Increase Donor Retention

“I really should donate blood,” said my ride-share driver, repeating what is likely the most common phrase people in the blood industry hear after telling someone what they do for a living.  This is followed closely by “I know I’m supposed to.”  And lastly “I’m going to donate!” as they quickly back away from us and turn toward—anything else.  Let’s face it, most people don’t want to donate blood.  Even most people who do donate blood don’t want to donate blood.  But they know they should donate blood and, so, they go ahead and donate.  And after they donate?  Well, they generally feel good about themselves and they’re glad they did it.  Getting them to keep it up, to keep donating? Oh boy.

Outside of the 1% of the population who are dedicated to the program, donors will look for the slightest reason to bail on their donation.  Meeting ran long?  “Can’t make it.”  Blood drive ends early? “Won’t work for me.”  I sneezed (even if it’s allergies).  “I must be sick.  Better skip it.”  There’s a long line. “Who has time for this?” 

“I’m anemic.” “It’s too far to drive.” “It hurt last time.” And on and on.  The flimsiest excuse becomes ironclad.  Others nearby nod in solidarity, while formulating their own dodges.

It’s not surprising no show rates on whole blood appointments run from 25% to upwards of 50%. Getting people to start donating is hard enough. Getting them to stick with the program isn’t much easier.  That’s why a donor’s active donation time, their experience while they donate, plays such a crucial role in donor retention and return rates.  While every experience is unique, we need to make the donation experience as consistent as possible from one location (or mobile team) to the next.  The quality of these interactions can mean the difference of thousands of donations annually.

When we connect the positive donation experience by individual collections teams (fixed sites or mobiles) with the intent to return, we can then see a direct correlation to this return intent (“I will return to donate when I am next eligible.”)  The chart below shows a survey data set correlating donation experiences with return intent by site or mobile team:

Most blood centers will see a  wide disparity  in donor experiences across their fixed sites and mobile teams. In this data set, that range is  over 30%  from highest to lowest performing teams. This lack of consistency directly impacts donor return intent.

Most blood centers will see a wide disparity in donor experiences across their fixed sites and mobile teams. In this data set, that range is over 30% from highest to lowest performing teams. This lack of consistency directly impacts donor return intent.

Over the last ten years I’ve evaluated over 30,000 surveys on individual donor experiences. That analysis revealed a huge gap between a “good” donation experience and a “great” donation experience—and consequently in donor return rates.   And the difference between that “good” or “great” donation experience?  It’s primarily determined by the quality of interactions our donors have with our collection staff at a specific point in time. 

Let’s look at the donation process.  Here are the basic donation steps that happen thousands of times each day:

Process 1.png

Each step contributes to the overall donation experience of our donors, but the level of importance is not the same.  When we connect the dots between each individual step and their overall donation assessment there’s clear evidence signaling what matters most to our donors, in order:  Donating, Drawing, and Screening.  Let’s call this time period ‘Crunch Time’ because those steps are going to make or break that experience.  When compared to pre- and post-donation interactions there’s no comparison: Crunch Time is where the action is, and where we need to take action. 

Using the same data set these charts show us how a positive overall donation experience connects to these Crunch time interactions:

With the correlation strength of the donor experience feedback incorporated, we see that the donation process actually looks more like this:

Process 2.png

Why are these Crunch Time interactions so much more impactful?  There are myriad reasons why, but I suspect it primarily has to do with the clinical nature of this part of the process.  Stepping into a screening booth is akin to stepping into the exam room at the doctor’s office.  When do we go to the doctor?  When we’re sick or when we go for a check-up.  When do we want to go to the doctor?  Never (well, for most of us.)  So, when infrequent donors step into the screening booth, meet our collection staff garbed in scrubs or a lab coat, get that BP cuff on their arm, it’s going to feel like going to the doctor.  Their senses heighten, their awareness becomes more acute, they get a little nervous, and they pay attention to everything.  And all the time they repeat over and over to themselves “I’m-doing-a-good-deed.”  This internal conflict plays out each day throughout our blood centers and blood drives.

Our national blood supply relies on repeat donors.  The success we achieve in saving lives depends on getting people to do this thing again and again.  While many of our donors do come back, only about 18% give more than 4 times each year.  But thrice as many (about 70%) only give once or twice per year.  These infrequent donors are going to play an increasingly important role in our industry.  One, it’s a huge group of people.  How are they not coming back more often?  Second, and more importantly, our industry is grappling with the challenge of iron deficiency and low hemoglobin levels of these higher frequency donors.  Increased inter-donation intervals continues to be one of the top strategies to counter this issue. 

Small changes can have big effects: Moving just 18% of your 1X and 2X donors  up  one more donation annually can compensate for 5X and 6X donors moving back to 4x per year with a possible donation interval change.

Small changes can have big effects: Moving just 18% of your 1X and 2X donors up one more donation annually can compensate for 5X and 6X donors moving back to 4x per year with a possible donation interval change.

The intrinsic value of our less frequent donors will increase as donation intervals face more scrutiny.  These infrequent donors are also the ones most susceptible or sensitive to the quality of this donation experience due to the limited exposure they have to the donation environment.  And, they’ll be the first to abandon blood donation as an act of giving.  They provide the largest potential for growth but they’re also less committed and ‘forgiving’ of a sub-par donation experience.  The importance of providing a consistent, “great” donation experience will have the most impact on this large group.

“Why do they need a ‘great’ donation experience?  Doesn’t our collection staff do a good job now?”  Yes, overall our staff does provide a good experience.  But “good” won’t be good enough to get these infrequent donors coming back.  While donors want to have a positive donation experience, the final determination will be based upon their interactions with our collection staff.  With brand new donors, these interactions are even more crucial as this will be their first exposure to the blood donation process.  The adage “You only have one chance to make a good first impression” is especially appropriate in this instance.   

When donors are given the chance to rate their donation experience (“Overall my last donation experience was positive”) on a 5 point Likert scale (“Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree”) they almost always choose either ‘Agree” or “Strongly Agree.” But let’s look closer at these two groups of donors because there’s a marked change when we look at their intent to return: Donors who rate a “Strongly Agree” positive experience will indicate a return intent 2 to 3 times higher than those who just choose “Agree.”  That’s a huge disparity we can’t ignore.

Question styles matter. Simple ‘Yes/No’ questions won’t reveal deeper donor motivations. Typically, over 90% of donors would answer “Yes” to a positive experience. But in this instance, there’s a marked change when we look at their intent to return on a Likert scale style question: Donors who rate a “Strongly Agree” positive experience will indicate a return intent  2 to 3 times higher  than those who just choose “Agree.”

Question styles matter. Simple ‘Yes/No’ questions won’t reveal deeper donor motivations. Typically, over 90% of donors would answer “Yes” to a positive experience. But in this instance, there’s a marked change when we look at their intent to return on a Likert scale style question: Donors who rate a “Strongly Agree” positive experience will indicate a return intent 2 to 3 times higher than those who just choose “Agree.”

In order to bridge this experience gap and increase our return rates, we need to better prepare our collection staff on how to maximize each donor interaction during Crunch Time.  We spend hours refining the technical aspects of their job to ensure safe collections but very little or none of that time is devoted to the simple soft skills needed to elevate a donor’s experience.  Raising their awareness and providing them with a simple set of best practices can give them the self-confidence they need to give each donor the “great” experience that will bring them back. 

Branch Consulting + Analytics has partnered with blood centers to develop a short, simple, effective program called Donor CARE that can provide this training.  Collection staff have the toughest, most front-facing job in our industry, so we’ve created a curriculum that helps them focus on the critical interaction points to influence donor behavior.   Using both pre-training and post-training survey experience measurements, reinforcement measures and communications, we’ve been able to increase positive experience rates by 10% and helped to engage collection staff on critical interaction points to influence donor behavior. 

Our industry reality is that most people who are eligible to give blood will still run in the other direction rather than donate.  And even a good portion of those who try donation for the first time will choose not to come back. It can be all too easy for these infrequent donors to bail on donations or ignore our requests if we miss the opportunity to connect with them.  Directing a small portion of our attention to enhancing these donor interactions will help to increase our retention rates and develop a larger base of reliable donors we’ll need as we head into the future.

Please contact me (dave@branch-consulting.com) to set up a time to review your programs and measure your donor’s experience by site. See what’s happening in your centers and drives.

Dave Leitch