Just over three years ago, Outreach instituted a “Customer Care” program where we attempt to reach out to two members and one potential member a week. The program checks on a current member and someone whose membership has recently expired. And, in our networking when we run across someone who fits the perfect profile of an agriculture member, we solicit them.

But last March when everything shut down, we moved to a new strategy with our agriculture members.

The Outreach department’s pandemic-era pivot forced us to lay down our set of keys and pick up the telephone. Gathering the team to discuss the implication of staying connected, I asked each team member to make three calls a day to current agriculture members of the Arizona Farm Bureau. These calls were added to the already day-to-day tasks we conduct in our department:

  • Daily check-in calls as team members,
  • weekly planning and strategy conversations with county leaders on a variety of issues,
  • member benefit management (which hosts daily calls),
  • program planning and implementation for Women’s Leadership and Young Farmer & Rancher committees,  
  • We still must put out our monthly publication Arizona Agriculture,
  • the monthly Agent Advantage,
  • the quarterly CHOICES,
  • daily social media implementation,
  • sponsorship work,
  • advertising and marketing work,
  • video production oversight,
  • market research and outreach results work,
  • and much more.

Even without a pandemic, the Outreach Team will tell you some days feel like their telephones are permanently attached to their ears. With all our modern communications tools, the trusty phone truly works (though one of the best ways for me to get in touch with certain farmers and ranchers is through Facebook’s Messenger).

So as of the end of December, we had completed all 2,400 pandemic customer care calls. All current ag members with the correct contact information have been called with either a live connection or a voice message. During our conversation, or when leaving a message, we provided COVID-19 ag-specific information directing members to azfb.org where regularly updated information was posted by the Government Relations team. When the worst of the crisis was behind us, we directed our ag members to emerging issues and programs including telling them about our new Webinar Wednesday series that will continue monthly.  

This effort has been labor-intensive but for me a labor of love. We know our ag membership much better. The whole team has referenced the great conversations with farm and ranch members who had a moment to visit with us (indeed, most of our farmers and ranchers were a bit too busy to stay on the telephone too long).

A common comment from those we caught answering their telephones: “Julie, we’re used to sheltering-in-place here on the ranch [or farm] and our freezer is full of meat. We’ll be fine.”

The bigger concern for many was that other Arizona families might not be faring as well with jobs lost and much more. Our conversations also cover depressed agriculture commodity prices and the economic outlook for agriculture.

The pandemic calls don’t reflect all the other calls we make in any given week. But we’re a member-driven, grassroots organization and connecting is our business.  The Pandemic customer care calls were truly a revelation to each of us on the team.