Membership retention begins the moment someone joins your organization. To ensure that that new member stays a member, here are ten steps you can take to proactively manage their membership experience so it is a positive one.
#1 – Be responsive to inquiries, comments, requests.
While this should go without saying, it’s also something that can always be improved. Are you building a set of resources for commonly asked questions or concerns? Or does every request get an ad hoc response? And what do you do when a member asks for something you can’t provide?
If you can’t help or respond right away, circle back to acknowledge the communication and let them know a.) you are working on it but it might take some time or b.) you can’t help them with their request and tell them why. You may be prevented by law from taking certain actions for members or not have sufficient resources. Be upfront and explain that you want to be helpful, but can’t be in this instance. Offer other resources or brainstorm with them how they might get what they want using alternative resources or approaches. Given the number of member inquiries your association has fielded in the past, you are likely in a position to be able to offer some kind of guidance.
Another useful exercise is to have your staff keep a log from time to time of a full week’s worth of inquiries. Include the member’s contact info, the topic and the date and time they called or emailed and the date and time the inquiry was “closed” or completed. Not only will you better understand what are your members’ top concerns, you’ll have a better understanding of how you could improve the experience of a member who contacts you.
# 2 – Commit to published levels of service.
How long does a member wait to receive a return call from your staff? Do you commit to reply to member inquiries within 24 hours? 48 hours? Add this to your website and pledge your commitment to a high level of service. Ask members to alert you (but not all will) when they are feeling you are not reaching the stated level. Rather than have them silently complaining, or worse, complaining to another member or prospect, this may prompt them to come to you, alerting you so you can take action.
# 3 – Be highly visible to your members.
Apart from your events and emails, when do members see or hear from you? Are you visible in industry publications or the general press as a valued information source? Do you or your staff attend industry events of other groups? Are you listed in key industry directories? Out of sight can mean out of mind, so be sure that your members are aware of your work and efforts by maintaining a high profile in your industry sector, broader and related industry sectors, as applicable to your community.
# 4 – Communicate often, but don’t abuse the privilege they have entrusted to you by providing their email address.
Value your members’ time as highly as you value your own, if not more! Deliver up your content in digestible increments when possible. Make sure all your subject lines include the initials of your organization so your member can easily recognize and find your communications. For newsletters, summarize or highlight articles, or use call outs, for easy skimming, then link to your website for longer detailed information. And if every communication you send is asking for money or to buy something, add more value added communications.
# 5 – Ask the right questions to keep member satisfaction high.
Conduct periodic short member outreach calls, surveys and online forms to make sure you have a good pulse on member needs and sentiments. Asking a short set of the same questions, along with one or two open-ended ones will let you measure changes over time. Good questions help you measure attendee satisfaction and uncover suggestions for improvement. They can also help you build a profile of the kinds of members that you best serve. No association can be all things to all people. Those that try to stretch themselves too thin find it hard to compete with niche players who can better articulate their value proposition. Asking the right questions … and keeping and analyzing the good data they supply …often spell the difference between membership rates that are rising or those that flat line or worse. In your member question set, be sure to include open-ended queries like “What else can we be doing to help you?” or “What else should we be asking to better serve you?”
#6 – Track the engagement of every member.
How well do you know all the touch points a member has with your organization. Do you know which members always respond to your grassroots calls to legislators? What percentage of your members attend your events? What percentage of first year members? How many times has a member of your staff interacted with or spoken to a member? Reviewing a list of who is involved and who is not can allow you to target communications rather than shotgun requests to those already participating. It will also allow you to concentrate some efforts on those who are not participating in any way other than paying their dues, a group most likely to not renew.
# 7 – Sharpen your storytelling skills.
Do you have a series of successful case studies and stories to tell prospective members or members who tell you they do not plan to renew?
Better get some and fast. Members today want to understand … and have you help them understand in concrete and measurable terms … what bang for the buck they get as a member of your organization. Members join for lots of reasons, which can change depending on the member’s circumstances. Be ready to share specific and interesting stories about several ways you add value to their professional development, business success as well as the success of your industry.
# 8 – Conduct an exit interview with every lost member.
Yes, this will help you keep from losing more in the future. That member may be lost, but you’ll be better equipped to deal with the next one. (For a sample copy of my “We Want to Know Why” form, email me.) The exit interview itself – be it in person, online or via email – also provides you with another bite of the apple. When you get it, call the member and thank them for taking the time to tell you their reasons. Then you can also see if there is anything you can do to right a wrong, clear up a misunderstanding or provide them with something they need. Most members are also pleased to be asked, and it allows you to end the membership, if that’s what they decide, on a more positive note, keeping the door open for the future.
#9 – Conduct a new member welcome or orientation session with every member within 30 days.
Early in a person’s membership, it’s important that they realize they made the right decision to join and start getting some benefit. Schedule a face to face or telephone session to get to know why they joined, what challenges they have and how you can deliver value. Then check back in with them at least quarterly to see that they are getting what they need. Ignoring member needs is one sure-fire way to guarantee they will ignore their membership renewal notice.
#10 – Have some “make-goods” ready for when things go wrong.
Life happens and despite your best efforts, something may happen to make your member very displeased. Have a few things at the ready that you can do to “make good” on your offer to be of service. These go a long way in smoothing ruffled feathers and may just keep your member (who could someday become your Membership Chair or President) happy and engaged.
By no means is this a complete list, but focusing on these areas will help you improve retention rates and boost overall member satisfaction. What ideas have you employed that help lower the risk of losing a member? Please share them. Thank you.
© 2015 Anne Doherty Johnson
About the Author: Anne Doherty Johnson is marketing strategist with expertise in growing engagement and revenues for member based organizations. She has also counseled corporations and individuals on how to maximize memberships in pursuit of their goals. Contact her at http://www.annedohertyjohnson.com.
This article may be reprinted when the copyright and author bio are included.