Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio January
By Nancy Friedman
KEEPING MEMBERS IN THE FOLD
Customer-service training and other simple strategies help
Many associations focus on growing ever bigger
and spreading their message to larger and larger audiences. While
recruiting new members is indeed important, attention must be paid
to those who have already signed up.
Following are a few ideas that can help associations ensure
their databases are full of members who are alive, ready, willing
and able to be active participants in the organization.
Treat them right.
Hospitals have patients, hotels have guests, schools have students,
and lawyers have clients. Whatever the term, in the end these
people are all customers. It is important that everyone working for
associations remember their members are their customers.
One way to reinforce this fact is to have an ongoing
customer-service training program in place for the staff and new
hires. The training will help them handle complaints and other
situations that, if resolved badly, might cause a member to
A quick way to set up the training is to piggyback it with an
association conference. If the agenda offers a customer-service
seminar for members, enroll association employees in the session or
offer an abbreviated version to the staff.
Provide year-round value.
Aside from scheduling a few physical opportunities for members to
network, create online opportunities via a bulletin board or an
e-mail listserv. Other Web-based benefits are distance-learning
courses (significantly discounted for members) and buyers’
Focus on renewals.
When a member is lost through cancellation, something has gone
wrong. If you lose enough members, you’ll have a very small
Recently, our company canceled membership in a trade
association. No one called to see why we left, what happened or if
they could do anything to win us back.
Whenever a member doesn’t renew or hints at not staying with the
association, a red flag should go up and practices should be in
place to find out why the member is dissatisfied. Just saying,
“Well, we can’t please everyone” is not appropriate.
Find out what happened. Was it a budget problem? Try to work out
a payment schedule. Is it a political situation where two members
have locked horns? Find a good negotiator in the association to
address the situation.
The longer the group waits to gather this information, the more
difficult it is to get the member back. The decision not to renew
is possibly reversible if acted upon early. Just trying to resolve
the differences tells a reluctant member she is important.
Before retention numbers fall precipitously, start keeping
records on why members leave. This might help you see a
Many associations offer incentives to join, but not to renew. At
the very least, have an up-to-date brochure that emphasizes the
ongoing benefits the organization offers members.
Check staff attitudes.
When a member calls headquarters, is he immediately welcomed and
recognized by the person who answers? If not, the member might
think, “Why the heck should I stay in this association if they
don’t even care when I call?”
Every person who answers phones should be prepared to be
cheerful when the phone rings. Every office gets busy, and
certainly we’re all understaffed and overworked. But those are just
excuses, not reasons to be unpleasant or unfriendly to a member.
Make sure everyone understands how important your members are to
the association that the members are the association.Nancy Friedman, known as “the Telephone
Doctor” (www.telephonedoctor.com), is a St. Louis-based
consultant and speaker on organizational issues.
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