Congratulations. You got one.

One member, one subscriber, one policyholder. Time to relax, right?

Sorry, nothing could be further from the truth.

Your member acquisition strategy is a machine. It churns away, dropping members on the doorstep day after day, week after week, month after month. Acquisition gets all the accolades, the biggest share of the budget, and high-fives when there is a big win.

Why is acquisition so important? Because most organizations think growth is a good goal. And the truth is, not every member sticks around. The bucket has a hole in the bottom and attrition is a fact of life in a continuity environment. If you want to grow, you have to acquire faster than the flow of defectors leaking out the bottom of the bucket.

But … what if we stole some of acquisition’s thunder (and budget) by making that hole just a little bit smaller?

That’s the job of the renewal series, you say?

Nope. That’s EVERYONE’S job. From the moment that new member says “yes”, the member retention strategy goes to work.

Isn’t “retention” just the act of asking someone to renew? Not entirely, especially if you want to keep more members, and engage more meaningfully with the ones you have.

By MCA’s definition, retention is the journey a customer begins when they say yes to your offer. It’s their reaction to your onboarding experience, their satisfaction with your content. It’s their alignment with other members, and how you fit into their decisions about time, talent and treasure.

It’s Job One. From Day One. For Everyone.

How long has it been since you had a customer experience? A true “secret shopper” laboratory experiment?

  • Would you be impressed by the welcome you received?
  • Does the onboarding experience match what you’re told happens?
  • Does the deliverable (your product, and how you present it) match the promise made at acquisition?
  • Try calling your member service line (especially during busy times of the day). Did you hear them smiling (yes, that’s a thing) or did you feel rushed and categorized so they can get on to the next blinking light?
  • Bonus question: Are your front-line people empowered to solve problems?

Undoubtedly, you have someone on your team who has “retention” in their job description.

A typical job description for a retention manager is to make sure the renewal series happens as planned. Their responsibilities include list generation, inventory and vendor management, frequency, interval and channel coordination, reporting, and likely much more.

Maybe they are also responsible for executing the new/renewing fulfillment experience and triggering the onboarding process.

Huge job. Critical job. But if your numbers slip, don’t point a finger in their direction (first).

Try an experiment. At the next all-hands meeting, ask this question: “Who is responsible for retention?” People may look at you like you can’t read an org chart. Especially the person with “retention” in their job description. Then, if you’re lucky, they will start looking at each other.

And that’s the breakthrough moment.

“You only have one chance to make a first impression” is certainly true. But you can’t stop with the first impression. Satisfaction is a journey. If you build a culture of satisfaction, you’ll bring your member to the next threshold and they will step over it willingly.

Got your Ears on?

Joining is a personal choice. The prospect makes a decision to give you a try, based on their perception of the “value” you will bring to their life or their career.

That’s a huge gift. They have chosen to allocate some part of their time/talent/treasure to you. Do you understand why?

We strongly advocate active listening as a key element in the retention journey. Active listening can take many forms. We do new member surveys to help us understand what they believe they signed up for. We do mid-term surveys to see how we’re doing at living up to expectations (key: ask these questions BEFORE you begin the renewal series). We do renewed member surveys to understand how the reasons for joining differ from the reasons for staying. And our personal favorite: we just plain listen.

We call them Listening Sessions, and we’re careful not to position them as a traditional focus group. (Full disclosure: our experience is that focus groups can give you misleading information). Listening sessions give us language, threads, and gratitude.

Gratitude?

Yes. At the end of every listening session we’ve conducted, one or more of the member participants says “Thanks. I appreciate being able to share my thoughts.” In fact, while we value the directional information we get from surveys, we know this: the most important aspect of a survey is the act of asking. It sends a message to the member (even if they are survey-fatigued and don’t want to take the time to answer) that you have your ears on.

We use all this active listening to modify tweak our member marketing strategy, evolve messaging, change the order of certain communications, and to prioritize member engagement opportunities.

Finally, it’s time to let the person with “retention” in their job description take over and collect those renewal payments.

Do you know the number one mistake organizations make in a renewal series?

It’s not failing to ask early and often, although those are biggies. Surprisingly, it’s this: reminding the member of all the wonderful benefits that come with membership, and how they will lose them if they fail to renew.

How can that be wrong? After all, it’s true.

Here’s why: in MCA client testing, we’ve learned that an assumptive, direct, “your dues are now due” approach wins every time over overt re-selling.

I have a theory. You know the majority of your members don’t use all your benefits and services. So that means when you remind someone of all the benefits that they most likely DIDN’T use, you unwittingly tell them they wasted their money. Makes sense when you think of it that way, doesn’t it? No one wants to feel foolish or wasteful.

And besides, you want your renewal request to be just as important as a utility bill. They don’t resell you on the value of water or electricity, do they? They simply say, “time to pay.”

In the renewal projects MCA creates, we remind them of the mission, or the sense of community, or sometimes even the stellar content that they receive. But we’re always mindful and respectful of inclusivity and not making someone feel like they wasted an opportunity.

There are lots more ideas like this that we’ve collected over decades of listening, thinking, testing and managing retention. I have to confess, it’s probably my favorite part of what we do. Yes, acquisition is exhilarating and gets lots of attention. But retention is the set of actions that deliver the goods. It’s the efforts that bind people to the product. It’s why we are in the continuity business instead of marketing cereal or TVs. Because it feels good, and we’re good at it.

You made it to day 365. Now what?

Time to reset. Shampoo, rinse, repeat. While a renewed member has signaled that you did a good job in year one and they want to stick around, your obligations and opportunities are just as important in year two, three, four and more. It’s what builds lifetime value. But that’s an article for another day.

When you’re ready to discuss your member retention strategy with someone who appreciates the challenges and rewards of this continuity business as much as you do, please give us a call.

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