Does your team consider it a privilege to interface with members? Or do they cringe and run for cover when a member reaches out?

Everyone wants it to be the former, but all too often we hear: “Members are so demanding.” “You can never please them.” And the most common, “Members just don’t understand.”

Why does this happen, and how can you change your culture if you have members who are perceived as behaving badly? And employees who are on the receiving end of that behavior, creating the opinion that members just want to make their jobs difficult?

Like most relationships, if you don’t pay attention to the warning signs and make an effort to correct perceptions, you’re headed down a path toward separation. Retention, member engagement, and staff morale will suffer.

Five areas to include in your membership engagement strategy

Every organization is unique in its own way, with its own challenges and opportunities. However, there are five important topics of exploration and discussion that will improve your relationship with members. Follow these guidelines and it will become a pleasure for your team to interact with those valuable members!

1—Deliver on the promise you made your members when they joined

Sounds so simple, but if your acquisition team isn’t in sync with your benefit delivery team, a chasm can open up.

Acquisition is all about getting members, certainly. But if the promise doesn’t match the experience, your retention will suffer.

How realistic is your acquisition pitch?

  • Do you position your organization as the most authoritative source, and promise to answer all their questions? It’s a very good goal, but make sure members know how to ask the questions so you can answer them.
  • If your portfolio has a lot of discounts, are they truly a good deal for the member?
  • If you have a product testing program, are you prepared to manage expectations (because it’s unlikely you’ll have enough products for 100% of your members to test-and-keep)?
  • Are benefits exclusive, or can they pick up the magazine on the newsstand for less (or read it online at no cost)?
  • If you’re an advocacy organization, do you really represent the audience?

Persuasion is necessary to get a prospect to say yes, but it’s also the first step on a journey you’re asking them to take with you. It’s the foundation of your solid, authentic, long-term relationship.

If you never get that second “date,” maybe your elevator pitch is out of touch.

2—Listen Actively to your members to build a stronger foundation

Almost without exception, relationships come apart because one or both parties weren’t listening. It’s no different in a membership organization.

You might be thinking about your organization all day, every day. It’s likely your members only think of you when you prompt them, or when they need you. So what else is consuming their day? Find plausible ways to ask, and you’ll discover new opportunities to make yourself more valued (and improved retention will reflect the effort).

For example, when COVID-19 brought in-person networking events to an abrupt halt, organizations that listened and responded with live-stream options won the day.

Listen at every possible interaction. For example, if you’re publishing information, do you know if your members are a) reading what you publish and b) understanding what it means for them? A simple, frequent reader satisfaction survey can give your content team great feedback.

If a regular column isn’t being read, replace it with something that does engage the reader. You can’t influence your members if they aren’t reading what you send.

Are your benefits resonating and important to members? Active listening might uncover something that is changing in their world that could influence how you modify benefits, or seek new ones.

We often find that the benefits new members say are very important (like getting good deals through the organization) fade over time and other, less quantifiable but more satisfying reasons for affiliating take over. Networking. Pride in affiliation. Having fun. Looking to your organization first as a reliable, trustworthy source of information that makes what they do more rewarding.

Conversely, you need your members to listen to you as well. You can’t retain your position as an authoritative source and justify those annual dues if your members aren’t engaging with you. And that means relevant, authentic communication. Because here’s the thing: nothing you send is required reading.

A good communicator can take the feedback from your member surveys and craft your messages in a style, format, cadence that your members will read. “I hear what you’re saying” goes a long way toward engaging your audience.

3—Respectful Assumption invites engagement

Once they say “yes” to your membership invitation, it’s time to stop selling (sidenote: use “invitation” not “application” unless you really could deny them membership).

This is especially true when it’s time to renew. Reselling benefits can backfire. They may not have used some (or even any) of the benefits, but still value affiliation. Reminding them of benefits they didn’t use gives them an opening to say, “Well, I got along just fine without all those things, I guess I won’t renew.”

Inclusive, engaging communication that sends the message that members belong, are valued, and welcomed as a member of the community makes for a stronger bond.

But don’t assume without a foundation. For example, if you assume they know how to log in and find the good stuff without a guide to train them, both your staff and your membership will be frustrated. Here’s where a well-crafted onboarding/re-boarding program is a wonderful surrogate for the neighborhood welcome wagon. It’s not that you want them to do everything by themselves, it’s that you want your members to be comfortable with your member benefits enough that they COULD find an answer without calling your member service people.

If they reach the end of their term of membership and say, “I didn’t know my membership offered <insert benefit here>,” you’ve failed them and sold yourself short. You’ve also failed your team by not making it clear what they do all day on behalf of the members and your organizational goals.

4—It’s about “You” (the member) not “Me” (the organization)

Don’t be the person at the party who only talks about themselves. A relationship with a self-centered person doesn’t last long, right? The same is true in a membership community. If everything that comes from your organization is “We/Our/I/Me,” you’re sending a pretty strong message that it’s not about the member and how THEY value and engage with you.

How many times have you read (or written) the phrase “we’re so proud” in your communications? This phrase is a big brick wall for your members. Consider instead, “you will benefit from” which says the organization has something to share that will improve their experience.

More than almost anything else you could do, this is a culture-creator. When staff starts to tear down the “we” wall, collaboration and community thrives.

5—Be in Service Not a Servant to your members

Your team is NOT there to wait on your members. Environments that allow members to bully, berate or make direct demands of your staff are toxic and painful for both staff and members.

Mutual respect, engaging communications and a culture of service to members is the goal. Think of staff as hosts. They are experts on your product, and are best equipped to show your members how to maximize their experience. Your staff should be considered skilled guides, not pack mules!

Instituting a practice of listening and sharing results can help you create a healthy culture of service. When staff knows that what they do to enhance a member’s experience results in a higher satisfaction score (like those who use the Net Promoter Score methodology), they better understand how their actions impact the score and the ultimate goal of retention.

While you’re focused on your relationship with your members, consider one last question

Have you walked in your member’s shoes lately? Turn around and look at your organization through their eyes. Would you go on that second date, or would you be edging your way toward the door to get away from the person who really isn’t interested in anything but hearing him or herself talk?

A healthy, mutually beneficial relationship between member and staff is possible if you follow these steps.

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