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What associations need to know about membership experience

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By Rhoni Rakos |August 17, 2023

Associations depend on their members. And while new members might be attracted by an association’s services, the experience members have when accessing those services is what keeps them coming back – or what causes them to leave.

Because of this, the membership experience (MX) should be your association’s strongest guiding principle. Whether it’s addressing a digital experience or a non-digital touchpoint, MX is a responsibility that needs to be thought of right across the organization, and owned by every team as a shared goal.

What associations need to know about membership experience

Associations need to go above and beyond to prove their value to members

Associations need to go above and beyond to prove their value to members One of the biggest problems facing associations today is how to prove their value. In the past that value was easy to demonstrate. Membership provided access to exclusive resources that couldn’t be found anywhere else – resources like training courses, seminars, job opportunities and communities for networking.

Today, however, so much of that is freely available online. People can build their own networks and find opportunities on platforms like LinkedIn. They can access content, webinars and training specific to their interests from a wide variety of sources. Even when content is locked behind a subscription, generative AI tools like ChatGPT have proven able to scrape websites and help users bypass paywalls.

When membership organizations try to compete on the same terms as freely available content, it puts them in a difficult position. If prospective members are asked to choose between paying $100 for an association’s services or paying nothing for something similar online, it’s tough for them to see the value of membership.

But membership associations are more than a collection of resources and services. The experience that comes with an association is the peace of mind that what’s on offer is credible, high value, and managed by a community who knows your professional practice inside and out. This is the primary way in which your membership experience can “delight” members – an outcome that many associations are chasing after.

Digital hygiene factors are a must for members

Improving membership experience isn’t only about creating delight however. The digital experience that comes from moving through your org’s ecosystem is too often overlooked. On a more everyday level, it’s simply about shaving off areas of friction online so that member delight becomes a possibility.

It’s worth noting that the digital expectations of members are rising, in part due to the seamless customer experience they get when using digital ecosystems such as Google and iOS. When an association’s technology is less intuitive than for-profit sectors of the internet, it becomes a potential point of frustration – a hygiene factor.

Hygiene factors affect the membership experience before someone even joins as a member. At a base level, you need to make sure people aren’t dropping out at the first hurdle because your sign-up process is confusing or slow.

Once they have become a member, it becomes a question of making your ecosystem as intuitive to navigate as possible. Even if you have a platform like Salesforce linking it all together behind the scenes, your ecosystem is going to be a complex combination of tech – from your website and member portal to systems for event management, continued learning and volunteer management.

What do your members experience when they move between those systems? If they’re in a webinar and want to check on the CE credits they’re earning, is it clear how they can do that or are the links between systems disjointed? If they’re only interested in a specific topic, can they easily find where your information on that topic is – or can you deliver more individualized value by proactively putting it in front of them?

Membership experience should be a cross-silo goal

Membership experience should be a cross-silo goalThe pitfall many organizations fall into is that they prioritize membership experience but approach it too narrowly. Usually such a membership team doesn’t have the power to make sure that IT thinks about MX when integrating new pieces of tech infrastructure, or that marketing is making it a central pillar of how they promote the association.

For example, the platform that your event team chooses to use might be perfect for them in their silo. But without a wider consideration of membership experience, they probably won’t think about how well that platform integrates with the rest of the tech stack. It might work perfectly well in isolation, but becomes a major sticking point for members moving across different systems.

Membership experience is far bigger than the work of one dedicated team. It needs to be seen as a responsibility that spans across each different platform and department, and everyone needs to be pulling together in the same direction.

IT friction is an MX issue

When you start thinking about membership experience as a cross-silo duty, it doesn’t just improve matters for members. It can also make life easier for your overstretched IT teams.

Friction between the IT department and the rest of the organization is a common problem for associations. IT is the glue that holds your tech ecosystem together, but they get pulled in all directions at once as each unit wants to choose and implement different tools for their needs.

Often IT doesn’t have the staff or resources to fully support each department’s individual focus. If that’s the case, the experience for members suffers as the tools, branding and UX become compartmentalized and fractioned.

The result is that each department feels like IT is pushing back on what they want. That’s especially a problem if the organization decides they want everyone to use a tool like Salesforce because it will help drive membership experience, but individual teams are only thinking of what tool they prefer to use.

Those conflicts become easier to resolve when membership experience is embodied across the entire organization. If the call is made to implement a single platform, it’s not the IT department enforcing change onto everyone else – it’s part of a wider strategy to drive membership experience and engagement, and support the organization as a whole.

To find out more about how we can help your association drive membership experience and engagement, take a look at our case studies or get in touch.

Rhoni Rakos
What associations need to know about membership experience

Rhoni is a digital strategist and customer experience designer with over 10 years in the field designing digital experiences using user-centered research and design strategies. She has focused her career on mission-driven organizations, non-profits and associations, ensuring they using technology to maximize their impact. Rhoni is excited to be developing fusionSpan's Digital Strategy specialization, helping organizations harness the power of intuitive and powerful experiences across their digital ecosystems.

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