In today’s digital era, the world is changing to favor convenience. Technology and automation give us bots to answer our questions 24/7, personalized messaging, and curated recommendations for what products to buy or shows to watch based on our past interactions. This personalization makes life easier, but keeping the human connection is also important.
One outcome of the digital era is businesses, including associations, have access to a lot of data which we can use to make improvements for our members. As the Manager of Knowledge Management and Member Engagement at Exponent Philanthropy, an association for funders with few or no staff, I strive to understand our member interests and needs so we can better serve them. I look for trends through data such as publication downloads, program attendance, and use of member services. My team and I also collect information through conversations with our members, which allow us to know what is on their minds, and suggest resources and services for them accordingly. The goal of all this is to help them find value in their membership.
If an association is not staying relevant or adding value to a member’s world—their renewal is at risk. We all dread hearing “I’m going to cut my membership.” So when budgets are tight, how do we become the “Netflix” (or other subscription you can’t live without) someone keeps in their budget? One thing Netflix does well is making it convenient for us; they give us the ability to access a large variety of shows and movies from anywhere, and automatically renew our subscription. While several associations strive to follow this example by moving to auto-renewals, or using bots to provide 24/7 support, when technology takes over, we risk losing some of that human connection with our members. Yes, we want convenience, but can that replace a person?
To illustrate why the human connection is so important, I want to share a discovery we made. About three years ago, we started using Salesforce, which gave us the ability to assign member engagement scores based on activity. This new data point showed us our long time members, particularly those that have been members for over ten years, weren’t very engaged. It also told us they were the largest segment of our membership that was not renewing. The data identified a red flag—it showed us the what, but not the why.
We needed a person to find out the why, so one of our long time staff members reached out to these members by email, inviting them to a phone conversation. For those who took him up on his offer, we learned these members stayed members despite the lack of engagement (as we define it) because they want to be part of a community. They’re not looking for resources, but they do want a platform to share their knowledge and expertise. Before these conversations happened, we thought, “Okay, we’ll learn what they want from the conversation and develop new resources to meet their needs and interests.” We learned that instead of developing new resources, we need to highlight opportunities for them to connect with other members and give back. Now, at least once a year, we reach out to this group and highlight ways they can share their expertise, whether it is to write a blog for us, serve as a mentor, or submit a session for a conference.
That was a huge “aha” moment for us. The data drew our attention to the puzzle, but without the human connection, we wouldn’t have found the missing piece.