Hello — is it this association you’re looking for?

by Chelsea Brasted

It feels as though the world is changing every single day, and with a global pandemic, that process has only accelerated. But one of the best ways to manage this change is through enforcing and developing our key relationships. 

For associations, that means reaching out more regularly to our members. Sometimes the best way to do that isn’t by retooling an email newsletter or coming up with a punchier message for social media: It’s by picking up the phone and dialing. Having a real, person-to-person conversation about the ways your organization can help solve problems and make connections for your members not only offers you great insights into how you can better serve your members, but it reinforces that your association is one that cares about the individuals within its ranks. 

While there’s no need to cell every single one of your members — but if you, congrats on taking on that challenge! — you can still make a big dent by simply having your membership managers make a goal to personally call a handful of members every week. By carving out just a few minutes of time, your organization creates that sense of personal service that can be the difference between letting a membership lapse and remembering feeling truly cared for, prompting more engagement and value for everyone.

One of the toughest things about calling members, however, can be simply getting someone on the other end of the line. The growth of spam phone calls has exacerbated that problem. With lookalike numbers prompting calls that look less like robo-calls and more like humans, we’re less likely to pick up a phone call if the number isn’t one already saved in our phone.

According to data from Truecaller, which offers technology to block spam calls, users in the United States saw a 7 percent increase in 2019 alone. In 2019, the company reported identifying 26 billion spam calls and another 116 billion unknown calls. 

That is a lot of reasons to never pick up the phone in the first place. 

So, how does an association pro go about dialing digits correctly? By being honest with yourself about the potential results — and that means, voicemail. 

“It’s not a sales pitch, we’re just here if they have any questions,” said Ashley Wilson, who spoke with AssociationSuccess.org in January before the coronavirus was present in the United States. Wilson is the associate director of membership for the American Public Works Association. “A quick, maybe 30-second message … just thanking them for their time, what they do for the community and for joining the association.”

In Wilson’s experience, it’s rarely about getting a call back, though that sometimes happens, but it’s instead about creating a personal connection and a new touchpoint. 

Whether you get someone on the phone or not, you should stay casual. Ask how someone is doing, how work’s been and whether they’ve been able to take advantage of their membership lately. Then, transition to asking whether there are any roadblocks that have come up for your member and offer to connect them with resources that may help. If you don’t have any, be honest about that, but say you’re taking notes and plan to bring it up with someone who can help solve that problem — then follow up.

In a voicemail, keep it quick. While you won’t have time to make a long pitch, you can still make it clear that you and your association care about the member’s success. Introduce yourself, acknowledge that we’re all short on time, then explain that you’re just checking in to make sure the member is getting everything they need to be successful.

Some associations are also turning to text messages as another way to reach out to members, but that’s another step of intimacy that may not always be welcome.

“Text messages are kind of personal, and if you start filling that (inbox) up, people will start ignoring them,” Wilson said. 

The important thing to ask is whether your members will enjoy the alternate form of communication, or if they’ll consider it a step too far. 

Sometimes, there’s only one way to find out: Call them and ask. 

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