How to Reevaluate the Member Experience in 2022

by Val Brotherton

The pandemic affected industries and professionals differently, but most of your members probably experienced big changes at work and home. Routines, needs, interests, and even values changed as people rethought what was most important in life, what they want to get out of their career, and how they want to spend their time.

Associations watched their members grappling with the new reality and made some discoveries of their own:

  • Connection and community became more important to members, especially those who work from home.
  • Fewer members were interested in the time commitment required by volunteer leadership.
  • “Member engagement” was a moving target. 
  • Members have more options for online education, information, and networking, so differentiating programs and services from competitors became more urgent. 

Given all this change, you shouldn’t move forward with plans based on old assumptions and research. Dedicate time to reassessing the member experience and making sure it aligns with what members expect from your association now. You want members to trust that you still know what they want and need. 

Map the Member Journey 

Mapping the member journey is a rewarding exercise that helps you understand and improve the membership experience from the member’s perspective. You can gain similar insight from mapping the customer and attendee journeys too. 

In a journey mapping exercise, you identify and explore member interactions or touchpoints with your association, for example, where they:

  • Join, onboard, and renew
  • Register or purchase
  • Sign up for volunteering
  • Explore member benefits 
  • Search for and consume information
  • Update their profile
  • Attend a virtual or in-person event

You discuss and analyze what members do at each of these digital and in-person touchpoints, for example: 

  • How the experience (your association) makes them feel at each touchpoint
  • How well you’re meeting their functional and emotional needs at each touchpoint
  • What’s impeding a better experience
  • How you can improve the experience

Digital touchpoints also include receiving information from your association. Do an audit of the emails sent to different member and audience segments from all association departments and platforms. Pay attention to the email frequency, readability, effectiveness, and overall experience

Start the mapping exercise with an imaginary member from one of your member segments. Walk through the exploration and joining process, onboarding, and whatever else might happen in the first year of their membership. Invite a few members from that segment to assist you with this exercise. Talk about:

  • What members might think, expect, need, desire, and feel as they go through different interactions
  • Who and what influences the experience
  • What kind of pain points they might encounter along the way

Member journey mapping is an illuminating exercise that uncovers discoveries that may go against what you’ve always assumed or taken for granted about your members.

Test the Usability of Your Digital Platforms

Membership is primarily a digital experience. Even before the pandemic and the subsequent shift to virtual events, most members had a purely digital experience with your association, primarily via your website and other technology platforms. 

But for all the time invested in implementing platforms, associations often focus (understandably) on the staff’s user experience, not the member’s. This year, dedicate resources to usability testing so you can understand and improve the online member experience—as well as the online customer, attendee, and other audience segment experience. 

You want to make it easier for members (and other audience segments) to ‘do business with you.’ They shouldn’t have to think that hard if they want to find and use resources, connect with other members, explore membership possibilities, or whatever it is they want to do.

Usability testing can provide an expert, objective perspective on the experience you provide on your website and related platforms, like the member portal, learning management system, online community, and more. 

Apply What You Learn About the Member Experience

Journey mapping and usability testing give you a new perspective on the membership experience. These exercises show you where technical and functional obstacles disrupt that experience, and where you have opportunities to enhance the experience. 

Some of the most obvious places where you can enhance the member (or attendee, customer, etc.) experience include:

Integration. A bi-directional open API allows you to integrate systems so data can flow between platforms. With a complete picture of a member’s engagement, you can provide members with more relevant content and a more personalized experience. 

Single sign-on (SSO). With SSO, members only have to log in once because their credentials are passed along to the other platforms they use. 

Member portal. Members head first to the member portal where they can find information about upcoming events, volunteering, industry news, and member benefits, and update their profile and interest inventory. 

Dues payment options. Give members the option to pay dues in installments or sign up for auto-renewal and payment. 

Membership model flexibility. Are you offering membership tiers that meet the current preferences of the different segments of your market? Make sure your AMS has the configurability to allow you to experiment with different membership offerings. 

Future-ready SaaS. Your association needs software-as-a-service (real SaaS) for mission-critical software, such as your AMS. Because a SaaS AMS is regularly updated, the software keeps up with the changing needs of associations. 

In these dynamic and uncertain times, the online expectations of your members and audience are ever-changing. You need flexible, configurable software (SaaS) to continue meeting those expectations and to pivot as needed. Our AMS Buyer’s Guide explains the difference between SaaS and pseudo-SaaS systems, and provides the AMS technology knowledge you need to protect your budget and prepare for future growth opportunities.

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