She Tells Two Friends…And They Tell Two Friends…

Remember that old Faberge shampoo commercial, where the hook was that the shampoo was SO amazing that a woman told two friends about it, and then they each told two friends, etc., until the screen was covered with little boxes containing pictures of female heads with awesomely feathered hair?

Witness word of mouth at work.

The exact number offered differs, but we’ve all heard the old trope that someone who has a good experience tells a small number of other people, while someone who has a bad experience tells a MUCH LARGER number of other people.

For associations, the customer service we offer our members is a huge source of word of mouth, positive and negative.

So how can you make sure your customer service is in tip-top shape?

First of all, even if you’re “senior,” don’t take yourself out of the loop. It’s easy to say: “Let the call center/junior staff handle it. I’m too busy/important/expensive.” Wrong. The day-to-day treatment your members receive IS your organization to them. No matter what super-important, high-level project you’re working on, if your members have a lousy experience every time they call, email, or otherwise ask for help, they aren’t going to care.

Second, empower your staff. Tell all your front-line staff that they have the authority to do whatever seems fair to them to resolve a member’s problem without fear of punishment. And back that up. Yeah, they’re going to make mistakes. And you’ll want to make sure that post-game analysis is part of your process, so you can talk through what your staff chose and whether there might be an even better way to respond the next time. But seriously, your word on “no punishment” has to be IRON CLAD. If it is, I guarantee that beautiful things will happen between your staff and members.

Third, secret shop, or better yet, ask trusted members to do so for you and report back.

Fourth, ask your members. We all survey, actually probably over-survey, our members about EVERYTHING. And we love those Likert scales, because we can make all sorts of pretty charts and graphs from them. But ranking your conference location or the quality of a webinar speaker or the ease of your renewal process on a 1-5 scale is way less important than this one question, that should be on every survey you ever send:

“If there was ONE THING we could do to make your experience withbetter, what would it be?”

Yep, that’s an open-ended comment box type question, which means you won’t be able to make a nice graph out of it that you can show to your boss or your board and compare across time. And 90+% of the time, it will be empty when your survey is submitted. But 10% of the time, you are going to get fantastic intel about what your association could be doing that would make a real difference for your members and other audiences. And isn’t that why you exist in the first place?

2010 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report

Marketing General (more precisely Tony Rossell) has just released their second annual Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report.  Tony recaps the top 10 findings in a great post at the Membership Marketing blog.

A few things in particular jumped out at me:

Association membership is in trouble – 48% of respondents have seen a decline in overall membership in the past year, and it’s down across the board – first year renewals, acquisition, and long-term retention – and the trades are in worse shape than the professional societies.

The reasons people could choose  for not renewing basically all relate to money – because, let’s face it, even though “lack of value” was the #1 reason given, what that really translates to is:  what I got wasn’t worth what I paid for it.

On social media, 92% of the associations that responded have some presence on social media.  Interestingly, although Facebook tops the list, when asked which social media technologies are most effective, the majority picked old skool listervs and a plurality picked private-label socnets.

Direct mail still ranks at the top of recruitment efforts, with word of mouth, although personal sales calls have moved into a close third.  The larger the organization (number of members), the higher the reliance on direct mail.  But I suspect that’s caused by the fact that large numbers of members usually translates to a low dues amount personal membership, which means it’s more like a small donor fundraising relationship, where direct mail is still king.

The percentage of associations who report that members are joining for access to information is WAY down, which again, given the ubiquity of free information on most topics on the web, is not that surprising.  It does point up the need Jeff De Cagna’s been promoting recently for associations to curate the flow of information for our members, though.  Number one?  Networking.

Lots of other good information to comb through – go download a free copy for yourself.

Let The Members Decide!


Because you know what always happens – you only find out what you already knew because that was all you thought to ask about.

Also, you’re terrified of including any open-ended questions, not only because all that commentary screws up your nice cross-tabs, but also because you’re worried that it will set expectations among your members that you’re actually going to DO EVERYTHING they suggest. Even the totally contradictory stuff.

Does Starbucks hold the answer?

No, I don’t mean the traditional $5 Starbucks gift card as a bribe to encourage participation.

I mean MyStarbucksIdea. Starbucks recently launched a community site to allow customers to make suggestions. Then people discuss the ideas. Then the community votes. Then they take action on the winning ideas.

What a radical concept!

And you notice how Starbucks is using this to create engagement among the members of their community? And you know what they say about engaged members, don’t you?

Setting Technology Policies That Make Sense in a Web 2.0 World

On Tuesday, September 9, I had the opportunity to speak to the Potomac Employers Roundtable. A group of about 30 people, largely senior HR and Administration professionals from a wide range of organizations (PR consultancies, HR consultancies, nonprofits, and for profits) gathered in the board room of Williams & Mullen bright and early to discuss the role web 2.0 technologies can play in our organizations, and what implications they might have for office policy.

I opened the session by sharing the stories of some of my recent experiencesaround this topic and then talking about what differentiates Web 1.0 from Web 2.0 (short version: collaboration!), and some of the things Web 2.0 allows users to do:

  • Build their own sophisticated web content quickly and easily
  • Pull the information they want to themselves in the way they want it
  • Enjoy a more dynamic, collaborative online experience

We then had a spirited conversation about various Web 2.0 technologies – blogs, microblogs (aka Twitter), wikis, RSS, and SocNets (aka Facebook and LinkedIn) – with attendees weighing in with their own experiences, personal and professional, using them.

The focus then turned to the topic of the day: policy setting. A recent survey undertaken by FaceTime and New Diligence clearly illustrates the extent to which social networks have become embedded in the business environment. Over 93% of organizations have some level of social networking use on their network.

HR professionals have two major areas of policy concern: one, what restrictions, if any, do you place on your publics/audiences in using Web 2.0 technologies, and two, what restrictions, if any, do you place on your staff in using Web 2.0 technologies?

Externally, there is the persistent concern that someone will post something nutty and the organization will be sued. The best (and easiest) three techniques to ameliorate this risk are:

  • Work with your attorney to write a strong disclaimer
  • Let anyone read, but make people identify themselves before contributing
  • Let the community police itself

Another major concern is the issue of voice, or authenticity. Before you start thinking that your organization should launch a CEO blog, because, “Hey, everyone (aka “our competition”) is doing it, right? And we don’t want to be left behind!” think about who’s actually going to write it and what the process is going to be. Sure, if your CEO is going to commit to posting frequently, and she is going to write her posts herself, and she has something to say, go for it. If your “CEO” blog is actually going to be written by your marketing department, then run through PR, then vetted by your attorney, and THEN posted, forget it. People’s BS detectors are particularly strong online these days. Don’t forget – authenticity is the new black.

Organizations also worry about a loss of control – of their image, of their information, of their brand, of the conversation. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but control is an illusion. Your image, your brand, your conversation is ALREADY shaped by your audience – you just don’t know about it. And until Web 2.0 brought that process out of people’s living rooms and onto the Internet, you had no way of participating, either. Now your constituents can participate in the creation of knowledge and you can participate authentically in their communities.

So let’s say someone does say something bad about your organization in a public (Internet) forum. Hey, he was already thinking it, and probably saying it to people he knows personally. But now you have the opportunity, as an authentic participant in that community, to address it publicly – politely, truthfully, gently, but publicly. You have the opportunity to stop misinformation before it spreads and to address someone’s problems or issues with your organization. You know what you call someone who has a problem with an organization that’s resolved quickly and well? A convert – an evangelist.

Internally, from the purely geek side, because these technologies run (with a few exceptions, i.e., IM and Twitter) completely on the web, organizations aren’t adding network security risk, although there is certainly a risk of bandwidth overload. Yes, you might have to increase your pipe. Or prohibit streaming audio and video. But there’s a lot of really useful stuff on YouTube and other vodcast sites these days, in addition to the monkey races, so you probably want to think pretty carefully before you block them.

But in the end, doesn’t it all come down to a fear that our staff members are going to waste time IMing their friends and updating their Facebook status, rather than working hard at their assigned tasks? Sure, but that’s a management issue, not a technology issue. If Bob is bored and unmotivated in his job, he’s going to goof off whether he has access to IM or not.

You always want to have a reason and a goal for launching into any of these technologies, not least of which because there are so many options people are already starting to experience social networking fatigue. But assuming you had a good business reason for permitting access to Facebook in the first place (and if you don’t, I can give you one – do a search for your company name or profession and see how many items turn up), don’t ban it just because Bob’s manager is doing a poor job. Don’t make technology a scapegoat for a management problem. And by the way? If you block Facebook, Bob’s just going to spend 20 out of every 60 minutes on a coffee break.

The thing is, the world is changing. The young people who are coming into our organizations as employees or customers have different experiences of and expectations about technology. The sharp distinctions many of us have made between work life and personal life, between “professional” me and “real” me, are collapsing. You want to attract and retain Millennials? Then you have to meet them where they live, and it’s not on fax machines and email.