One of the best ways to differentiate yourself from competing associations is through exceptional customer service. According to the Harvard Business Review, organizations that earn top customer satisfaction ratings for three-plus years saw revenue grow 2.5 times faster than competitors. So, keeping your members happy really does make a difference.
While all associations are aiming for good customer service, you’ll need to provide top-notch customer service to enhance your member experience. If you’re not sure where to start, never fear — we’ve rounded up a handful of crucial skills you’ll need to grasp to give your members great service.
In this article, we’ll explore:
- What does customer service have to do with your association?
- 7 Association Customer Service Skills to Pick Up
What does customer service have to do with your association?
Your association members are comparable to a business’ customers. Just as with a consumer-facing company, how you treat your members matters. Your member experience impacts both recruitment efforts for new members and retention rates for current members.
Association customer service goes well beyond just solving members’ problems as they come up. That being said, addressing problems is crucial and is a part of customer service. A recent Forrester study showed that customers are 2.4 times more likely to stay with a company that solves their issues quickly.
Beyond problem solving, you’ll also need to target your association customer service initiatives on consistently engaging and delighting your members. How to speak to customers, what support you offer them, how easy it is for members to use your resources and join events. . . all of this is a part of association member experience and association customer service. Customer service skills are ultimately how your valuable members will remain plugged into your organization and want to tell their friends to join, too.
7 Association Customer Service Skills to Pick Up
There are many skills that can take your association customer service to the next level. These are our top 7.
1. Practice adaptability
You’ve heard it before and it still holds true to this day: “The only constant in life is change.”
Industries change. Members’ wants, needs and values change. Member demographics change. To continuously delight your members, it’s important for your organization to change with them.
To keep up with what’s changing and what needs to change, survey your members – and do it frequently. The surveys don’t need to be long (we know soliciting feedback can be a challenge), but they do need to be thoughtful.
Ask your members about their:
- pain points
- preferred communication styles
- social media networks of choice
- how they feel about your association
- any suggestions or feedback
And when you get that feedback, use it! Reflect on if it’s reasonable and doable. Try acting upon it — or at least addressing it in the interim if it’s a project that’s going to take a while. The key to adaptability is being willing to make the changes.
Yes, change is hard. But the more adaptable your association or chamber can be, the more relevant you’ll remain.
2. Be empathetic
What is empathy, exactly? Empathy is about putting yourself into the other person’s shoes or looking at a situation from their perspective. It’s about seeing the “why” for how they are feeling or reaction.. It’s different from sympathy because sympathy often involves looking at how you would react or feel. Empathy is about removing your own feelings from the equation and focusing on how someone else is perceiving a situation.
Empathy goes a long way with people. It feels deeper and more connected than sympathy. Think about the times you feel annoyed, frustrated, disappointed or stressed. You may feel the need (or desire) to vent to someone because you want to feel heard and affirmed in your emotions. What you don’t want is advice.
Well, your members want that too. Chances are, at some point, a member is going to get frustrated with your organization. When that happens, be empathetic. Listen, try to understand where they’re coming from and apologize. Then, take what you’ve learned from looking at a challenge from their perspective and see if you can use the experience to improve your organization.
Empathy breeds empathy, so if you can remember to see the human in them (despite any rude comments or harsh tones), they’ll likely start to see the human in you and be reminded that we ALL make mistakes.
3. Think creatively
To differentiate yourself and amp up your association customer service, engage your members with new and creative initiatives on a regular basis. A little out-of-the-box thinking can go a long way to dazzle and delight your members. Plus, it’s just way more fun.
There are many ways to add creativity and excitement to your member experience. From recruitment to welcome new members to member retention, creative engagement can be added anywhere.
One way could be to automatically enter all your new members into a giveaway each quarter. New members don’t need to do anything themselves to enter the giveaway, and one person could win a fun prize.
Another could be around events. When hosting an industry event or attending a conference as a vendor, set up a “fuel-up station” for members. You can offer your members free branded water bottles, allow them to fill up from a filtered watercooler and access a charging station to juice up their mobile devices between sessions; fuel up themselves and their devices!
Not only can these kinds of fun and creative ideas make members laugh or feel special, but these initiatives build buzz and can lure in potential new members, too.
4. Communicate clearly
Your members want to hear from you — but perhaps they don’t want to hear from you in the way you think. All your communications should be crystal clear and give readers all the information they need to act. On top of this, it’s also crucial to communicate to members in a way that they want to be communicated in.
Emails, text messages, phone calls, social media and direct mail can work for different purposes and different people. Establishing communication preferences with your members is easy: just ask!
Solicit feedback via a survey to get a deeper understanding of your members’ preferred communication platforms and how often they like to hear from you. Also ask if they prefer specific types of communications for specific messages. Text messages may not work for general outreach or promotions but may be great for reminders about events or meetings.
Don’t discount any communication mediums, as the answers may surprise you. For example, more than three-fourths (76%) of younger members said that direct mail they’d received from their organization was somewhat or very effective.
Regardless of how you communicate with your members, be clear, concise and transparent. This can help you avoid confusion and avoid distrust.
5. Lead with authenticity
Your members are savvier than ever. As a result, they want to have genuine interactions with organizations. Customers are demanding authenticity — 90% of those surveyed said it was important to them, particularly when choosing which brands to support. One way to provide an authentic experience is through your customer service.
You can aim to forge a genuine connection with your members during every interaction, but you can particularly create authentic interactions in online communications like email and social media. For example: People say more likely to say user-generated content is authentic. To create trustworthy content, you can share a post from one of your members on your association’s social channels, or include a bio and quotes in the form of a member spotlight in your organization newsletter.
In all your communications, try to be honest, personable and down to earth. Being consistently genuine with your members makes them feel connected, and they’re more likely to be loyal as a result.
6. Express appreciation
A little token of appreciation can go a long way when it comes to enhancing the member experience. While this is a simple concept, expressing how much your members mean is easy to put on the backburner over overlook altogether.
But showing your current members how much you care can help boost renewal rates—and it only takes a small boost to make a big impact. According to Bain and Co. research, increasing retention by only 5% can boost profits anywhere from 25% to 95%. And happy members often tell their friends. So, don’t lose sight of keeping your current members satisfied.
To ensure your members understand that they’re the lifeblood of your association, you can create an entire member appreciation strategy. That could include initiatives like warmly welcoming new members, sending handwritten thank-you notes to members who volunteer, hosting a Member Appreciation Week each year, and highlighting an individual member each month on your blog or social channels.
7. Go the extra mile
This is another customer service skill that will set you apart in the best way possible.
Any chance you get to go the extra mile for your members, do it!
Even if it’s just a small gesture that will only impact one or a couple of your members (a handwritten note during the holiday season, for example), it’s worth that extra time and effort.
Gestures like that build a lasting impression, which not only play into renewals, but word-of-mouth recommendations as well.
WOW Members With The Best Association Customer Service Yet
Providing top-notch customer service is a challenging task but enhancing your members’ experience is easier with the above expert tactics in your toolbox. These strategies offer a great starting point to boost your membership renewal strategy.
Need a little extra help getting your renewal strategy off the ground? Check out our guide to best practices for membership renewals to get started.