How is the pandemic affecting membership organisations? Our survey of UK associations found that membership bodies have been putting their trust in technology in the wake of COVID-19
How is COVID-19 affecting membership associations?
Like many sectors, the Coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on membership bodies in a number of different ways. With many people furloughed and facing a drop in income, membership fees may be viewed as a non-essential expense, meaning membership organisations are focusing on member retention as one of their highest priorities. Even before the pandemic, the Memberwise Digital Excellence Report 2019 found that member retention was in the top three goals for organisations in the UK.
One of the main challenges identified from our survey is the ability to track member engagement and improve communications. The majority of our survey respondents use off the shelf systems to manage member information and communication, and reported experiencing challenges with marketing automation and communication management.
From our survey, the most common suggestions for tackling these issues in 2021 are:
- To use technology such as a CRM system to better track member touchpoints
- To use data insights to analyse member behaviour, make better decisions, and communicate more effectively
- To automate internal processes to free up employee time to dedicate to member service
- Migrating more events and training courses online
- Website and CRM system integration – creating a seamless member experience
- Adopting more automated processes
- Creating a bespoke member community platform or portal
- Creating and promoting an app for the organisation
- Increasing the variety of products sold
What can membership organisations do to protect themselves in the wake of the pandemic?
The pandemic created a need for many organisations to adapt overnight. Over 50% of our survey respondents said that COVID had increased their use of cloud technology, with teams suddenly all working remotely, and the need for an easily accessible central database. The pandemic created a need for many organisations to adapt overnight.
68.5% also noted that the first lockdown increased their confidence in running an association through the use of technology, where before they may have been previously hesitant to rely on digital tools.
Our survey respondents suggested several technology initiatives that they would be looking to undertake in 2021:
- Improving employee adoption of their current software system and processes, so that personalisation for members can be improved
- Exploring changing the tech infrastructure completely to refocus employee roles as member-focused
- Running retention and acquisition campaigns and adopting strategic partnerships to grow and retain the member base, including loyalty offers
- Offering a blend of in-person and online events to suit a varied member base
- Creating a self-serve online member portal for community engagement and CPD
So how are they planning to do it?
Adopting a member-first mindset
Personalised member experiences
Collecting more data and using it effectively to offer personalised experiences is high on the list for membership associations in 2021. As AI technology becomes more mainstream, it allows communications teams to create targeted content, product/service recommendations and other suggestions. These smarter systems help members find the things that interest them and increase the number of courses/events or services they are likely to buy.
Creating and running online member-portals is on the To Do List for many UK membership bodies in 2021. Teams are realising a task that would usually take an hour of an employee’s time could be transformed into a self-serve facility. Platforms such as Dynamics 365 (the preferred platform for almost a quarter of all membership societies) enable portals for smaller admin tasks such as annual renewals, membership upgrades, event registration, and communications opt-ins. Today’s members want more autonomy and control; by giving them this option, organisations can provide more value for their member base and free up time and resources in their team – it’s a win-win.
Keeping engagement front of mind
Organisations are looking to use their data to spot less-engaged members who could be at risk of lapsing. A CRM system or marketing automation platform can track members who aren’t opening or clicking on emails, registering for events, visiting the website, or accessing their benefits. With these smart insights, membership bodies are planning to create informed plans of action and targeted engagement campaigns.
Getting smarter with technology systems
Integrating CRM platform with the membership website
An integrated website and CRM system means less time spent manually entering member details into the database – freeing up employees to actually follow up the contacts generated. This also minimises the risks posed by data error that come with manual input, and admin staff can be retrained to offer better value in customer service.
Increasing online presence
Having an online offering is probably the most crucial factor in making associations relevant in today’s ultrafast world. Modern members have huge expectations, and have little tolerance for slow service or complicated processes. Any membership bodies still storing their data on spreadsheets will be putting themselves at a huge disadvantage in the post-COVID world.
For every admin worker struggling with data entry and management, there’s one less human to respond to emails, answer the phone, or respond to live chats and social media conversations. Organisations are starting to adopt a member-first approach to operations; driven by what provides the most value for members. Membership bodies are realising the benefits of offering an online renewals and joining service.
Automated renewals and payments
Online renewals and joining service is a must-have for UK associations – post or telephone isn’t cutting it anymore. Allowing direct debit payments also help towards membership retention, as it helps reduce the number of failed payments, (around 5-10% of all monthly membership payments don’t go through). By sending automated reminders with a link to an online renewal service, associations free up precious resource to focus on other member services, knowing that your recurring revenue is in hand.
In conclusion, over 50% of the membership associations we surveyed found that COVID-19 accelerated their plans to implement or improve on cloud technology, and 43% actually saw their performance improve as a result of the pandemic. Read more about the benefits of cloud technology for membership associations