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How to personalize the member experience? Make the member experience personal.

May 3, 2024

With the release of several industry reports, including MCI’s Association Engagement Index 2022, Higher Logic’s 2022 Association Member Experience Report and Amanda Kaiser’s New Member Engagement Study (NMES), there is a heightened buzz in the association community around how well members are being served, heard and valued.

Across these reports, the consensus is that most associations are providing a C level experience. Associations are making some efforts, and members are recognizing them. For example, the Higher Logic report indicates that “64% of members said a personalized member experience is important to them, but only 46% said their association provides a personalized member experience.” There is hope, and still a lot of work to be done when it comes to fully serving members.

While some association members may desire a hands-off, transactional relationship, I’m certain that most members - certainly more than 64% - would want an experience unique to their own wants, needs and challenges, particularly if they were exposed to the possibilities for a truly personalized experience. At any rate, less than half of members surveyed feel like they’re getting it.

Speaking of personalized experiences, what might one look like? MCI’s report defines a customized experience as providing “benefits, products, and services corresponding to my (/my company’s) needs.” Their engagement index indicates that “only 21 percent of respondents said their association did an excellent job” of this level of member experience.

Twenty-one percent?!

With engagement scores like this one, it’s surprising that members renew at the rate they do. The Kaiser study on new member engagement indicates that the first-year member renewal rate is 72%, with the overall member renewal rate at 84%. As members weigh the customization of their member experience more heavily, associations are likely to see these percentages decline unless they act to improve their engagement strategies.

Furthermore, it is evident that when the member experience is sub-optimal for first-year members, they are quicker to de-value membership than seasoned members. Renewing members see the value of membership in more instances as they move past their first year. However, crossing fingers and hoping that members figure it out can’t be the best way to keep members engaged, renewing and dedicated. The experience must be personal - a growing, evolving relationship - year-round.

A “Member” Experience at the Dentist

Catering to the customer experience is a strategy not only for associations, but for any entity with the desire to maintain relationships. Let’s explore my recent trip to the dentist, and how it parallels the concept of a customized member experience.

A few weeks ago, I was at dinner with a friend and mentioned my Monday morning dentist appointment. I lamented that I’m considering switching dentists, because sometimes it feels like a factory more than a personal experience.

I realized that two impersonal interactions led to my newly disgruntled perspective. First, on the morning of my appointment, I received a courtesy call from a centralized appointments center 15 minutes after my scheduled appointment (it had slipped my mind entirely). They canceled it, despite me saying I could still get there, citing I’d be too late to arrive (not very “courteous.”) About a week later, I received an $80 invoice for the missed appointment. I’m certain that if I had spoken with someone at my location that morning, they would’ve fit me in.

Fast forward to my rescheduled visit, a few weeks later: I walked in and the receptionist, who has been there for several years, recognized me and said hello. He complimented me on my sweater and shoes. As the dental assistant called me back for X-rays, she also complimented my sweater.

When I made it to the room and chair, waiting for my teeth cleaning, I happened to glance over at the computer screen that displays X-rays, charts and visit details. This time, it was showing the notes section of my account. One paragraph caught my attention, with notes from my most recent visit: “Brianne has girl/boy twins who are 8 years old. She’s traveling to Southern California for vacation this summer and is originally from Arizona.” I was struck by the details listed about my personal life, rather than the typical display of teeth charts and X-rays.

If I’m being honest, seeing that information on my record lit me up. They know me.

The personalization continued. During my cleaning, the hygienist said to me, “You have twins, right?” She didn’t have to remember, although I think she could’ve recalled it from memory. It was on the screen. Then, the owner of the practice, as well as everyone in the hallway, smiled and said hello to me on my way out. I walked out and thought to myself, “I think I’ll stay at this practice.”


Make It Personal

What a turnaround with my dentist, right? There were two key factors in each of my interactions with the dental practice: data and personalization.

The practice had many pieces of data on me, which interestingly, were used both to engage me personally (in person) and contact me without any meaningful connection (when I missed my appointment). They had my appointment date and time, my phone number and email address, all which were used to communicate with me in various forms (phone, text, email). Office staff noted what I was wearing. And of course, they knew my dental history, family makeup and birthplace.

The last sentence is most interesting to me. How do they know my dental history, family and origins? How do they know my teeth are still healthy? How do they know about my children and summer vacation plans? Initially, and then consistently since I came to the practice, they’ve been collecting new information on me, intentionally.

The extra personal information obtained by the practice isn't just a nice-to-have for staff, who see dozens of patients a day. It’s to keep me healthy, make me feel valued and keep me as a long term, paying customer. And they can only achieve these goals if they take what they know, keep building on it, and act on it with care. Customized experiences are achieved when an entity speaks to a market of one.

Your relationship with each member is no different from my relationship with my dental practice. These connections are vulnerable at any moment; at the same time, there is so much opportunity to cultivate new relationships. Member data is essential, and personalization is powerful. Use them together to create customized experiences to the extent that your members wouldn’t even consider leaving. If the industry reports tell me anything on renewing members and member sentiment, it’s that associations can’t afford to do anything less.

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