In absence of a story, members make one up.
Here are some of the nearly universal stories:
The unreturned email story: they don’t like me
The unreturned phone call story: the staff is unprofessional
A long delay in following up story: they don’t care
The not being welcomed story: this chapter/association is snobby
Not being acknowledged by the executive director story: he/she only cares about the important members
Not understanding the member benefits story: the association doesn’t have what I need
This is unfair for sure. These stories don’t take into account heavy workloads or a preoccupied executive director about to get on stage to address a crowd of thousands. These stories don’t allow for email failing or acknowledgment of the 3 emails received (but unread) about the benefit that solves their exact problem. These stories are unfair because they may be a reflection of the way things used to be, not the way they are now.
But this can be our members’ perception and perception is truth in the mind of the person doing the perceiving.
A negative perception left to fester causes the new member to not renew, the engaged member to pull back and the long-time member to leave early. We don’t have to allow negative perceptions to fester.
The free pass
Members are willing to give an association a free pass on a perceived slight discourtesy or injustice or error when they have created a solid positive story about the association. A combination of these stories helps members create a positive overall story:
- Value: I clearly understand the value of the association to me.
- People like me: People like me are a part of this association.
- Great first impressions: I’m welcomed, they make things easy, comfortable and fun.
- They have my back: This association does the right thing. For example, if they lose my registration they will make good on it. I trust them.
- Transparency: They are not protective instead they are open.
- Proactive: When there is a problem they’ll tell me before I even realize there’s a problem.
Every association has to work to get the free pass
If there is a story vacuum members will assume the worst. From new members to long-time members we have to work to get that free pass.
New members don’t come in as a blank slate. They’ve had countless customer service run-ins with their phone provider, car service center and the airlines. Non-profit or no this new association may just be part of the bureaucracy.
Long-time members have excellent memories for the way things used to be. One director of marketing I met said that the association staff would always let member calls go to voice mail. 5 years ago they realized that was bad and they don’t do it anymore. 5 years ago or not, many members probably think this is the way the association still operates.
Are there a few areas where members may be making up a story about your association? Fix those and then set about adding good-will credits to each member’s emotional account and the free pass will be there when you need it.
- Am I going to be the only one like me?
- Is our association important and of value?
- Proving value to members in the first three emails
- Association chapters: this is what members wonder
- The big benefit associations are not providing enough of