This is one of the most important questions your association should be asking!
Unfortunately, many associations skip this step and jump right into designing / engineering mode. What bells and whistles will the product or service have? What fonts, color and layout will we use? How much will the product or service cost?
All of these questions are irrelevant if you don't understand the member problems your association should be trying to solve.
The following strategies and questions will help you define the problems your members are experiencing. Your next step is to develop strategies that will solve those problems.
Call Tracking: Have staff track incoming calls for a 1-2 week period each quarter. For this to work, management and staff need to commit to the data collection process. This exercise can help answer some important questions.
- Why are members calling the association?
- Are staff answering the same questions over and over? Can this information be placed in an easy to find section of the association's website?
- What questions cannot be answered by staff? Why?
- Are staff referring members to other sources? Why?
- Do staff need additional training or resources?
- What are some of the most frequent complaints? How many other members feel the same way, but aren't taking the time to voice their opinion? How many instead chose not to renew their membership?
- Do member questions change with the time of year or season?
- Are members complaining about other industry sources? Could this be an opportunity for your association to bridge the gap or answer an unmet need?
Front Line: The staff who serve on your association's front line are some of the most important people within your organization. Day in and day out, they interact with members. They hear the good, the bad and the ugly. Tapping into their knowledge and experience can help answer some important questions.
- What themes or problems keep popping up?
- Where is the association failing? What can be done to fix these areas?
- What is the association doing right? How can the association build on these strengths?
- What challenges get in the way of serving members?
- Are the right people on the front line?
- How many times are staff saying "I'm sorry we don't offer that as a member benefit" and what is the "that" they're referring to? What opportunities are knocking or maybe even pounding at your association's door that are not being answered?
Member Interviews: Every conversation you have with a member is an opportunity to learn more about the problems and challenges they face in their profession or business. What can the association be doing better to address those member problems or challenges? Listen carefully for hidden opportunities.
Member Surveys: Surveys should go beyond simply validating how wonderful your association is today. They should also help your association become something better. Surveys can help answer some of the following questions.
- What are the challenges or stresses members experience in their profession or business? How can the association relieve or eliminate those challenges or stresses?
- What unnecessary hoops are members required to jump through? How can the association remove some of those hoops?
- How do members define an amazing experience? What are you doing to exceed their expectations?
- How would members finish the statement "If only my association could..."? Where is the association falling short?
- Has the association been allocating scarce resources to things that are not important to members? Can resources be reallocated to more important areas -- areas that solve member problems?
Blogs, Listserves, Bulletin Boards and Industry Articles: Visit the places your members visit. Read what they read. Listen to what they're listening to. Find out what's being said about the industry or the association. What pains or aggravations are members writing about in their blogs, listserves or bulletin boards? Do not ignore these conversations. Look for the hidden opportunities to solve member problems.
Are you having difficulties recruiting and retaining members? Are you trying to figure out why members are not using the association's products and services?
Could it be that you're no longer solving member problems?