I’m sure we’ve all heard the phrase before: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” This saying holds true in the world of associations, where association staff often serve as the initial point of contact for members or prospective members. The first impression they create can significantly impact how individuals engage with the association in the future. For instance, a new member forms opinions about the association’s values based on their initial interactions. Questions like “Did staff respond promptly when I reached out?” or “Were staff knowledgeable and helpful in answering my questions?” can shape their perception. Depending on their first experience, their engagement can take various paths. Ideally, we want to hear a resounding “Yes!” to all these questions. However, what if there’s a “No”? Let’s explore strategies for effectively engaging with members and building stronger relationships.
While staff members strive to make a positive first impression, there are instances where we fall short. Although the initial impression of your organization carries weight, here are four ways to enhance member relationships and cultivate trust going forward:
- Listen – The primary reason associations exist is to guide and provide resources that enhance members’ careers or interests. Members may need to discuss issues they are facing and seek guidance from a trusted organization. The willingness to listen and be present is crucial in communicating genuine care and value.
- 1:1 Communication – While mass communications or drip email campaigns can save time and resources, don’t overlook the personal touch. A personal phone call or email can go a long way. If a member has shown interest in a resource or event, reach out and inform them about it. In a world of automated communications, interacting with a live person can be refreshing.
- Remember Details – Personalizing communications can be challenging for larger organizations. However, nobody wants to feel like just another face in the crowd. As relationships with members are built, make note of relevant information or details that may be useful in the future. For example, a particular member may prefer phone communication only over email. Remembering small details presents an opportunity to show that we care about the individual, not just as a member.
- Service Mindset – It’s easy to overlook this aspect, especially during challenging days. As service-based organizations, our goal is to prioritize the member. This can be as simple as being a friendly voice on the phone or going the extra mile to connect them with the appropriate resources, even if we don’t have an immediate answer. Such efforts often lead to positive word-of-mouth referrals in support of the association.
What can you do now?
A simple way for association staff to gauge their performance is by collectively examining the member’s entire journey, starting from the initial inquiry, through the application and onboarding process, and beyond. Ask questions such as: Are our values and brand consistently communicated by all staff members? Is this touchpoint an opportunity for personalized 1:1 interaction? Do we actively seek feedback from board members, volunteers and other members about their experiences?
Regardless of how a member’s journey begins, consider every interaction as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship between the organization and its members.