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What is Customer Experience (CX)? A Quick Crash Course

Explore this comprehensive guide to customer experience (CX) for associations.

Marketing Technology

When your association engages members, how do you conceptualize and measure their experiences? Associations understand the importance of engagement and loyalty since member retention is of such critical importance. However, they also might lack a framework to measure and study the various factors that shape the member engagement and retention trends they experience. 

To better understand the root reasons why members join and stay with your organization, associations should take lessons from the customer experience (CX) playbook. CX is a relatively new field of business strategies that all types of organizations can use to ensure their customers, clients, or members have their voices heard and problems addressed. 

But what is CX? To help your association’s team understand CX, why it matters, and how to get started with it, this article will provide a crash course, reviewing topics such as:

Even if the term CX is new to your organization, know that the principles are not. Listening to your members, showing empathy for their problems, understanding their feedback, and taking steps to make your association a better place should all be core aspects of your member engagement strategy. With these CX best practices, your association will be able to take a targeted approach and improve customer relationships with data-driven decisions. 

What is CX?

CX is the concept that interaction a business has with customers, from initial outreach or marketing to ongoing retention efforts, shape and define the customers’ overall feelings towards the organization. The customer experience can be actively studied and strategically improved through CX management to create a seamless experience. 

For your association, this means every touchpoint you create and interaction you have with members throughout their membership journeys is part of the entire member experience that you offer. 

Why does it matter?

Chances are that your association likely already has a membership engagement strategy in place. However, an intentional CX strategy provides structure that enables associations to deliberately and consistently collect and act on their members’ feedback, making it far more valuable than an ad-hoc approach. 

Most associations understand the importance of listening to members, and a CX strategy gives you the framework to do so. 

What are the benefits of an intentional CX strategy?

Often, customers have high expectations and little patience, and it’s important to show empathy when they encounter a pain point. Implementing a CX strategy allows organizations to make improvements to every part of their customers’ journeys, meeting their expectations throughout their entire engagement. For your association, this means you’ll be able to create better, near-frictionless experiences for members whether they’re filling out their first sign-up form or attending their twentieth virtual event. 

A robust customer (or member) experience strategy can bring these benefits to any organization:

  • Stand out from competitors. Your CX strategy will allow your organization to continuously make improvements and adjust to your members’ needs, making your association more responsive and unique when compared to competitive organizations. 
  • Improve retention. Often, associations are only able to catch that a member is about to lapse when it’s already too late. With CX, your association will open the doors to early communication, allowing you to get ahead of problems before they can lead to membership lapses. Consistent feedback collection even allows you to more easily resolve individual issues in real-time.
  • Boost word-of-mouth referrals. According to NPOInfo’s charitable giving statistics, 57% of associations report that word-of-mouth is their most successful method for recruiting members. A good CX program makes it easy to identify your “promoters” or highly satisfied members, whom you can then ask to help spread the word about your organization. 

Ultimately, the focus of CX is on proactively learning about and responding to your members’ needs to ensure your association is cultivating enjoyable, convenient, and meaningful experiences. By implementing a CX strategy, your association will experience a number of benefits, including:

  • Gain deeper insights into your customer journey
  • Gather data to back up strategies and decisions
  • Improve your brand loyalty, recognition, and reputation
  • Discover how to course correct in real-time
  • Create more touchpoints with high-impact customers 

A new CX strategy doesn’t need to replace your current approach to membership management but rather strengthen it. For example, you may already use your membership software to create member customer profiles. With a CX strategy, you would continue maintaining these profiles but with additional details, such as automated notes about interactions that triggered a survey, the details of their survey response, and what your association has done to act on this feedback. 

Understanding the CX Process

CX management is a continuous process. Each experience you create should collect data to help inform your members’ next experience. PeopleMetric’s guide to the customer journey breaks down this process with this graphic: 

These are the four parts of the CX management process (detailed in the text below).
  1. Create intentional experiences. Intentional experiences can include any relevant touchpoint along the customer journey. For example, an association interested in driving community conversations may look at the experiences they’ve created around networking, communication, and community-building. 
  2. Measure your performance using surveys. To learn how members feel about your experiences, send out surveys to ask them. Many organizations will establish a set of trigger interactions that will result in a survey being sent out. Have you ever received an invitation to provide feedback after buying a product, getting technical assistance, or using a service? That’s CX management in action. 
  3. Manage your experience proactively in real-time. As you collect feedback from members, plan how you can incorporate it into your association’s strategies. Take note of what situations require an immediate response, such as receiving negative feedback that could be smoothed over with an empathetic, timely response. In other cases, your association will need to gather enough data to make informed decisions based on a significant number of members’ feedback. 
  4. Keep it running as a continuous feedback loop. Continue facilitating new customer experiences, and continue collecting feedback from members about them. This will allow you to continue responding to customer needs as new concerns are raised, previous changes result in notable improvements or new audiences with new interests join your association. 

You can take a similar approach to managing your employees’ experiences as well. Doing so can help you motivate, manage, and retain employees, saving your association time and resources that would otherwise need to be devoted to managing staff turnover. 

Ways to Manage and Improve Your CX

After implementing your initial CX strategy, there are additional steps you can take to ensure you are collecting useful feedback and leveraging it as effectively as possible. Specifically, your association should try to:

  • Use dedicated tools. While, theoretically, your association could use free survey tools to collect member feedback, dedicated CX software comes with a variety of enhanced features, such as comprehensive analytics tools, survey accessibility options, and automation capabilities. 
  • Act in real-time. As mentioned, acting on member feedback in real-time shows that your association is responsive and cares about its input. Emphasize to your member engagement team the importance of showing empathy for their struggles when responding to a customer who has encountered a pain point. This helps reassure members that they’re being understood and your association cares about them.
  • Remove silos. Often, organizations collect feedback but fail to act on it due to internal data silos. Assess your internal processes for places where communication could be improved or staff members can be empowered to take more direct action. 
  • Develop new initiatives as needed. To manage your CX strategy, try setting up a customer advisory board (or member advisory board). These boards consist of a selection of your highest-impact members with the purpose of gathering their feedback. Modern CX software has allowed organizations to hold meetings entirely online, making it easier than ever to benefit from this focused approach to feedback collection. 

Before implementing your CX strategy, determine what metrics you’ll focus on to measure improvement. For example, an association may review its overall retention rates and the number of new member referrals, or they may look at more specific metrics, such as the attendance rates for their next event. Your KPIs will naturally vary depending on what part of the member journey you’re seeking to improve using the overarching CX framework.

Applying CX Principles to Memberships

Your association’s members are your customers, but implementing a CX strategy designed for for-profit businesses may require more flexibility. Specifically, associations getting started with CX should review their: 

  • Member journey. What are the current touchpoints on your membership journey? How do these differ from a for-profit business and are any of those differences relevant to your CX strategy? For example, associations will need to consider their approach to renewing memberships, which may be an opportunity to create an improved, more convenient member experience. 
  • Communication practices. How does your association currently communicate with members? Are there any surveys you already regularly send out? When you implement a CX strategy, your association will be getting in touch with members more often to ask for their feedback. Make any necessary adjustments to your current communication approach to avoid overwhelming members with too many survey requests. 
  • Internal culture. The CX process works best for organizations with a culture of iterative improvement and measurement. Meet with your staff to explain what the CX process is and why your association is implementing it to help gain employee buy-in. 

As mentioned, your current association management tools can be a reliable resource throughout the CX process. Take a look at any member feedback you’ve already collected, note if it has been implemented, and what strategies you can take to make the transition to your new CX process as smooth as possible. 

Your members’ experience with your association determines how much they’ll engage with future programs, whether they’ll recommend your association to peers, and if they’ll renew their membership. By getting started with CX, your association can take a proactive approach to these essential parts of the membership journey.

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