3 essential ways to improve your membership retention

Becky Taylor

September 11, 2018

Membership and subscription services have increased dramatically – for ecommerce subscription services alone, the market has increased by 100% every year (Forbes). With little sign of slowing, the focus on retaining customers is key to any successful organisation that sells ongoing membership.

It’s no longer good enough to pour your effort into getting new member sign-ups – you need to keep your existing members happy and show them the ongoing value in continuing to renew their membership with you.

We’ve all been there, my old recipe box provider for example, where, as much as I love the service they provide, I am frequently emailed offers to pass onto my friends that give them 25% or even 50% off their first box. Or Virgin Media, who offer amazing deals for new customers, but continually hike prices for long-standing customers. It gets me asking – what about me? What benefit do I get for encouraging my friends to sign up to your service? But most importantly, do I want to continue to subscribe to this service?

Membership organisations need to bring their focus back to their existing members, not just their potential members and employ a member-focused approach, or risk losing members in their droves.

Tackling membership retention is quite a daunting task, so based on our experience of working with membership organisations, here are 3 things you can do right now, to improve your membership retention.

1/ Be a member-focused organisation

There’s a pretty well known quote that summarises my point here – “When the customer comes first, the customer will last” (Robert Half).

It’s critical you focus on your members and put them within the centre of everything you do. You only exist because they pay your fees! They pay you fees because it relates to something that is of importance to them, because they believe that you answer a need they have.

The point I am making here, is that they come to you when thinking of their own needs and goals, not yours, so that’s why it is so important you focus your efforts centrally around their needs, not yours. If they want to improve their subject-matter knowledge, then your events and knowledgebase/blog should be shown first. If they need to build their community and network, show them you have a strong, accessible member base. If they just want to know membership fees so their boss can sign it off, make it easy for them to find this out.

  • Do you regularly ask for feedback from your members on what they value in their membership package?
  • Are you clear on the goals, needs and even frustrations of your members?
  • Have you mapped out the journey for membership customers from sign up to renewal?
  • When did you last critique your website and marketing from the viewpoint of a member? How did it stand up to the test?

When The Aerosol Society approached us, we worked hard to get them to see their organisation through the eyes of their members and by doing this we helped them to use language and a website structure that spoke to the needs of their members, instead of speaking the language of the organisation. The result of doing this was that their membership increased by 54% in the first year.

2/ Check your business model is fit for purpose

When was the last time you examined your business model? How long have you sold membership and event tickets in the same way? Are you sure that the way you do it works best for the business and your members? We’ve worked with many organisations where their business model was actually getting in the way of offering what their members wanted.

Working with The Aerosol Society, one of our first explorations with them was focused on how they sold membership. They were bundling membership with event tickets, which ultimately was hugely devaluing membership and not giving people an incentive to renew their annual membership. We helped them clearly represent the significant values and key benefits of becoming a member and decoupled this from event tickets, which not only made it clearer to members but made the renewal and buying process far easier.

3/ Personalise the member experience

A hot topic among the Not For Profit, Membership and Association professionals that is often a struggle for organisations to implement to a meaningful level. Using someone’s first name, or remembering their birthday is not enough! It’s about relevance. In an ecommerce study by McKinsey & Company, 55% of all subscriptions were curation-based. This dominance of curation-based subscriptions reflects online customers’ demand for a continued series of personalised, high-quality experiences (Forbes).

So how can you truly offer a personalised experience?

You need to look at all the elements of the member journey and how this relates to your website and content. The member journey is unlikely to be linear and is influenced by a vast number of factors. Here are some things you can consider, which in turn, will affect the type of experience and content you can surface to your members:

  • What device are they using? What channel? Can they interact with you offline ‘in person’ as well as online?
  • What are the circumstances, or context, of your member around and at the point of interaction with you?
    • Where are they geographically?
    • What are they doing whilst using your website? For example, if a lot of your usage stats suggest people are on mobile devices between the hours of 4.30-6.30pm, you can fairly safely assume they are on their daily commute. How could your content change to meet this type of interaction?
    • Are they logging in for the first time or do they log in on a regular basis?
    • What are they interacting with on your website or channels?
    • What are the members’ browsing and engagement history with your website and brand?

As part of the onboarding process for your membership, ask your members about the topics they are most interested in, as a way of openly showing them that you will surface relevant content to them. This is a great and simple starting point for determining their preferences. Then measure, measure, measure your website statistics – AB test a page without personalisation versus a page with personalisation, measure a sales conversion funnel (such as signing up to an event) without personalisation for a set period of time, then measure it again with personalisation.

Focus on the membership journey alongside the member data you already have, and you can start to create a personalised user experience that will keep your members coming back. An excellent article by Econsultancy goes into further detail about defining intelligent personalisation.

So we’ve given you three things you can do right now to start improving your membership retention:

  1. Be a member-focused organisation – by putting your member front and centre, your approach will be far more in tune with their needs and likely to engage them better.
  2. Check your business model is fit for purpose – helping your members and you to make the most of what you offer will make it easier for members to buy and stay.
  3. Personalise the member experience – look at your data, and curate your content and experience based on what your members are interested in so they feel they are truly getting an experience that’s just for them.

At Deckchair we create exceptional membership experiences for third sector organisations, driven by customer insight. We’d love to talk to you about how we can help. Get in touch or connect with us on Twitter or LinkedIn.