How Picking Up the Phone Drives Member Retention

How Picking Up the Phone Drives Member Retention

By Beth Zemach, Senior Manager, AMC Consulting Services

Old news: Membership retention in the current millennium is a key challenge for organizations, especially for those not connected with mandated licensures or certifications.  

Bad news: There is no magic bullet to overcome this challenge quickly. You need a loooong term strategy.

Good news: There are a few short term tools that may help slow the rate of loss and stem some of the decline. 

Let’s focus on the good news. 

Unfortunately, retention isn’t something we can do, instead it’s the result of a series of great experiences a member has with an organization, such as purchasing products that foster professional advancement, leadership development, and increase knowledge at live events, through expert journals, or CE opportunities. At Association Management Center (AMC), associations engage in a series of best practices that remind members to renew at various intervals prior to expiration to ensure they continue to receive these benefits and more. Our clients’ members receive e-mailed invoices and postal invoices 90, 60, then 30 days out from expiration. If they do not renew, they then fall into “grace.” Once a member falls into grace, he or she maintains member benefits. Those in grace also receive a personal renewal reminder call from our Retention Services Group.

Are retention calls effective? Results are positive for all types of association members: physician, nurse, allied healthcare, and trade members, who use the Retention Services Group. Monthly renewal rates with retention calls fall between 20 to 40% for members in grace, although rates vary between and within organizations.  It could be as low as 10%, generally in December, and grow to a high of 34 to 45% at other times during the year. Some associations even attain monthly rates as high as 50% of grace members renewing. Even though a large proportion of calls are left in voice messages, for those who are interested in renewing, it just may be the reminder nudge that “seals the deal” for our busy members who need a final reminder to take action or lose their valued benefits.

Who gets counted as retained? Only members who fell into the grace period received personal phone calls. The disposition of each call is recorded in each association’s database.  A call results in one of six potential statuses: 1) renewed on the call 2) said they will renew later 3) personal message left with administrator/secretary 4) voice message 5) no interest in renewing 6) bad phone number. Members with statuses 1- 4 who eventually do renew count towards a successful retention call.

What’s the bottom line? The return on investment (ROI) of revenue earned from renewals less fees spent for the service of calls is equally impressive, ranging from 800 to 6000% for AMC’s associations.  Physician associations logged the highest ROI, between 2000 to 6000%, because dues are typically high. The ROI for nursing associations is lower, 800% to slightly over 1000%. But look at it this way; if you could get the same return on your CD’s, you’d invest ALL your money in certificates of deposit. 

Why does personal contact help? Pete Gracey, in Marketing News (a publication of the American Marketing Association) made the prediction that live phone conversations would make a comeback in 2016 as customers would want to experience genuine engagement as opposed to e-mails. In a recent Evangelist Marketing Minute, marketing consultant Alex Goldfayn commented, “The most successful people use the phone. The most successful people are present in front of their customers and prospects.” Is it possible the retention call is effective because it is the first time some of our members are speaking personally with representatives of our associations? Maybe that’s what draws them in and we need even more personal connections.

It’s never just one thing! While the stats for retention calls look great, it’s usually many retention-related efforts that have a cumulative effect. The Association for Addiction Professionals stirred up the industry in 2014 when it experienced a 48% increase in membership retention in one year by implementing new best practices tactics, like adding a membership status box with a personalized expiration date on its newsletters, redesigning its website, and improving email analytics (ASAE, Associations Now)

Phone ToolboxWhile the case looks strong for picking up the phone and making contact with your expiring members to encourage retention, remember, these calls are only one tool in your member retention tool kit. It’s impossible to separate the effects of prior contact by email and paper invoice from the success of the retention call. And all this work means nothing when compared to the prior year’s member experience. The real question is, how are you cultivating regular personal connections with your members throughout the year? How has your organization optimized that?

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