Is there any organization in the world—business or non-profit—that would readily admit that customers are not their number one priority? “We just don’t care that much about our customers. We are busy with more important things, such as budget and board meetings.” I don’t think so. Let's face it! We are surrounded by well-intentioned, self-proclaimed member or customer-centric organizations that, nonetheless, behave more like product and process-centered bureaucracies.
It’s not that these organizations don’t care about their members/customers or they don’t try hard. It is just that most of us are so immersed in our habits and worldview we cannot recognize gaps between our own rhetoric and actions. And promise or intent do not automatically translate into an organization's behavior, values, priorities, resource allocations, metrics and the way it does business. To identify such gaps and create a truly member-centric organization, check whether your strategy, culture, processes, metrics & rewards, and organizational culture align with the orientation you purport or want to have? (See chart below).
One shift for member-centric associations is that from quantitative to qualitative metrics. If you are really customer-oriented, you are in the business of crafting solutions that may include products, services, experiences etc. rather than developing products (programs, services, benefits etc.) and then market them as stand-alone assets. This means that intangibles, rather than numbers, are of paramount importance to your its success, for example: your ability to gain deep insight into customers; discern value and opportunities in unusual places; see connections among disparate assets, reconfigure and recalibrate them into solutions; innovate; forge on-going, strategic relationships—in other words in what was previously considered as the “soft” side of business.
As intangibles such as speed, knowledge, innovation, relationships etc. are driving knowledge economy the search for ways to measure these intangibles has been intensive. One of the most effective metrics are Verna Allee’s value network analysis. Below are value-based metrics extracted from the research that Elizabeth Engel and I conducted for our soon-to-be-released white paper on engagement, that might have some application for your organization :
Finding and developing areas of convergence between provider and customer: the organization's business model relies on focusing on a relatively small number of members and forging deep, strategic, and collaborative relationships with them that generate continuous value to all parties. It is only when they identify areas of real convergence--what they call the “sweet spot”— that the company can reap the most value from members through things like joint research; testing and co-development of new tools with members.
Relationships among members: Member-centric models are interactive and most include or are completely based on collaborative member communities. The greatest value members derive is not directly from the association but from relationships within their community—sharing ideas, collaborating on solutions, asking for and giving advice. Conversely, dynamic relationships among members create value for the provider organization such as, increased engagement, fresh content, platforms for understanding and monitoring member needs, springboard for new products and services etc. The association’s success depends on its ability to attract and facilitate high-value relationships, manage the community and enable results.
Member engagement, development and retention: in member-oriented organizations, the focus is on retention vs. recruitment. One indicator of success is the ability to move members to increasingly higher levels of relationship with the association. The more strategic the relationship and the more customized the service, the higher its value and revenue potential. Another metric for member development is the degree to which associations have developed member leaders who become its champions, community managers, expert consultants, mentors, content creators etc.
Co-creation: Another criterion of success and basis of rewards is the capacity to enable constant exchange of value between and among the organization and its customers. “Co-creating something and then returning the results back to members so they can apply it to their own communities and career advancement” is a priority for the Community Roundtable according to Hillary Boucher, community manager. A self-sustaining value loop is thus created: “That’s not the end of the process, though. As new situations arise and new solutions are constructed, members update and expand archived reports and generate new discussions. Hence, a passive product like research data is both translated into new solutions and becomes the catalyst to new content creation, engaging members in a virtuous cycle of value creation and value conversion.“
The National Grocers Association (NGA)
Customer satisfaction: NGA constantly monitors the degree of its members’ satisfaction through surveys, interviews and constant interaction with members.
Growth in organizational capabilities: Upon taking on his position, NGA’s President and CEO Peter Larkin assessed gaps in customer service and development capabilities and set a deliberate course for closing them through staff hiring and development, culture change, and innovation. NGA regularly conducts member interviews to find out if NGA “had moved the needle,” that is, created more value for members and responded to their needs, measuring against the baseline of prior rounds.
SERMO is a virtual network of physicians that engages them in case-based conversations. It has also attracted major corporations (such as pharmaceuticals) as members, willing to pay considerable fees to “listen-in” on these conversations that provide them a front row seat at their markets. Metrics include:
The quality of member conversations and interactions: SERMO has created a self-sustaining value and connection loop. The more content members generate, the more useful the site is to physicians and corporate members which, in turn, increases engagement and constantly creates new value. Conversations are archived and searchable, and, because threads never “close,” conversations can remain alive for years as members update old posts (e.g. when a standard of care has changed); create new posts on a topic; or share links to older posts to check on their continuing validity. Hence the quality of the conversations generated is the life blood of Sermo.
Constant and dynamic member development: Not all members are of equal value to the community in terms of their ability to generate content and partner with Sermo on both creation and community leadership/management. One of the goals of Sermo’s staff and metric for success and rewards is constantly moving members up the value scale converting them from information recipients to co-creators of content and solutions.
These are not “soft” and fluffy stuff that translate into “pats on the back” or acknowledgements in your annual reports or marketing campaigns. They are not enhancements to your “real” business but, in today’s environment, they are your real business and sources of competitive advantage.