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Whether working with clients or members, individuals or organizations, there will always be the need to offer support. It could be answering a quick question or walking someone through an issue. Being able to provide excellent support will earn their appreciation and their trust. But what makes up excellent support? Three things that come to mind are knowledge, the ability to listen and a little bit of patience.

Knowledge: Know what you’re working with backwards and forwards. It could be membership for an association, the specifics of a product or service, the ins-and-outs of a website; familiarizing yourself will allow you to quickly answer those questions. Much of this will come from experience and helping others, so it’s important to learn from your past clients or members as well.

Listening: Sometimes you hear a familiar question and are already thinking of how you are going to respond. But if you make an effort to listen, you can pick up on issues they may not even recognize they have, or may be the root of everything else. Some of the best support you can offer is finding those hidden problems and providing your products or services as an answer. Being a problem finder is just as impressive as being a problem solver.

Patience: We’ve all encountered situations where we’ve tried everything and the issue still isn’t fixed. So we may be a bit flustered when we do ask for help. That’s a very common and understandable response, and in those situations what works best is offering the support that we would want in turn. Be personable, get to know who you’re working with and really listen to what they have to say.

Resolving an issue will build confidence in your company or organization, and being friendly and approachable will only further garner their support. It could be a prospect that you just won over, or a lead that you just converted. It could even be a member willing to pass your information along to others in need of similar support. Great support can garner that member or client advocacy, and further grow your association.

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According to the Corporate Leadership Council, employees with lower engagement levels are four times more likely to leave their jobs than those who are highly engaged. Do you think the same can be said of our members? Those who we can get engaged will stay with us over the long haul while those who never feel a connection will move on fairly quickly?

I hear people talking about member engagement all the time. It’s definitely a hot topic for associations right now and it’s an important one. As our members have more and more things competing for their attention and dollars, it’s critical that we get them to feel a connection to our organization — to engage with us and their peers. The theory, of course, is that the more engaged a member is, the better our chances of having them stay with the association when renewal time comes along.

There are so many ways to involve and engage our members in our association. We can ask them to serve on committees, offer them the opportunity to attend programs where they learn and network with their peers, invite them to present at conferences and educational events and build online communities for their use.

One of the things our association partner, the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives (WSAE) will be focusing on this year is member engagement. We’re targeting their online community as one of the places we’ll start. Some believe that if you build an online community, people will flock to it and it will flourish with little to no intervention. I’ve worked with several organizations that have started online communities and I have yet to see this work without some gentle pushes from leadership and staff.

Some of the many things we’ll be doing in 2014 to increase participation on wsae.org include assisting leadership in becoming visible in the community, encouraging people to blog, utilizing it to communicate with committees and the board, making announcements and carrying on education program discussions long after the event has ended.

We often overlook the need to start with the basics when getting an online community up and running or trying to pump some energy into an existing community. First, we need to make sure all members know the community is available and encourage them to create their online profiles. WSAE is running ads in its magazine and newsletter that spell out exactly how to login and set up a profile. We’ll also encourage them to set up a daily or weekly digest, so they have new postings delivered to their inbox automatically. We’ll also be running questions that have been posted to the community in the association’s newsletter. We’ll share the topic question, but direct them to the website for the answer.

How will we know if our efforts are successful? The system we use tracks engagement and offers reports. We’ll be selecting some key metrics to measure our progress and see if we achieve our goals. I’ll let you know how it goes!

If you’re looking for a place to see what your peers are doing or pose a question, join me on the Member Engagement – For Online Community and Membership Professionals group on LinkedIn. There are over 2,100 members discussing all kinds of engagement issues. It’s always interesting to join a group and then see how many people you know that are already participating. I guarantee you’ll find peers dealing with some of the same issues you do.

What about your member engagement? Have you done something that’s worked particularly well or maybe something you’d never try again? I’d love to hear what you do or are thinking of doing to engage your members, and I know others would too.

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Managing membership renewals for one association can be a juggling act: finding what members need to renew, generating the invoices, getting the invoices in front of the members, getting them to want to renew, and then sending reminders to members who still need to pay. Now, managing the renewals for three associations? You can go right ahead and call me crazy. Lucky for me, we have a great team here at AMPED and it’s “all hands on deck” around renewal season.

Renewal season at AMPED starts in early October. We get the whole team in a room and hash out our action plan. The three membership-based clients for whom we manage the renewals require a variety of renewal reminders (emails, mailings, phone calls, and social media), so we need a way to keep it all straight. Enter the good ol’ Excel spreadsheet.

I create an initial renewal calendar in Excel with a color assigned to each association that easily shows us when we’ll send each email/reminder/paper invoice, as well as when we will make phone calls or social media posts. The spreadsheet makes it easy to edit based on the team’s input. It’s also flexible for moving things around based on how the renewals are going. I also find it helpful to drop reminders in my Outlook calendar the day before a communication should go out so that I can get it set up in our AMS (or get lists ready for phone calls, invoices ready for mailings, etc).

Once the calendar is set, I draft a “master” renewal reminder for each client listing the benefits of renewal and how to make payments. This master reminder is reviewed by our writing staff, as well as the staff who work closely on each respective client, to ensure accuracy and that we are highlighting the best benefits. Each reminder thereafter will be a variation of this master reminder, so it is extremely helpful to be able to pull bits and pieces out of the master to create smaller reminders. We also devise a list of catchy email subject lines to use throughout renewal season.

From here on out, it is a matter of keeping very good documentation on what reports to pull for what associations to get the right output—I never want to confuse a member who has already renewed with an email reminding them to do so. I also like to give the team a heads up when an email is going out so they can be ready to grab the phones if members call in with questions or want to take care of things over the phone.

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