Thursday, July 8, 2010

Exit Surveys: Let Us Know How We're Doing ... And Turn Off the Lights When You Leave

I hope that most of us in associations conduct exit surveys, and we recently considered how we should increase our participation rates on the ASAE listserv.

Good objectives for exit survey include:

 Collecting valid research results
 Distinguishing between avoidable & unavoidable attrition
 Ending this stage of the member relationship on a good note, and
 Clean the database for subsequent efforts to reinstate those who will want to come "back to the fold" in the future.

Our advice in this area includes:

1) Do a multi-part contact sequence. Starting with the lowest cost-per-contact option and migrate into costlier ones with the deliverable names who are not responding. A typical sequence might be: #1 online survey, #2 mail or fax survey, and (possibly) #3 telephone.

With any online survey, we recommend using an invitation & two reminders to non-respondents over a several-week period. This constitutes a reasonable and consistent effort from which they can opt out anytime or respond, and you should suppress them from the reminders. You'll always annoy the vocal 1%, but more persistence conveys to the former member that you're serious about wanting their feedback.

2) Make sure the message comes from an high ranking executive or volunteer name as the sender and signer. The reason many of our members leave us may be tied to something big & strategic within the association or in practice in general. Rightly or wrongly, a former member may regard correspondence coming from you or the membership department in general as transactional rather than an earnest attempt to learn and take action to address the issues a former member identifies that's within their control or influence.

3) Don't worry about anonymity but rather, offer confidentiality instead. You have to know who they are for proper campaign management but you won't report any personally identifiable findings. For your own internal operations, it's often worth the time to go back through your AMS and track the history of that one lapsed member who told you an interesting story about their experience ... if you don't know who they are you can't learn nearly as much about what your association did over their membership cycle to make them feel that way or form that impression.

4) Once you're using mail, offer a response premium for the first time but make it effective. The academic literature has demonstrated for years that front-end premia always outpull back-end; in our increasingly instant gratification, Amazon two-click world, it's probably even more pronounced. Offering respondents their choice of a $25 gift certificate toward your membership/services or an AmEx gift card could appeal to some (back-end premium); it would be far more timely and appealing to provide the incentive to ALL respondents included with your survey.

It helps to guilt a response (you gave me something, okay I guess I'll tell you what I think), and it can be easy to implement through a buckslip coupon insert in your #10 survey mailing, or a perfed tab on your outbound postcard that they can redeem online.

5) Monitor deliverability through each method and include this outcome in your final metrics. For example, if you have 500 lapsed members in April, it's helpful to know that 20% are unreachable due to job changes (bounces, NCOAs, phone confirmation of moves), 45% dropped due to inadequate value, 25% due to employer no longer reimbursing for dues, 20% because other associations meet their needs better, 15% for other cost-related issues, 10% due to retirement, etc. and that 20% might seriously consider rejoining in the future. You can infer the first figure based on actual campaign performance, the remaining figures by extrapolating from your findings based on any response rate.

I think there can be far greater impact if you can link exit survey insight to your ongoing membership operation on a personal basis, by 'flagging and tagging' individuals who report specific reasons for dropping. In the long run, most former members still in the field might not actually care about their confidentiality, and some exit survey findings could lead to additional followup such as more detailed discussions with the willing.

Former members in general appreciate knowing that you're working on the issues that led them to drop their membership and the additional conversations could allow you to probe further, test possible solutions. You certainly wouldn't want to spend all your time doing labor-intensive things for a low-potential reinstatement prospect, but if you can focus specialized attention on the individuals with the most interesting and/or prevalent comments, or those with pertinent demographics or practice characteristics, you can incorporate this into a much stronger member retention process. –Kevin

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