VP of Marketing, MembersFirst, Inc.
Q: From your experience, what would you cite as currently the top reason(s) why people now drop club memberships?
A: First and foremost the member experience. Clubs have not been able to deliver against member expectations (value). New members are often left unattended. Member communications are seldom targeted. This can then lead to an indifferent member who eventually becomes “at risk”.
Another factor contributing to member attrition is the ever-increasing demands on one’s professional and personal time. Many clubs have not adapted to the changes in the membership demographic (age, marital status, family, etc.). As a result, club amenities, activities and programs inadequately meet the needs of the membership. One example is the re-emergence of the family. Clubs, which offer family programs, services and, activities are successfully building stronger club communities and as a result have experienced higher member retention levels.
The increase in and diversification of choices in leisure activities offers yet another reason members are reluctant to join or stay engaged with traditional private clubs. Many have elected to invest in a 2 nd home, family vacations, specialty destinations, or places that appeal to their various lifestyle and leisure preferences.
One final reason is the ongoing changes in corporate culture. Due to changes in the tax laws as well as current relocation practices, companies are no longer offering executives benefits such as club memberships. Although the club remains an ideal location to conduct business, the numbers are not anticipated to return to those experienced during the early 90’s for sometime to come.
Q: What are the most basic things a club must do to halt/prevent attrition and ensure healthy membership levels?
A: Identify and capture member interests and expectations. Once a club identifies these common interests and expectations they are then able to design, build and implement programs, services, and activities to match individual member expectations.
In building a strong and active member community, a club must engage and empower the membership. This can be accomplished through more frequent and effective club communications that deliver informative and appealing copy and imagery. These topical communications range from club life, to business operations, to lifestyle programming. The goal, touch the member with relevant, frequent mediums to remain top of mind.
Additionally, a club should always measure their effectiveness then act in the best interest of the club majority. Routinely poll their members both formally and informally. Through this process the member will gain a sense of importance as the club searches for opportunities to improve the club experience.
Q: What would you cite as the biggest mistakes that clubs now make in the membership retention area?
A: First, denial that a problem exists, and second, the failure to learn from the experience. Many clubs have not taken the initiative, via an exit interview, to understand why a member elected to leave. Making the time to speak one-on-one with the exiting members will provide the club valuable information which can be leveraged to improve member services, the member experience and ultimately, member satisfaction and retention.
Today forward thinking clubs engage in the use of such tools as club surveys, polls, forums, and suggestion boxes. An online club survey in particular allows a club to immediately measure any aspect of their club operations, from a single member experience to defining future capital improvement projects. Staying connected establishes a relationship, identifies potential changes, and allows members to participate in the club’s future growth.
Q: Should a club or resort implement different retention strategies for different member demographics?
A: Yes, it’s a matter of long-term survival. The more targeted and relevant the retention strategy is to a particular member category, the more effective and successful it’s likely to be. While it may be true that members share common interests, they remain unique in many ways. In an ideal scenario, clubs would strive to develop individual retention strategies. An approach that considers and attempts to deliver the highly personalized services members expect from their club experience.
Q: Is it important for a club to employ a membership director? What qualifications should this person have?
A: In the literal sense, not necessarily. In the functional sense, absolutely. Having a qualified individual (by any title) on staff to develop and manage member relationships sends a powerful message to both existing members and prospective new members. It reflects an often unspoken but genuine belief and philosophy that a club exists for the benefit, privilege and pleasure of their members. Essentially conveying that members come first and are at the center of everything the club does.
To be successful in this role qualified candidates should have strong oral and written communication skills, active listening skills, experience-based business and/or marketing acumen, and intuitive interpersonal and relationship building skills.