Alexa, How Much Are My Membership Dues?

As voice recognition apps spread, associations are exploring ways to answer common membership questions and provide popular services using voice command.

Before we begin, I need to come clean—I’m quickly becoming an Alexa addict. Recently, I received Amazon’s Echo Dot as a gift. It’s pretty affordable at only $50 and easy to use, so much so that I’ve begun to connect many devices in my house, including lights, speakers, and recently a smart thermostat, to the voice recognition device. I command Alexa, and my home listens.

So, imagine what this technology could do for your members—or for you, as an ASAE member. (Apologies to my colleagues on the ASAE technology team if this column produces a sudden outcry for voice recognition services!)

Scenario 1: You’re a member seeking CAE credits and would like to register for an upcoming webinar. Instead of searching the website, you say: “Alexa, when is the next ASAE webinar on government relations?” After hearing a date and time that fits your schedule, you say: “Register.” Just like that, you’re ready to attend.

Scenario 2: You’re attending ASAE’s Annual Meeting. After a long day of learning and networking, you return to your hotel room, which is equipped with an Amazon Echo device. As you collapse into bed, you say: “Alexa, leave feedback for ASAE’s Annual Meeting.” You record your first impressions and send them to staff without ever opening an online survey.

These are just two ways in which Bill Bruce, CAE, executive director of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, sees voice technology disrupting associations—and, more specifically, the membership experience.

It’s not just a pipe dream. A few associations—including the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), where Bruce previously worked—have developed prototypes that may soon give members the power to say, “Alexa, renew my membership now.”

Bruce demonstrated what a voice-enabled application might look like at last year’s ASAE Technology Conference. And 2017 is shaping up to be big for Amazon’s voice recognition devices and apps. There’s more to come too. Google and Apple are developing voice technology and applications that may further disrupt the space, Bruce says.

“Google Home is another cloud-based device that has accessibility to [artificial intelligence] and machine learning, and Apple is making an interesting play to serve audio files,” he says. “But right now, it’s really all Amazon, all the time.”

Alexa, Is Membership Ready for Voice Recognition?

Simple answer: maybe.

Associations should certainly be monitoring the widespread consumer adoption of voice recognition devices. Last month, Bruce participated in a webinar explaining how membership teams might be able to use voice recognition and automated chats to generate leads, make sales, or facilitate customer service and feedback.

“Membership teams should be paying attention to this technology,” Bruce says. “I think there’s a lot of potential for how this could change the way organizations communicate and eventually support their constituents.”

Of course, there are barriers. Smaller associations may not have the resources or staff to pursue a prototype like the one Bruce worked on at AAOS. And not all associations have a data system that will work with voice recognition technology.

“You need to have access to your data from a third-party platform,” Bruce says. “If your organization has embraced API access—the ability for a third party to directly integrate into your system—then you can begin thinking about voice recognition services.”

Associations also need to consider what purposes would be best served by deploying voice recognition technology. For instance, the American Heart Association developed an Alexa skill (a task that the device can accomplish) to give step-by-step instructions for CPR and other life-saving techniques.

“That app seems to be more consumer-oriented, instead of a member-constituent value add,” Bruce says. “Where I chose to focus was on member services because you have to ask yourself: How many times does someone call to ask a question, and they wind up not being directed to the right place?” Voice recognition services could end the run-around.

Alexa, How Can My Association Get Started?

Simple answer: Study up and allow for space to test.

Usually, the answer a member is looking for involves just a few clicks into the member database or customer relationship management system. Bruce recommends that membership teams start by observing common questions that trigger human interactions but could be answered through an API.

A common question that Bruce saw was: “How much are my dues this year?” Keep in mind that not every member asks a question in the same way. For voice recognition technology, linguistics really does matter.

“We came up with about nine or 10 ways to ask that question using different words,” Bruce says. “We were able to connect those questions to an API that queried whether or not the member had a balance, and if so, how much.”

Providing your team space to play in a sandbox is important too. Work on a product like a voice-enabled app should feel collaborative, fun, and exploratory. Plus, there are plenty of ways that the technology is likely to change in the not-so-distant future.

At AAOS, Bruce called his project a “skunkworks”—a term referring to ongoing research and development that’s small and independent of other R&D work. The project was important for discovering simple facts about AAOS members that might one day lead to new voice recognition tools, making it faster and easier to engage with them.

“In spite of what we all in the association community want to believe, our members really don’t want to have to engage with us regularly,” Bruce says. “They want value, quickly and easily, and they want to get in, get out, and get on with their busy lives. So the less time we take up, the more valuable we actually become.”

(Ken M. Erney/Flickr)

Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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