Why Tech Glitches Are a Membership Problem

When your organization’s website, app, or newsletter doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, it can create a frustrating experience for your members. As with traditional membership issues, those problems can add up.

Is there anything worse than a website that forgets who you are even though you’re a loyal paying customer?

Recently, Slate (itself an icon of the paid membership model) reported that The New Yorker was quietly driving its subscribers crazy because of a glitch in its login system that kept forgetting its users. A New Yorker subscription is expensive—after an introductory period, it costs $89.99 per year for digital only and $119.99 with the print edition—and the magazine’s failure to make it easy for print subscribers to tie their accounts to the website had a crazy-making effect.

The problem had existed for eight months and particularly affected articles that received a lot of traffic. The New Yorker said it had fixed the issue months ago, according to Slate, but the perception that the login didn’t work correctly brought frequent complaints online even after the fix.

“It seems that, over the eight months during which the paywall wasn’t working properly, the bug took on a life and legend of its own—and became all the more frustrating for a loyal subscriber base paying a premium for access to the relatively expensive magazine,” Schwedel wrote.

I admit to running into issues with The New Yorker’s website myself in the past, particularly when trying to access its sizable archives. (I was only able to resolve them by making multiple phone calls.)

But it’s not the only one I’ve had problems with. Years ago, when I was still working as an employee of an offshoot of The Washington Post, I had a nagging problem where my subscription to the newspaper would be frequently forgotten by the website, resetting the moment I restarted my browser, whether on desktop or mobile. And it was all because I logged in via Facebook, rather than using my email address. It took customer service a couple of hours to find the culprit.

Now, it’s been years since I’ve run into the issue, but I remember vividly how frustrating it was, especially as part of my job involved reading the newspaper produced in the building where I worked. (Slate noted that, similarly, current and former New Yorker writers were running into that magazine’s login problems, too.)

Now just imagine how your members might feel if they were to run into an issue like this on your website.

Your digital platforms can “forget” your members in ways big and small. Maybe the website login fails to stick. Maybe your email platform stopped sending messages to their account because one day the account’s email server threw an error. Maybe your job board doesn’t remember the profile information the member already uploaded, or a glitch in your event app leaves users unable to  take advantage of the interactive features you spent all that time developing.

Maybe it’s something dead simple—like a bad link on a webpage that most people never look at but a first-time user might just click on.

Whether you’d like it to or not, technology communicates a message to your members. It tells them what your organizational priorities are and how on the ball you are. Even if your mission has little to do with technology, your association’s technology says something about you.

Nobody visits The New Yorker‘s website because they want to be wowed by the magazine’s technology. It’s because a subscriber wants to read a good story or a quick piece of satire from Andy Borowitz or participate in one of the magazine’s famous caption contests.

The technology is table stakes. If a tech malfunction gets in the way of that experience—whether a page with a nonresponsive design that looks bad on mobile or a nonfunctioning login—it sticks with the user. Smart associations devote as much care and attention to curing members’ tech headaches, no matter how big or small, as they do to resolving any other customer service matter.

And it starts with the login screen.

(The7Dew/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!