Member Experience: What It Is, and Why It’s Vital to Associations

Associations can drive sustainable success by connecting with members through hands, head, and heart.

By Kristen Wright, Chief Marketing Officer, Forj

Organizations of all shapes and sizes want to put smiles on the faces of those they serve; it’s human nature and keeps work fulfilling. But some make the mistake of focusing entirely on customer service—say, a checkout encounter at the grocery store—which is just one part of the equation.

Sure, a brief interaction can make the difference between a satisfied shopper and a disgruntled one, but the customer experience (CX) is about much more, spanning every touchpoint on the customer journey. In our example of the grocer, that includes everything from online stores and emails promoting specials to interactions with employees; whether in-store or during curbside pickup.

While associations are not in the business of fresh produce and baked goods, they absolutely must serve up an enticing member experience (MX) that addresses evolving expectations.

According to CX expert Kerry Bodine, co-author of “Outside In,” associations should connect with customers in three ways—through hands, head, and heart—to create a healthy and vibrant MX.

By viewing MX holistically, she said associations have a sizable opportunity to boost member growth, engagement, and retention. The proof is in the research: In a recent survey conducted by Salesforce, 79 percent of consumers and 85 percent of business buyers said the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services.

Empower Members to Reach Hands-on Goals

Bodine, who defines MX as “members’ thoughts, emotions, and perceptions about their interactions with an organization,” said the first way members connect with associations is through their hands.

“Members interact with organizations because they are trying to accomplish something—to learn, network, achieve some task or goal,” she said. “I think of this as the ‘hands’ part because members are trying to get something done. That’s table stakes—associations have to enable their members to do what they need to do.”

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, access to up-to-date information is one of the most important benefits members seek when joining an association. Others value networking, legislative representation, and certification opportunities. Adopting a member-first mindset helps associations keep up with these evolving member needs, in turn boosting financial vitality through improved member recruitment, better word-of-mouth marketing, and heightened sponsor interest.

“A lot of organizations think of MX as separate from their business strategies,” Bodine said. “There’s a misconception that MX is this fluffy thing that’s nice to have, whereas I am laser-focused on helping organizations realize that it is the path to profit.”

Make Members’ Lives Easier

After connecting with members through their hands, Bodine suggests that association executives focus on MX’s cognitive aspect—the head.

“Once you have that base layer—that functionality or information that a member needs—you also have to make sure it’s easy for them to find and understand,” she said.

Digital transformation plays a role in improving usability. Whether you’re employing a full-blown virtual event platform or a simple mobile app, strategic tech adoption can make members’ lives easier. But be wary of implementing technology for the sake of modernization—the best approach is to identify member needs and pain points through customer interviews and journey mapping, then layer in appropriate technology, among other important dimensions of MX.

To that end, tools like the Forj MX Maturity Model help association executives assess where they stand across six dimensions of MX: engagement channels, content strategy, member relationships, partner collaborations, technology, and analytics. The goal is to provide a practical vision for the future and continually assess progress.

“Organizations that are serious about reaping the business benefits from improved MX know it’s like brushing your teeth,” Bodine said. “Your organization, your members’ perceptions and expectations, and the technology available to you are always changing. It’s a continual investment.”

Meet Emotional Needs

For Bodine, connecting to members through the heart is about considering their emotions. While some candy-coat this process through terms like “customer delight,” Bodine prefers a more practical take.

“Making a loan application delightful is a stretch,” she said. “I get organizations to aim for emotional resonance. They need to understand the emotional needs and expectations of customers and meet them on that level.”

Uber’s success, fueled by simplified ordering, tracking, and payments, illustrates the value of this approach.

“Uber has been phenomenally successful in part because they alleviated the emotional anxiety that came along with calling a cab,” Bodine said. “Before Uber, when I’d call a cab for a business trip, I wouldn’t know when or even if the cab was coming; I didn’t want to call too far in advance or cut it too close getting to the airport. It was always stressful.”

With Uber, that anxiety dissipated entirely. “All of that technology created this amazing experience that, again, resonates with our hands, our heads, and our hearts,” Bodine said.

The team at Forj, a MX platform for associations and professional community organizations, thanks Kerry Bodine, co-author of “Outside In,” for her input on how organizations can think in more customer-centric ways to drive engagement, growth, and retention. For more information on the Forj MX Maturity Model or to request a demo of the company’s Member Experience platform, visit

(mucahiddin/iStock/Getty Images Plus)