Virtual Customer Service Initiatives Aim to Boost Membership and Engagement

The Snow and Ice Management Association's online office hours and "valet service" are designed to remove barriers for those creating or renewing memberships.

The Snow and Ice Management Association recently launched a pair of virtual tools to better engage with members and increase membership.

One initiative is weekly “office hours,” during which SIMA staff members are available for two hours to help current members access the association’s products and services, or speak with potential members. The second, a member “valet service,” is designed to help members set up their online profiles, and capture any information that may have changed with those renewing their membership.

We’re definitely servicing more and better than we ever have before.

Brian K. Birch, SIMA

Chief Operating Officer Brian K. Birch says the initiatives were the result of a new emphasis by SIMA’s board on membership growth, alongside an effort to put some pandemic-era wisdom to use.

“I wanted more ways for our staff to be accessible to our members and to leverage all that we learned during COVID,” he said. “We had to get really good at virtual events really fast, and that’s where the idea of virtual office hours came in.”

SIMA’s 13 staffers largely work remotely, so the virtual office hours also serve as an opportunity for them to connect informally. “As members jump in, we’ll assist,” said Birch. “We want it to be as if you walked into our office.”

Similarly, the valet service was inspired by a recognition that registration should be as simple as possible. “A lot of people don’t want to spend 20 minutes trying to go through an association’s portal, individual profile, payment information, and checkout,” Birch said. “This is one more access point to make things quick and easy. We capture revenue and information, and we’re not missing so many leads.”

Both initiatives were sparked in part by SIMA’s implementation last March of a “service module,” through which visitors to SIMA’s website could submit questions through a chatbot and other means. The response helped clarify the association’s need to provide more efficient access to its products and services, and made the group realize that it was often missing basic information, such as pricing, for some of its offerings. It also provides another avenue for lead generation. “We’re definitely servicing more and better than we ever have before,” Birch said.

Though it’s too early for SIMA to have metrics on the impact of the office hours and valet service, Birch said the valet service has already attracted users. “There’s a little more follow-up required on our end, but I think it’s worth the tradeoff right now,” he said. And he believes the increased traffic will translate into new memberships without overburdening staff with new duties. 

“We generate maybe 300 to 400 new members a year,” he says. “So if we can capture even 10 or 15 percent more through these processes, it’s going to pay long-term dividends.”

(Kontinia Consulting SL/iStock/Getty Images)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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