Cultivating MX: Experience-centric Leadership Strategies
Members’ experiences with their professional association ultimately define its success. So, it stands to reason that association executives are committed to creating an MX movement that radiates from the board to the leadership team and throughout the entire staff.
But aligning and energizing your culture around a shared goal is sometimes easier said than done. In a collaborative session at ASAE TEC, we tapped into one association leader to explore the importance of buy-in and challenging the status quo.
This recap of our conversation with Jason Bellamy, Senior Vice President of Member Experience at the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), offers techniques for infusing an MX mindset into your association’s DNA and technology decision-making.
How do you define MX?
Jason has worked with APTA for more than 18 years, overseeing functions ranging from communications and marketing to membership and service operations. He believes APTA “fell backward into the concept of member experience” as they recognized how everything they do touches members in some way.
When he thinks of MX, Jason likens it to the enjoyability or ease of the tech experience. “The idea is the same for membership, and the deliverable is membership itself,” he said.
In an online, connected world, Jason believes technology is at the core of member experience—but it’s also more than that. “It’s the totality of your engagement and how you feel about it,” he said. “Members are looking for friction-free engagement, and MX defines a much broader experience.”
What percent of your budget is spent on member-facing versus back-office technology? What do you see as the right mix?
“Every tech investment we make touches the member experience,” said Sid. “Most of our members would not say technology is the main driver of the member experience, but how they experience our brand is enabled by technology.”
ASQ has identified directly correlated expenses between technology and MX. “When I talk to the board, the story is joint,” Sid said. “Forty to forty-five percent of our spend is member facing, but sixty percent does impact MX.”
“There’s very little that doesn’t affect the member experience in some way,” Todd said. “The lines are definitely blurred.” He noted that the associations he supports can focus strictly on member-facing investment because Anthony J. Janetti bears the brunt of the responsibility for infrastructure.
Why is member experience important for association executives?
There’s no doubt that a shift is occurring, and members’ increasing expectations are disrupting associations’ strategies. “Our members and potential members are evaluating experience whether you know it or not,” said Jason. “The expectations of the modern member are different.”
Keeping pace begins by realizing that we live in a very experience-based culture. Jason named the organizations that associations are compared to all the time: Amazon, Google, and Netflix. In his experience, members want search, selection, and delivery to be as easy in their professional association as on these platforms they use daily.
Jason said at APTA, “We have not figured all of this out. We’re learning as much as anybody, but we recognize that MX is a thing.”
How would you rate your member experience from one to five?
We asked participants at ASAE TEC to rate their associations’ member experience on a scale from one to five, and Jason weighed in with his rating of APTA. “It’s a three,” he said.
Jason offered examples that factored in his rating, ranging from the in-person conference experience to website search to call center ticketing systems. He pointed out that you can’t please all the people all the time.
“Members’ experience with the website varies,” he said in example. “We can see through analytics that our most popular content is easy to find, but every day we get a message from someone who can’t find what’s important to them.”
The philosophy at APTA has been to refine the experience to serve 99% of members in responsive, efficient, and sustainable ways—but this means 1% of members will always be dissatisfied with something. “We’ve built a system that works better for the 99%, and there are repercussions,” said Jason.
When it comes to membership strategies, how have you seen things change?
Jason believes two factors are converging in our current environment, forcing association leaders to ask tough questions about their past strategies.
“First, we’re seeing the post-pandemic state of the economy and its effect on members’ ability to spend,” he said. “At the same time, we’re reaching a point that the internet era is starting to become a threat. Because these things are happening at the same time, I’m skeptical of pre-pandemic trends—the data from three years ago may as well be from 30 years ago.”
At APTA, leaders are exploring how to serve members who have higher expectations with low-cost, high-value, friction-free experiences. “We need to be more intentional about the fact that we’re talking to a different audience,” Jason said.
Why is it important for us to challenge assumptions and evolve our MX strategies?
Jason encourages others in his organization to rally around the fact that value is related to use and use is related to experience. Most long-term members are easily convinced that their association advances their profession and delivers personal value. Younger members, however, want to see tangible evidence that their investment of time and money is paying off.
“The analogy I use is that your membership is like a gym membership,” he said. “You need to engage enough that you’re getting the value. For some people, that’s going every day, and for some, it’s enough to go every weekend.”
What advice would you offer to other leaders looking to advance MX?
In closing, Jason left participants with simple advice: “Just start talking about it.”
“Think about the basics,” he said. “How easy is it to join and renew?” He offered an example of APTA’s efforts to simplify the joining process, streamlining the information incoming members were asked to provide upfront on their application. “We knew we were starting people off on a very laborious first step, so we asked ourselves, ‘How easy is this? Can it be easier?’”
Leading others to these aha moments is a step towards shaping your MX culture through conversations about the member experience and putting yourself in members’ shoes.