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The inherent conflict between staff needs and customer needs

One of the greatest benefits of the internet revolution is that data management has been moved from staff to customer. For example, back when I started my first membership director position (20 years ago now), nothing was being processed via the association’s website. This meant that ALL membership joins and renewals had to be processed by staff. Slow and expensive, but the reality of the times.

Fast forward to today, and the vast majority of my clients process the vast majority of their membership via their website, which means staff rarely touches that data at all. Faster for the customer, cheaper for the association.

But that revolution also created a problem; the technology has to serve both the customer and the staff. And they need different things.

For the customer, the process (e.g. membership join or renewal) has to be fast and easy. The more difficult it is for the customer to do, the less likely the are to do it. This can lead to lower sales and higher staff costs (as more staff are required to process the data that customers should be processing).

But for the staff, the system needs to be able to handle all kinds of exceptions (e.g., price discounts, refunds, special offers, extensions, etc.). These are inherently more complex processes but the technology has to be able to handle it.

So there is a constant and inherent tension between what staff needs and what the customers need. The software vendors have to provide tools that can do both (easy for customer, complex for staff) and associations have to develop business rules that address both (i.e., more complex business rules make it harder for the customer to buy).

This is important for association staff to keep in mind, because it makes the vendor’s job of delivering a great product very difficult. And it often requires trade-offs (e.g., simplifying business rules).

So keep this in mind as you work with your vendor.

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“Wes was able to come in and offer tangible, relevant advice that made us more productive immediately. I value his understanding of databases but more so, his understanding of how nonprofits work. There was no lost time educating him about how membership organizations are “different.” Wes recommended changes in processes as well as tips and tricks that were easy to implement made an immediate positive impact.”

Mary Pat Paris, Executive Director
International Registration Plan

“We came to Wes because we were very frustrated with our existing AMS and we wanted to improve our capabilities as soon as practicable. Wes very quickly helped us through a process of identifying our needs, identifying potential vendors, and selecting a new system that we’ll be able to move into very quickly. I especially appreciated Wes’s candor about our processes as well as the systems we were looking at. He was a great resource to have in a period of high anxiety for our organization. I would highly recommend Wes for any similar project.”

Jack Chiasson, CMP Executive Director
National Association of Life Brokerage Agencies

“Wes was able to come in and offer tangible, relevant advice that made us more productive immediately. I value his understanding of databases but more so, his understanding of how nonprofits work. There was no lost time educating him about how membership organizations are “different.” Wes recommended changes in processes as well as tips and tricks that were easy to implement made an immediate positive impact.”

Mary Pat Paris, Executive Director
International Registration Plan

Mary Pat Paris
International Registration Plan

“This is the second database implementation we’ve done since I have been at Western Arts Alliance (WAA). The first I did on my own. This time we engaged Wes Trochlil as our database planning consultant. Let me tell you, this process is a whole lot easier having Wes on your team! For a small association like WAA, it’s tempting for board and EDs to question the justification and expense of a database planning consultant. But it’s the small associations that need Effective Database Management the most. Wes strengthened our planning process, clarified our needs requirements, helped us steer around solutions that couldn’t meet our objectives, and saved us money in the long haul.”

Tim Wilson, Executive Director
Western Arts Alliance

Tim Wilson
Western Arts Alliance
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