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.