Three Keys to Integrating a Member Self-Service Portal

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Self-service portals within your association's content management system can create exceptional member experiences.

By Beth Lilienstein

The goal or mission of every association is to provide an exceptional member experience, whether through an optimized website, strategic email communications, technology-enhanced events, marketing automation or 360° member lifecycle management. But the key to effectively providing a remarkable experience is to put your members in control. Give them the power to do what they want, when they want to do it. If someone wants to join your association, can they do it online after hours? What about renewing a membership or registering for an event? Do you still require physical paperwork and a phone call from the member, or can the entire process be completed electronically through your website?

If your responses to these questions veer toward the way of the dinosaurs, then you must consider a self-service portal for your website. Self-service portals are integrated with your association’s content management system and association management system to provide seamless functionality for online interactions with your members and non-members alike. Here are three key points to consider when setting up a self-service portal.

1. Remember: Both members and non-members will visit your website.

Individuals who have enough interest in your organization to identify themselves via a login are valued stakeholders and need to be wooed. Many organizations have two zones on their website, one for the unidentified public and another for members only. If all of the privileged content is hidden in the members-only zone, you may be hiding so much content and functionality from non-members that these visitors do not know what they would gain by becoming members. Think about making it possible for non-members to register for some events online, purchase publications, or even sign up for certain subscriptions, so they get a taste of the value of belonging to your community. They will be more likely to want to have it all as members.

2. Make it easy to join.

Just as not-for-profit sites have learned to encourage users to embrace online giving by placing large "Donate Now” buttons prominently on their site, associations should also promote membership by making "Join Now” a prominent part of their website’s self-service functionality. This button can be added in multiple locations throughout the site, especially wherever membership offers a benefit to the online experience.

A user should certainly be able to click the button when inquiring about association membership, but also when browsing the online store (with member discounts), perusing a list of articles (content can be referenced as members-only), and browsing a calendar of events (both discounts and access provide the incentive to join).

3. Know how much information to collect for new members.

When a user clicks the "Join Now” button on your website, your self-service portal needs to fulfill two of the user’s likely expectations about what happens next:

  1. Everything can be completed online.
  2. The process will be fairly quick and easy.

Sometimes, these two expectations are mutually incompatible. You may need to collect more information than you can expect the user to have on hand after what may have been an impulse decision. Or you may need to subject the application to a review process. It is better to collect the limited amount of information that is reasonably available to the applicant right away and ask for a future follow-up step, rather than to burden the user up front with application demands that could dissuade him/her from completing the process. But at minimum, even if the application needs a lot of supporting information and follow up action(s), the user should be allowed to fill out some forms and pay a commitment fee right then, so that he/she has found a way to act on the impulse to join when it occurs.

One of the greatest benefits of an association management systems’ member self-service portal is that it provides the user with mechanisms to fulfill whatever impulse has inspired him/her to contact the association. It is important to anticipate those impulses, and provide easy ways for the individual to act on them when, where and how he/she prefers.

Beth Lilienstein is a product manager for MX Online, the flagship web product of Protech Associates, Inc.

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