Lapsed members: making the call!

Guest blog from Optimum Contact

Retaining a membership base is a real challenge for associations, and it’s a problem that is not going away. Conservative sources estimate that it costs up to ten times more to acquire a new member than it does to keep an existing one.


According to association membership expert Belinda Moore from Strategic Membership Solutions:

“A number of powerful generational, cultural, and economic forces are colliding to create a perfect storm that will make the next 5-20 years some of the toughest ever faced by associations. Associations who don’t adapt face a slow decline into obscurity as they are replaced by newer, more innovative, less bureaucratically challenged, less change resistant competitors.”

When it comes to renewing memberships, following up lapsed memberships, promoting an upcoming event, updating database records, or conducting member pulse-surveys sending email or direct mail is a low cost way to communicate with your members but with busy lives and competing schedules what can you do to cut through the noise?

Telemarketing or call campaigns can take many forms, inbound, outbound, continuous or occasional – It’s cheaper than personal sales and generally gets a better response rate than direct mail and it can be – and should be – customer centric, engaging, and a key part of your customer engagement strategy. Results are easy to track and members respond well to ‘human-to-human’ contact, but where do you start?

We caught up with Optimum Contact Manging Director Colin Perry to discuss some of their recent membership renewal outbound telephone contact campaigns.


How do members generally react when contacted by phone about a lapsed membership on behalf of an association client?

We know that for many members, allowing a membership to lapse is not deliberate. In fact, it often comes down to simple factors over which associations have some control, like a change in contact details, or simply forgetting to pay a renewal invoice or notice. Lapsed members are often thankful for the call. After all, the last thing they want is their professional accreditation, member support, benefits, and tax deduction to lapse.


Bottom line – what’s the ROI? 

It varies from association to association. The main variables are accuracy of contact details, price sensitivity, the level of competition from similar associations, and other external factors like the time of year when we’re asked to make the call.

We partnered with a national trade union with a diverse member base to manage their member renewal campaign and to re-connect with a significant number of lapsed members; in fact some members had not been connected to the union for more than two years.

We established a specialised outbound team to proactively engage their members and to help grow awareness of membership benefits. We renewed over 600 members during a 7 day campaign, with fees of over $500,000 returned to the client: an ROI of over 1,200%. Additional benefits of cleansed data and detailed insights were also provided to the client, to assist in future campaigns.


What’s one of the most interesting outcomes from a campaign?

Pretend members or those that know that they aren’t financial members of their professional association but still present to the public as current members.

Research for one particular association revealed that 15 per cent of all members who left continued to claim membership.

For many professionals, association membership represents professionalism and a measure of quality, integrity and trustworthiness. It’s pretty unfair when un-financial members claim membership through logos on their website, business cards, on social media, or at their physical premises.

However, even ‘pretend’ members can present an opportunity for retention and growth – In some cases, they may still feel connected to the association. Perhaps they can’t afford the fees at this time, which is an opportunity for the association to consider application of a payment arrangement or hardship policy to support the member.

Handled well, a conversation with a lost member can end up being an ideal opportunity to either re-connect, or preserve a hard-won association brand.


Surely not all phone calls go well?

That’s true! We find that disengaged members are quite happy to tell us what they think about their association if they are unhappy. This valuable intelligence is collected, analysed and delivered to our clients with clear recommendations.


What have been your biggest lessons from contact campaigns?

One stands out – A campaign for an association that was “urgent” and with a very short lead time. As part of our project scope it’s important to understand the environment and we go through a very detailed partner journey of information gathering, training and development. Despite this, we were not informed about a recent ‘stoush’ in the organisation that had divided members. We were tasked with conducting a satisfaction survey and many those members were nowhere near satisfied

The ‘value-add’ was not being connected to the politics of it all, but we were able to probe for the real issues and provide relevant, useful intelligence to the association which they were able to use immediately. However, a ‘heads-up’ would have been helpful!


Where to next?

If you are thinking of adding outbound call campaigns to your membership program, if you’re ready to get started and would like more information Optimum Contact can tailor a program directly to your needs.

For more information please contact Optimum or take a look at their website or call 1300 017 293.