8 Things Your Mama Taught You About Membership/Loyalty Programs
In honor of mothers everywhere (including mine who's been a mom for 71 of her 90 years), I’d like to share some life lessons learned from the mother hen herself – and how they can be used as best practices in running a successful membership discount club or loyalty program.
1. Your Mama Loves You for the Long Haul (she’s not in it for the mother’s day gift)
I wasn’t always the model child growing up. I was prone to be a slacker, doing just enough to stay out of trouble. Sometimes I’d clean my room by shoving all my clothes under my bed. Or I’d rinse the dishes off and quickly put them away because they looked “mostly clean.” My mom didn’t see me as a one and done project. If I failed, she didn’t stop loving me. She had a much better approach. A lifelong approach. She was more concerned about how I turned out long term, and saw through my lapses in judgement.
The lesson: Build your organization with a long-term view. Creating lifelong relationships is far more profitable than any short-term revenue members generate. As an organization, don’t settle for doing the minimum just to keep members from complaining. Take a longstanding approach by delivering more than enough value to cultivate lasting, meaningful relationships.
2. Your Mama Played Favorites (she really did love your sister more)
Despite protests that mom loved her children equally, there is always that one sibling that received special treatment. The one who got to stay out late. The one who got to go on more trips. The one who basically got whatever they wanted, because they sucked up to mom. (I’m not sounding resentful, am I?) But her favoritism served a purpose.
The lesson: It’s okay to play favorites when it comes to your members/customers, as long as you’re consistent and reward your members/customers when they behave in ways that benefit your organization. Let your members know the thresholds they must achieve in order to reach a higher tier of benefits. Loyal customer/members should be incentivized to earn your greatest benefits. But not everyone will want to upgrade, so don’t shame members who are satisfied with lower tier benefits. Always keep it positive.
3. Your Mama Taught You to Over-Deliver (work harder to exceed expectations)
I was nine years old when I got my first job mowing lawns. My mother was constantly harping on me to stop taking shortcuts, or to stop making the least effort possible just to get by. She taught me to take extra time to edge the lawns of my clients, or to always sweep away the clipping (Who knew what a leaf blower was?). As a result, I was offered more mowing jobs because I was trying to exceed expectations.
The lesson: Over-deliver on the benefits you offer, rather than paying little mind to your overall value proposition. Successful organizations spend considerable time developing their benefits, focusing on relevance, immediate value, and ease of use. Your benefits must align with members' value expectations. Don’t rush out to build your acquisition program before your benefits are fully in place. When members recognize the value of being a member exceeds the cost of being a member, they will grow far less cost sensitive to your renewal reminders, and become increasingly loyal as a result.
4. There’s Nothing Like Your Mama’s KISS (keep it simple stupid)
If your mother is anything like mine, she was always encouraging me to tone it down a bit. Keep it simple and don’t over-complicate things. I remember as a kid falling in love with mini-golfing. So much so that I tried to build my own 18-hole putt-putt course. But my grandiose ideas far exceeded my skills and attention span. My attempts at building a windmill eventually became a home for mice, raccoons and other varmints because I didn’t know what I was doing. Instead of an 18-hole course, I ended up with three holes that never actually worked.
The lesson: Start your organization with simple and modest goals. Once you get going, then test, iterate, and make improvements as you grow. Onboarding new members should be simple and easy. Simple programs with simple rules make it easy for your constituents to stay engaged.
5. Your Mama Has a Long Memory (remember that time when you…)
My mom had a knack for remembering my numerous mistakes, and recalling them at just the right time to motivate me to behave. She’d say, “Remember that time when you agreed to mow the lawn, and it took a week to get around to it?” She would then leverage that bit of information to tailor special consequences (i.e. threats) to make sure I always followed through. Now I’m not advocating that you build a dossier on your members and use it against them, but I am advocating the benefits of collecting data.
The lesson: Your members/customers leave a huge trail of valuable data as a result of your everyday interactions. Be smart about collecting, organizing and analyzing all the data you have available about them. Use that data to make improvements on your services, build stronger relationships with members, and identify important trends that can help you improve engagement and retention.
6. Your Mama Taught You to Ask Questions (ask good questions to get good answers)
My friends and I would always make plans to go horseback riding or camping. Inevitably I would ask my mom for permission and she would say “Which of your friends is going?” (Some friends were a better influence than others.) “Where will you be going…exactly?” “When will you be back?” Somehow, I didn’t ask those questions of my friends. Or at least I didn’t get the right answers to her satisfaction. I was more or less just making assumptions about what I thought was going to happen, and acting on my gut. My mom wanted all the data possible before she would make a decision.
The lesson: Frequently ask questions of your members and probe for answers. Survey them often to find out their likes, dislikes, and preferences. Learn what makes them stay a member, and find out from outgoing members why they left. Make goals and programming decisions based on data, and not by simply trusting your gut.
7. Your Mama Fed You Regularly (a meal a week wouldn’t cut it)
My mom was a great cook and she fed us three great meals a day. But she also had a reputation for feeding the neighbor kids too. She was always giving away cookies, or inviting my friends over for a meal. Eventually the neighbors were at our house all the time because they knew where to find good food. She also loved to test new recipes and experiment with old ones. While most recipes worked, she tolerated a few failures because she loved to learn. She never seemed satisfied with doing the same old things over and over again.
The lesson: Feed your relationships with members regularly. Communicate often and through multiple channels. Test new ideas and take a few risks to find out what resonates. Increase your frequency of communicating. According to this study, the average member organization sends four emails per week to its members. How often are you feeding your relationship? Are you starving your members, or keeping them well fed? Starving members will go to the “neighbor’s house” if they’re not getting enough attention.
8. Your Mama Always Had the Big Picture in Mind (and picked her battles)
Growing up in a small, rural community, it was a real treat to stay out until midnight playing night games like “No Bears are Out Tonight,” “Kick the Can” or “Steal the Flag.” My mom was a skillful negotiator when it came to allowing me special privileges. She knew when it was appropriate to let me stay out late, and it usually coincided with special chores she needed done, like cleaning the garage, or weeding the garden. Giving in to me was not a weakness, but a way to achieve her bigger goals.
The lesson: Don’t be so rigid that you don’t allow your staff the power to negotiate special rates for membership dues, or to give away special benefits when it’s appropriate. Not only will it provide a higher level of service that members appreciate, but price sensitive members will also be less likely to leave if they feel they have negotiated a special deal.
Happy Mother's Day
My mom was probably unaware that she taught me a lot about the fundamentals of good business, loyalty and member engagement. And while I admit I'm only a little biased, I think we can all learn from her age-old wisdom. Happy Mother's Day.
Written by: Gary Toyn