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How to Eliminate Obstacles to Engagement and Retention: Call to Action

We are inviting a small number of Association and other leaders, interested in increasing member and stakeholder retention, engagement and growth, to participate in a short discovery project that will apply lean start up principles to identify obstacles and solutions.

Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers

This is the title of a 2010 HBR blog by Matthew Dixon, Karen Freeman, and Nicholas Toman.  According to a survey of 75,000 people, coupled with selected interviews, conducted by the Corporate Executive Board, “delighting customers doesn’t build loyalty.”  In spite of the prevailing assumptions, what builds loyalty is not “exceeding their expectations during service interactions (for example, by offering a refund, a free product, or a free service such as expedited shipping).” Instead, companies create loyal customers primarily by helping them solve their problems quickly and easily. ”

So what seems to providers as “conventional wisdom” is actually at odds with what matters the most to their customers. Cushioned by their non-profit status and the illusion of a ready-made client base, associations are even more in danger of mistaking assumptions as facts and coasting on the track of “delight” — more and newer programs, products and benefits—rather than developing capabilities for deep member understanding and problem-solving.

Our research and countless of member interviews confirms that there seems to be a serious “disconnect” between most associations’ assumptions about members and the way these members actually think, behave, perceive value, engage, experience problems and make choices. Results we noted included:

  • Attrition or stagnation
  • Critical association’s decisions – from product and benefit development to engagement, retention, financial projections and planning– based on internal planning and assumptions rather than direct learning from customers and experimentation
  • Products or programs that fail to hit a nerve and do not succeed in making an association its members’ go to resource for problems that matter; and
  • An unsustainable economic model of increasing expenses to get and retain members with decreasing outcomes and relevance.

Call to Action 

Andrea Pellegrino and I are in the process of testing this hypothesis; assessing at more depth the nature and impact of any such gaps in perceptions and the type of solutions needed to bridge them. To this end, we would like to invite a small handful of association CEOs and other senior executives, interested in increasing engagement, retention, innovation and growth to participate in a short research project. Working in partnership with you we would conduct a few key interviews in an effort to understand:

  •  If, how, where and why such gaps exist
  • What their impact might be on an association, especially its ability to create member value, engage and compete successfully
  • What opportunities might be missed by not understanding how members think in a continuum of time and situation
  • The types of solutions that are needed to help associations resonate with what matters the most to their members and how these can be adapted, integrated and executed in the short term.

We welcome input from participating associations on the kind of issues we should be investigating.

This is a short research project of a limited scope. It will involve:

  •  Interviews with about 4 individuals in your organization that are key to the creation and delivery of value to members, including the CEO
  • Interviews with about 4 of your members to include both established members and those you may have difficulty engaging, such as millennials
  • A wrap-up meeting with the leadership to present and discuss what we found and type of implications and actions these might suggest

If interested, please drop us a note at


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