Blog Post

Member Experience is the New Member Engagement

Innovations from other industries fuel the Colorado Dental Association's growth
August 7, 2018

Disney MagicBands may not come to mind when you think about creating a great experience for association members. But for Colorado Dental Association Executive Director Greg Hill, MagicBands (i.e., smart watch-like devices that allow Disney Resort guests to effortlessly access rides and customize/track their experience at the park) illustrate how associations must adopt innovative thinking from other industries to provide the kind of experience people/members now expect from every organization.
We sat down with Hill – who has nearly 20 years’ experience in association management – to talk about how the Colorado Dental Association is borrowing from the private sector’s playbook to deliver a personal experience for its members.
SE2: Could you start by giving us an overview of Colorado Dental Association?
Hill: Our membership includes three out of every four dentists in Colorado. We offer numerous benefits that support dental professionals, such as training and professional development, regulatory affairs, affinity programs and advocacy at the capitol. Throughout everything we do, we want to provide an experience that’s worthy of members’ investment and time.
SE2: The association buzz term of the past few years has been member engagement, but your focus is on member experience. Why?
Hill: One of the things that’s very unique about Colorado is that there is more growth in the industry here than there is in most other states. As a result, we have to significantly increase the number of members each year in order to just keep up with the growth. And so while we were continuing to grow, we were not growing fast enough in order to maintain our market share.
Not long after I finished my first year, we had the largest number of members that we had ever had in the organization, but at the same time our market share was dropping about 1.3 percent every year.
To reverse the trend we launched a campaign called Membership 2020 that focuses on improving the member experience, because experience – not engagement – is what members really value. If we can provide a great experience, that makes recruitment easier and it increases retention. In the first year of the program, we grew by almost 3 percent.
SE2: What activities does the Colorado Dental Association undertake to optimize the member experience and retain members?
Hill: Our data tells us that we see some points and times in a dentist’s career where they’re more likely to drop off our membership
For example, new dentists tend to drop around years two and three of membership. One of the things that we are doing to avoid that is to become more engaged with the students while they’re in dental school.
We’re empowering them to have successful practices and thriving careers and that starts with when they’re in dental school. And so the idea is that if we can give them a good experience before they ever have to pay a dime, it helps us build the kind of goodwill we need to get them to join as dues-paying members when they come out of school. So far, we’re seeing positive results from our proactive engagement of young dentists.
SE2: How do you see technology enabling the Colorado Dental Association to provide a valuable experience to its members?
Hill: For us, it starts with using the technology and data that we already have. We have made investments into software that allow us to segment and market to different groups. The data helps us understand the specific needs and feedback of members on an individual basis so that over time we can use this data to make a customized experience for each member.
Being able to offer a customized member experience is what keeps members around, as opposed to, “here’s what we offer, pick and choose what you want.”
And that’s where we always look at things like the Disney experience. Look at its MagicBands. I went to Disneyland and didn’t realize this, but I had my MagicBand on and went through a ride. Ten minutes later, Disney sent a picture of me on the ride via my MagicBand.
That’s an analogy for the kind of customized experience we want to offer in the future and not just default to “we offer services A through Z and hopefully there’s something in here that you like.” That’s not the kind of experience consumers want from any organization today – and it’s not the kind of experience that retains and engages members.
Lesson: Associations that focus on experience are well-positioned for the future
By looking beyond their industry, the Colorado Dental Association is iterating its products and services to align itself with the increasingly high expectations that consumers have – and other association leaders would be wise to follow suit.

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