Data isn't everything: you can get to know your members better

4 OCTOBER 2016

Emma Thompson, Director

Big data is providing more information than ever before about customers' behaviours. But data isn't everything.

In the September issue of the Harvard Business Review, Clayton Cristenson and co-authors describe how an understanding of customers’ jobs to be done provides the insight needed to develop the products they want and need:

“Never have businesses known more about their customers. Thanks to the big data revolution, companies now can collect an enormous variety and volume of customer information, at unprecedented speed, and perform sophisticated analyses of it.

After decades of watching great companies fail, we’ve come to the conclusion that the focus on correlation - and on knowing more and more about customers - is taking firms in the wrong direction. What they really need to home in on is the progress that the customer is trying to make in a given circumstance - what the customer hopes to accomplish. This is what we’ve come to call the job to be done.”

Your members are your customers. Membership surveys - large and small, regular and ad-hoc - deliver huge quantities of data. With careful question planning and detailed analysis, you can discover what it is that groups of members are most likely to do, think and feel, and what they are looking for from their membership.  

Surveys also provide opportunity for some understanding of members’ behaviours and attitudes at a qualitative level. Online questionnaires can include open questions that delve deeper into the reasons behind a particular response, invite views and opinions, and explore an individual’s attitude or sentiment towards a particular aspect of their membership.

Knowing your members' jobs to be done

Membership bodies are not – in general – known for acting rapidly on new intelligence. Nor or they all experts at innovating. Nevertheless, armed with carefully gathered data, organisations can build a better understanding of what it is that individuals and groups are seeking from their membership body, the types of products and services they need and what they think the organisation should be doing on their behalf. 

But to get to the bottom of how they can truly help individuals in their day-to-day work and support them in achieving their longer term goals, organisations could perhaps follow the Cristenson approach and take a closer look at the jobs to be done.

From a members’ point of view, the jobs to be done could be anything from looking for the latest updates on a particular subject to looking for a new role; finding a template document to finding a mentor.  The list of member jobs may be relatively easy to define.

But what an organisation should be determining are the circumstances surrounding each of the jobs. When and how are people looking for those learning updates: on the bus, using a mobile? At home in their study, using a PC? On a lunch-break, in the library? Do they need knowledge in a hurry, to add to this afternoon’s presentation, or over a few days to incorporate into a dissertation?

Getting into this level of detail about the jobs to be done will enable the organisation to create innovative solutions. A product or service may be just what members need, but if the way it’s packaged or presented doesn’t suit the circumstance, it may quickly fall out of favour.

Take the example of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups given in the aforementioned HBR article. People loved the treats but couldn’t unwrap and eat them tidily while standing in a crowded subway. So Hershey’s developed re-sealable grab-bags of mini treats with no wrappers - perfect for dipping into.

Your next job to be done...

When you’ve collected your next swathe of member data, you’ve worked out what members like best, when they prefer to receive it and how it’s best delivered, consider doing a bit more qualitative research.  Put yourself in their shoes mentally, emotionally, and even physically – ask them exactly what it is that they are struggling to achieve and what the barriers are to achieving it.  

Then innovate!