Emma Thompson, Director
A full member survey - usually run every one or two years – is one way of engaging members and offering the whole membership an opportunity to give you their views.
However, with the rising use of increasingly sophisticated Customer Relationship Management systems, some would argue that you never need survey members again. After all, surveys can only tell you what members say they do, think or feel, rather than recording what they actually do (read about one membership body’s view of this in a recent ASAE article).
What’s the future of the survey?
You can use a regular survey to track key indicators of your organisation’s success, flagging-up where you might need to take corrective action. It can help you see which benefits and services are most important to segments of members, and where the gaps may be. You can get to know your members better, by inviting them to tell you about their work, their professional challenges and the issues they need help to address. There are also huge internal benefits, from the survey-design stage onwards, providing a focal point for member-centred discussion between different departments of your organisation.
But many CRM and other systems enable you to integrate data from multiple sources into one place, including social sentiment tracking, web activity and transactional or purchase data. If you have systems to monitor members’ CPD logging, event attendance, committee involvement, election voting, communications preferences - as well as renewals, upgrades and payment of fees – why ask members to tell you about the things they do? You already know!
Member surveys are still valuable
Our Member Engagement Survey 2017 showed that, although other methods of seeking member opinion and feedback are in use, regular full surveys are used by around three quarters of membership organisations.
And if your CRM doesn’t give you everything you need, your IT resources are limited, or you’re not currently able to track and link separate systems, there’s still a valuable place for surveys as part of your toolbox for understanding and engaging members. Surveys allow you to begin to investigate the reasons why members have particular behaviours or attitudes towards your organisation - and this investigation can be further enhanced by qualitative research that really gets under the skin of the survey findings.
Besides, wouldn’t you want to be asked your opinion every now and then, rather than have someone assume they know all about you?
Some organisations have the luxury of in-house research teams to manage their member surveys. Others without a research department, but with plenty of research expertise, use tools such as SurveyMonkey, SurveyGizmo, Campaign Monitor and a plethora of others. Many of these have evolved significantly in the past few years to enable better survey design, data analysis and reporting, as well as data output formats that are compatible with most CRMs (see PCMag UK’s 2017 review of 10 online survey tools).
For large scale surveys, however, many in-house teams don’t have the resources to analyse large volumes of data, code and count verbatim responses to open-ended questions or apply statistical tests to look for significant differences between segments, so outsourcing may be necessary. An independent approach also means that the survey design process can be independently managed to ensure the questions provide actionable insight, informing strategic or operational decisions.
Not sure whether to DIY your next survey or outsource? Take a look at one of our past articles on when to go in-house vs outsourcing for some points to consider when planning your next survey, or any other membership project.