Fit to serve
Nicki Anderson, president and CEO of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce, has a passion for customer service—something she brought with her from a previous role as owner of a personal training studio. As she explains it, customer service in the chamber of commerce profession has quite a few parallels to the her former industry.
“How many people join a chamber, pay their money and just expect magic to happen?” she asked. “It’s no different than in the health and fitness industry, when people come to a health club and expect to see results without doing anything.”
Anderson identifies as a “disrupter,” meaning she tries to experiment and do things differently than the competition. She believes that customer service in any organization is the number one differentiator that leads businesses, or in her case chambers of commerce, to stand out from the pack.
“In this profession, our customers are our members, because if they stop paying, then we don’t have a successful chamber,” she explained. “Nobody raves about average; my goal since day one has been: ‘What can we do to make our customer experience memorable enough—so they not only stay—but want to be an advocate and ambassador for us?’”
When she first arrived at the chamber, Anderson assessed the member retention data, and noticed that new members were dropping at an alarming rate. To find out why, she hired a membership engagement coordinator, who she tasked with contacting new members that declined to renew and asking them what issues caused them to leave the chamber.
“What we discovered is some new members didn’t get the direction they needed when they first joined the chamber,” she explained. “There is a small percentage of people who have a natural ability to dive in and get involved, but many of our newest arrivals felt lost and on their own without guidance.”
Another criticism from new members was the perception that the chamber was too cliquey. To correct this, Anderson began revamping the chamber’s culture, by having conversations with longtime members about becoming more welcoming to new additions.
“I told our ambassadors, ‘When you see someone that you don’t recognize, your first inclination should be to go up, extend a hand and welcome them!” she said. “Since making these changes, we’ve since noticed a dramatic shift in the way people feel a sense of belonging shortly after joining.”
Anderson cites ACCE’s Horizon Initiative: Belonging and Gathering as inspiration for the chamber’s new approach to customer service, which emphasizes the importance of making sure members feel connected to the organization, and part of a larger community.
“Retention wheels are great, but they aren’t enough; it needs to be deeper and more meaningful than just hitting the touchpoints,” she explained. “Everybody who joins an organization wants to have a purpose, and they want to feel like they’re part of something bigger.”
Want to hear more from Nicki Anderson about customer care? Watch our full webinar here.
Sales tales: Sales Training highlights
ACCE’s annual Sales Training Conference is an opportunity for chamber professionals to learn the latest membership development tips, trends and techniques from some of the best in the biz. This year’s event, hosted in St. Louis with the gracious support of the St. Louis Regional Chamber, brought together about 60 members from far and wide for a little March membership madness.
Here are a few takeaways from the gathering:
Chamber on the Go
Andrew Hoan, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, likes his staff to get out into the community for member interaction. Last August, the chamber launched its #BCC Visits initiative, during which chamber staff visited more than 500 local businesses. To get around, the chamber traveled by subway, bus, ferry and foot and used geocoding tools to target areas with the highest concentration of businesses.
“This was a way to deepen our understanding of what our members need and to put a face on the chamber,” says Hoan. “Instead of just getting emails and telephone calls, members actually see a real human being.”
One story stands out for Hoan. When the chamber visited a spin studio, its owner complained about a pothole on the street. The chamber contacted the appropriate agency and the pothole was filled soon after. The chamber would have never known about the pothole, and its member’s frustration, had it not ventured out into the community.
“People won’t open up to you through mass email or over the phone,” shares Hoan. “When you visit them and see for yourself what their issues are, you have clearly demonstrated the value-add of chamber membership.”
Content is king
The content-to-sales ratio should be 3:1, says Kyle Sexton, a marketing strategist and Sales Training Conference presenter. Instead of selling tickets and asking for money, chambers have an opportunity to produce – and lead members to – more engaging and valuable content.
“This economy rewards brands that put value in front of the transaction, not behind it,” Sexton says. “We need to add more value to the conversation and stop asking for money all the time.”
Sexton’s suggestions for chambers? Teach members about business; stop educating them about the chamber. One way for chambers to better engage members is to help them learn how to share their stories with the community.
“We can do a better job carrying on the conversations they care about,” says Sexton. "In order to do that, we need to think like an editor and act like a journalist.”
How you buy is how you sell
When it comes to selling membership, “how you buy is how you sell,” says Duane Weber, Indy Chamber’s director of membership and sponsorship sales. Take car buying, for example; some people spend months shopping around and test-drive six or seven cars, while others do a little research and make their purchase quickly. The key to selling, Weber says, is to tailor the pitch to the buyer’s preferred style of decision-making.
“Some people like to read the fine print,” says Weber. “I’m not one of those people. I’m a strategic, big-picture kind of guy. Just show me a summary.”
Weber says that when the seller’s style is mismatched with the buyer’s style, an uncomfortable experience can result. “As a big-picture buyer, it drives me crazy when a detail-oriented person sells to me. I’m thinking, ‘C’mon! You had me 10 minutes ago!”
Weber’s tip for connecting with prospects that have gone dark: try something unconventional. Give them an opportunity to say no. Send a message asking if they’re still interested; and offer to close their file if they’re not. “It’s okay to say you’re not interested!”
It’s about mission and community, not golf
Dues and sponsorship figures are essentially arbitrary sums, argues Doug Holman, a consultant with Holman Brothers, a firm that specializes in chamber membership. Chamber membership staff treat these numbers like they “came down from the mountain,” endlessly justifying how members will earn a return on their investment.
“We have to sell community,” says Holman. Too often, chambers err by selling events to prospective members, instead of their missions—which is what business leaders really care about. “They’re not paying you because they want to attend your annual dinner or your golf tournament,” continues Holman. “They’re paying you because they believe in what you do.”
Chamber pros are passionate about serving their communities, and this is what business leaders want to support. “There’s simply no way to guarantee results from attending chamber networking events,” says Holman. Instead, the goal is to help business leaders “recognize that without the work of the chamber, the community would be a very different place.”