No Short-Term Solutions

When integrating new technologies into member services, align them to strategic goals.

When it comes to technology, the struggle is often to correctly identify the problem. But the explosion of software as a service (SaaS) options over the last decade has helped advance the ability of associations to quickly solve every problem under the sun.

If you need to send a text message to all of your members, there’s a platform for that.  What about an email? Yup, there’s another platform. Mobile apps? Easy enough—just don’t lose those login credentials.

You can go from start to finish on setting up the next best thing in as little as 10 minutes in some cases. However, therein lies a new question: Does the solution only meet your current needs? Or does it align with the association’s strategic goals for the next three to five years?

Technology should be a means toward achieving long-term aspirations for your organization, not an easy fix for the immediate problem.

Beyond the Easy Answer

At the Pennsylvania Association of REALTORS®, we ran into this issue a few years ago. One strategic goal underlined the importance of a member benefit that required a new investment in technology. There was a quick answer, but it wasn’t the right answer for our future growth.

PAR has been a RAMCO subscriber since 2015. It is our single repository of membership data. Over the last seven years, we have built methods and processes on top of this data to learn about our members and how PAR can better serve them.

Technology should be a means toward achieving long-term aspirations for your organization, not an easy fix for the immediate problem.

Our strategic plan called for the expansion of the PAR Legal Hotline—one of our highest-rated member benefits. A quick solution was to use the technology already in place and move forward. However, that did not set us up for success down the road.

PAR reviewed its technology stack to determine which mission-critical functions were not communicating with each other. We audited our member communications and our long-term goals for providing the best member experience.

We ultimately decided to keep RAMCO for managing membership data and integrate the marketing platform HubSpot and its communications functions into everyday touch points with members. Our marketing emails, online and phone inquiries, and web analytics connect back to member data, which allows us to develop communication strategies based on various member actions. Thanks to its investment in HubSpot, PAR was able to quickly and confidently act at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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© Westend61 / Getty Images

Not Phoning It In

Our phone system was up for review in 2020. An internally hosted Voice over Internet Protocol system allowed staff to make and receive calls from PAR’s phone lines, but it wasn’t the best experience. A shift to Zoom Phone expanded upon the meeting and webinar platform with an easy-to-use application for phone conversations.

Integrating Zoom Phone into HubSpot allowed PAR to track and analyze member outreach like never before. Staff can use the desktop or mobile app to engage with members as if they were sitting at a desk phone at PAR headquarters.

Opening a member’s record during a call allows staff to understand previous interactions and provide notes for future reference. Linking phone interactions with other marketing initiatives has expanded PAR’s ability to get a handle on member engagement.

There are lots of SaaS solutions available to address problems like these. But the central question should remain whenever you evaluate the best fit for your organization: How will this solution integrate with the existing infrastructure and set us up for success in the future? 

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7 Ways AEs are Using Tech

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Expanding virtual offerings. While virtual events can’t replace critical personal connections, they can reach a larger, more diverse audience in the real estate profession. Bay East has now conducted town hall meetings, an inaugural gala, a summit with elected officials, committee meetings, marketing groups, and dozens of classes and events virtually. Participation in several of our weekly regional marketing meetings has increased. —Tricia Thomas, RCE, CEO, Bay East Association of REALTORS®, Calif.

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Connecting with the MLS. One of the greatest technology assets is a relationship with your MLS. Many MLSs provide access to prepackaged local real estate statistics that are ready to be shared with the business media, with association members, and on social media. Sharing the latest statistics is an easy way to position your association and your members as the best local and regional sources of real estate insights. —Christy Reap, internal communications and media relations director, Bright MLS, Washington, D.C.

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Making forms fast. We use the program Jotform frequently to conduct surveys, take applications, and accept nomination forms. It offers a variety of ways to create a template; when the form is ready, you can copy a link and blast it out to the membership. Members click the link on their phones and enter the requested information, sending it directly to a staff member. It may seem a little old-school, but it’s a great tool for soliciting member input on a budget. —Kim Cox, GRI, CEO, Ozark Gateway Association of REALTORS®, Mo.

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Asking members for feedback. Bay East uses affordable online tools such as SurveyMonkey to better understand who members are, what they need, and how well we are meeting those needs. Our annual member survey includes questions about demographics, brokerage and business activities, and the use and satisfaction with Bay East products and services. Our team learned to use functions such as cross-tab analyses to pinpoint member needs based on experience and location. By using similar questions each year, we have identified trends in the profession that we use extensively in strategic planning and share with members via a high-energy video. —Tricia Thomas

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Keeping the team together with teleconferencing. Local health regulations shuttered Bay East’s brick-and-mortar member service centers in March 2020 and started what has become an almost two-year period of remote work. For the first few weeks, Bay East’s management team stayed connected via daily teleconference calls, trying several different hosting platforms before settling on Microsoft Teams. The entire staff now uses Teams daily for text-based communications with each other and scheduled and spontaneous video conferences. Adding the video component helps preserve a strong team culture among staff, who continue to work remotely. —Tricia Thomas

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Producing good video with or without fancy gear. Closing our member service center in Pleasanton meant we were unable to use our dedicated video production studio. The initial solution for producing the weekly Bay East BUZZ video without access to a studio was for our on-camera staff to record their segments at home using smartphones. Our video production staff—also working remotely—then stitched the content together using Adobe Premiere Pro. The resulting videos weren’t as slick as our pre-COVID videos, but they resonated more with members. Now that local health regulations have relaxed somewhat, our video staff uses quality cameras but uses locations inside and outside the Pleasanton member service center in lieu of a dedicated studio. These videos look even better than the smartphone versions, and the non-studio locations feel warmer and more personal. —Tricia Thomas

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Getting insights on improving member experience. We use Listen360 to survey members [about] their interactions with our staff and website. A simple, one-question survey asks, “Would you recommend Mainstreet?” and requests a rating from a scale of 0 to 10. If they rate us a 9 or a 10, it’s a win! If we get a rating lower than that, we have a staff member reach out personally to ask if there is anything we can do to improve our scores next time. Surveys are sent no more than once every 90 days, so members aren’t bombarded with requests, and Listen360 charges a monthly fee based on our membership numbers. —Kim McCoy, RCE, AHWD, E-PRO, vice president of operations, member services, and RPAC fundraising, Mainstreet Organization of REALTORS®, Ill. 

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