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How to find actionable insights in membership surveys

While there are many ways for membership organizations to gather feedback from their members, the most common is the membership survey.

Getting direct responses from your members through surveys is the easiest way to understand their experience with your association. Surveys provide an objective way to understand their likes and dislikes and identify areas for improvement. However, the responses you get will only be as good as the survey you create. An unwise choice of poorly written membership survey questions will diminish the quality of information you get from your audience.

Collecting high-quality feedback requires taking the time to plan what you want to find out and how you’ll go about it. Simply thinking of seemingly relevant questions and hoping you get helpful answers isn’t going to cut it.

Planning membership satisfaction surveys

Before you begin to create your survey, you need to know what you want to find out. Is it a certain aspect of the member experience, or the full journey? Is there a particular area of your offering you want to dive into, such as the effectiveness of events or the helpfulness of your publications?

Once you’ve defined what you want to find out, you’ll need to decide how to phrase the questions. This is critical to getting the survey right. Leading questions, or questions based on existing theories, will not provide the objective data you need. To truly understand what members think, you should avoid anything that might influence their answers.

A question such as ‘Why are our membership events good?’ could dissuade honest feedback from those who disagree. If you rephrased this to ‘What do you think of our membership events?’, respondents wanting to suggest improvements can express their views more freely.

It’s also important to phrase questions in a way that stands the test of time. Part of the value of member surveys is seeing how their opinion of different elements of the experience with the organization changes over time. This allows you to judge the impact of any changes you’ve made.

You’ll also need to decide how to structure your survey to maximise the information you gather. The better the responses you obtain, the more likely it is you’ll be able to turn member feedback into initiatives that drive member satisfaction and retention. Surveys are often geared towards responses which gather quantitative data, for example, asking participants to give a rating from 1-10. While this can tell you what they think, it doesn’t tell you why they think it. This is where open-ended membership survey questions can help.

Use open-ended membership survey questions

Historically, you probably designed membership surveys to extract as much quantitative data as possible. While this is understandable – data involving numbers has previously been easier to analyze – it means you aren’t fully tapping into respondents’ thought processes.

Using open-ended questions in your membership satisfaction survey allows you to do this. Encouraging respondents to tell you why they feel a certain way will elicit actionable insights. While these responses have previously been difficult to analyze and use in a meaningful way, recent advances in text analysis technology have made it a far less manual process.

Given the difficulty membership organizations have had in analyzing open-ended survey responses in the past, you may have created surveys where you have preempted responses to questions which seek to discover why participants have said or done something. This is the worst thing you can do to obtain objective feedback. Pigeonholing participants into giving certain answers won’t get to the heart of what they really think.

Including well-crafted, open-ended survey questions will allow your members to freely give their opinions, rather than imposing your biases or hypotheses onto them as can happen when imposing a list of predetermined options.

Collect as much member data as you can

The phrase ‘membership satisfaction survey’ is often preceded by the word ‘annual’. To get to the heart of what members think, you should be collecting feedback on an ongoing basis. Membership organizations that are only conducting surveys annually need to look to the biggest consumer brands. These companies do all they can to understand their customers’ needs, likes and dislikes – including surveying them regularly. It’s something successful member associations must do too.

Getting responses from members on a rolling basis vastly improves your organization’s agility. Not only will this allow you to keep track of trends and conversations you know about, but also enables you to quickly identify new topics which your members are discussing, allowing you to respond and tailor your offering.

For example, say you conduct your annual satisfaction survey in September. In your latest survey, you find that there’s a huge increase in the number of members who suggest you hold webinars and other training events in the summer when workloads tend to be lower for them and their teams. By only surveying members once a year, you have to wait nine months until you can deliver on this feedback.

During this period, unengaged members who may have derived value from these events, and therefore become more engaged, may have cancelled their subscription. If you’d conducted a quarterly survey instead, you may have discovered the summer event preference in March, altered your events calendar and engaged those members who left.

Another critical factor in gathering insightful information is to create a feedback program for all members. While it’s great to have engaged members who make the most of their membership, are regulars at all of your events and respond to every survey, they’re also the people you need to hear from the least.

Unengaged members are the ones who can help you develop a better member experience. Getting feedback from people not renewing their subscriptions is vital to improving what you do. This means you need to create a survey plan which reaches all three of these groups.

Get the most from your membership satisfaction surveys with a survey analysis tool

Increasing the amount of data you collect also increases what you have to analyze. This is the challenge you need to overcome to ensure you have sufficient information about your members.

Thankfully, the days of manual survey analysis are over. Not only can you easily track the quantitative aspects of a survey, now you can also get to grips with open-ends through text analysis. By using a survey analysis platform that is equipped to derive insights from text, you can get to the heart of what your members are talking about quickly and easily.

You can then use the insights uncovered by your survey analytics tool to find out why your members are taking certain actions, rather than just what they are doing. This will then inform your programming, communications, attraction and retention strategies.

Relative Insight’s text analysis tool is being used by membership organizations to get to the heart of their open-ended survey data. Using the platform allows you to:

  • Analyze text data quickly and at scale
  • Rapidly identify what is most important
  • Get an unbiased view of your data

Using a comparative approach, Relative Insight can surface the differences and similarities in multiple data sets. For example, by comparing survey responses from engaged and disengaged members, you can identify topics which are unique to each type of member – and take action on the issues raised by disengaged members.

Our platform also provides context around members’ decisions. Quantitative data can tell you that more members are cancelling, however, analyzing text data at scale will add a qualitative dimension that tells you why.

Find out more about how membership organizations have used the tool to hone their strategies in our upcoming webinar.