Personal Contacts, Providing Valuable Services Among Tactics to Keep Retention Rates High

In the recent W.A.C.E. Membership Retention Survey, your chamber showed a low cancellation rate. Identify one or two tactics you have implemented that have contributed to your better-than-average retention rate.

Kim Huggett, IOM
Hayward (CA) Chamber

As anyone who has been to a W.A.C.E. membership workshop knows, it takes far less time and effort retaining members than recruiting new ones. Frankly, we use the fairly traditional retention approach of keeping an eye out for members in arrears, printing out the list and talking among the staff to see who should make a personal contact.

If we’re just unable to make a connection at all that way, we send a warning letter that advises the member about the possibility we’ll have to drop them and the value they’ll be missing out on.

If we eventually send a drop letter, sometimes we’ll get a call from the recipient saying they want to renew and had no idea they were behind in their dues!

Chris Romer,
Vail Valley (CO) Partnership

Retention starts with the right sales approach; we focus on building relationships with prospective members rather than pushing a transaction (sale) to them. For example, we typically don’t pursue businesses to join in their first two years of operation—we send them a welcome letter and try to provide data and other resources to help them succeed, but don’t push membership. We also have a comprehensive outreach retention program for members in their first 2 years of membership to ensure they are engaged through our programs, marketing benefits, and/or events.

Most of our efforts are focused on retention and relationship building rather than transactional sales.

Jill Lagan, ACE,
Boulder City (NV) Chamber

“The Chamber Means Business.” This statement runs along the bottom of every board of director communication. It is important for them to remember why they accepted a board position and that one very key factor is connecting to the members.

By empowering the board members to feel like interacting with our local businesses is their mission and privilege, we have broadened the number of times in a year that a business owner is contacted by a chamber leader and asked, “What can I do for you?”

Our members feel as though we truly care, want them to succeed, are a champion for them and their industry, and do what we can to keep them at the top of our priority list because the chamber means business.

Bill Marcum,
Kelso-Longview (WA) Chamber

We seem to have something for most businesses to stay involved with the chamber—which really means we have a lot of engagement with our members.

We have more than 20 Small Business Boot Camp classes a year to help small business owners better understand their financials, HR, marketing, sales, new laws and regulations, inventory, and taxes. We have a very involved government affairs committee that is actively engaged in the Washington legislature and trying to make our voice heard. Our networking events have more than doubled in attendance the last 5 years. We have a very active Ambassador’s group of 25 local business owners and managers who take great pride in making sure our new members feel welcome and a part of the organization.

So, it really is not one or two things or tactics that make this happen—it is a lot of people (mostly volunteers) doing a lot of things to help our members be more successful in their business. Our members see that effort, participate in that effort and want to continue to be a part of the chamber.

Marnie Uhl, ACE, IOM|
Prescott Valley (AZ) Chamber

Our retention success is a result of our commitment to making personal contact with our members. Each month, members are selected based on a list of questions: Have we seen them recently? Are they up for renewal in a couple months? Are they celebrating a special anniversary?

We then make visits, send notes or cards, or recognize them in social media or print. At holiday time we get creative with our outreach utilizing the holiday theme. In October, we made trick-or-treat bags filled with candy and a coupon to use for a chamber benefit (i.e., business card ad, flyer or entry to a breakfast or luncheon). Our theme was, “At the chamber we never trick you, it is always a treat!” This was received very well and we had fun taking photos with our business members which we published in our chamber news magazine.

We have found that the personal connection goes a long way in making a member feel valued and therefore feeling the chamber is of value to them.

Pat Patrick,
Lodi District (CA) Chamber

We found the silver bullet—being consistent, determined and encouraging. The consistent piece is sending “touches” to the main contact and the individual who signed up, if they are different. Touches are anything from a text to an office call, or a handwritten note to come to a gathering with exposure they’ll appreciate. Be more determined when they don’t show up; try again and have a conversation, maybe a coffee or lunch date—it’s called building the relationship.

Encouraging is key. Our membership director genuinely cares about every member and does her best to deliver value to them. It’s not about what we want them to do; it’s about what can we do for them. Ask that question, then later in the conversation, ask it again a little differently. What people take away is, “She really cares about my business.” It is that quality connection that cements them in the chamber.

It’s too often activity such as these three that gets pushed out by urgent “things” blowing through the chamber. Retention is what our industry calls it, but instead focus on doing something for a member that makes them a member for life.