July 1, 2008

#10: Three Lessons Learned from the Airline Industry

So I was thinking recently about things the airline industry has done lately (mostly all negative for customers), and saw a few lessons that we can learn to enhance our efforts as we move forward as association professionals.

1. Don't give away the lot for free to start - What the airlines did that was faulty was give away everything for free to start. They didn't charge for checking baggage, refreshments on the plane, or anything else for which they're now charging - things that people value. Now that they are charging for them, people are flabbergasted that they are being made to pay for these services, in which they would have found value had there been a charge from the very beginning.

People will pay for what they value, and we as association professionals should never forget that. Just look at what ASAE has done with charging for all of the webinars they produce and meetings you can attend. You know that what they are going to give you will be of value, so you pay to either attend a meeting or listen to a webinar. Provide value to your members, and you won't have to give away the lot for free.

2. Listen to your customers/members - If the airlines were smart, they would start listening to their customers, who have continually said that they would rather pay higher fares than be nickled and dimed to death upon arriving at the airport.

Perhaps this is something we can learn when looking at Conference attendance or educational sessions throughout the year... Perhaps if we gave our members a chance to share their thoughts on how they'd prefer to pay, we could learn a great deal and provide them with the experience that they want, before they have the chance to complain like airline passengers have been recently.

3. Efficiency Loss is Bad for Business - I think back to the Visa Check Card commercials that I have seen and how when someone uses cash, everything (the music, the dancing, the beautiful motion of the commercial) stops... That's what's happening at the airports today. You show up for a flight, and each person who is checking a bag now has to get their credit card swiped to pay additional charges. This loss of efficiency is not good for the airlines, and it certainly is not good for associations.

With many of our associations being very small staffed, we need to be planning and thinking about how everything we do is going to not only be in the best interest of the members, but also be efficient for members and the staff. How would a change like what's happening in the airline industry right now affect your small staff's efficiency and effectiveness as you move forward? Would you lose membership because your dues process for example was not efficient for members? How about if your convention registration process wasn't efficient for the members, and when they arrived, each and every one of them were made to pay an additional $XX at the registration desk? Planning, planning, planning...

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