How to Avoid Over-Communication
By Dr. William D. Ivers, CEO, Clubessential
Two years ago a typical club website looked a lot like the old traditional newsletters – everything a member would want to know jammed together in a few pages. Now that the club website has become the primary vehicle for club communication, more and more information is being posted online – far more than could ever be printed in a single newsletter – and website administrators are growing concerned about “NOISE.” NOISE occurs when a member seeking information opens the website but can’t find what they want among pages and pages of irrelevant information (irrelevant to them at that moment). Many clubs are combating the NOISE problem by adding new sections to the website so a member can navigate to pages just focused on, for example; Dining, Golf, Tennis, Banquet Planning, Poker, Bridge, Wine Tasting, etc.
As the number of sections increases, it is easy to fall into the error of thinking that the objective is to provide even MORE information, but that can actually increase the NOISE. The key is to identify the objectives of different groups of visitors to the website (e.g., those looking for a poker game), and provide each group with an easy way to find exactly what they need, quickly. In this way you are “targeting” different groups of members with messages that match their profiles. More importantly, you are shielding them from messages they won’t want or need to see.
The same principles apply with email communication. Frequent emails are essential for creating a successful, highly visited website. But it only takes a few e mails that are NOISE before members start tuning out all club communications. For example, sending emails about the swim team and summer camps to members without children might be considered NOISE because it is not relevant to them. They may even “opt-out” or tell their service provider that your emails are “SPAM.” Once this happens, you will have a difficult job re-establishing Internet communication with these members.
There are several ways to reduce NOISE in outgoing communication to members:
- Target the member groups who have an interest in the subject, while shielding the rest from it
- Personalize messages with specific information needed by the targeted member (for example, the actual “minimum balance” remaining to be used by the member before a certain date)
- Choose the right communication medium (a cell phone text message may be the best way to announce a frost delay, but a phone call might be best in the event of an emergency)
Among the 100 or so enhancements Clubessential released in the first half of 2007 (including its new NetCaddy tee time reservations system), are four new developments that can help club administrators reduce NOISE, improve targeting and increase members’ appreciation of the value of the club communications they receive:
1. POS Transaction Targeting
Early in 2006 Clubessential began re-writing the way its Online Member Statements system captured data from member billing systems and point of sale systems. The easy way to display statements is to capture the final result and post it for member review. But Clubessential had more ambitious goals: we wanted to capture all the underlying data and reorganize it so we could analyze it and report on trends within the club. We completed this project in early 2007.
The first result of this effort is now available to all Online Member Statement customers at no additional charge: POS Transaction Targeting. Clubessential administrators have the ability to create “Dynamic Groups” – lists of members who fit the administrator’s rules based on their marketing data profile. A club could create a Dynamic Group that contains all the members whose birthday occurs in the following week. Then an automated email could be set up to invite those with birthdays to celebrate at the club. POS Transaction Targeting extends Dynamic Groups with rules based on the buying habits of members as reflected in the point of sale transactions. For example, a Dynamic Group could contain any member who had purchased Glenfiddich scotch (or other brands) in the prior 12 months. This could be used to create targeting for emails on the upcoming scotch tasting.
Dynamic Groups can also be used to create reports exported to Excel for further analysis. This gives club managers a quick way to analyze sales patterns of various items in the club.
Dynamic Groups, by the way, have also been enhanced with a much improved user interface – if you have not used dynamic groups recently, please give them a try. Every Clubessential user received the enhanced Dynamic Groups features at no extra charge. All users of the Online Member Statement system received the POS Transaction Targeting at no additional charge. And please note that these systems do not require any extra software from Jonas or ClubSystems Group, no matter what you have been told by others. Finally, POS Transaction Targeting is an automatic process – point of sale data will drive Dynamic Group rules “real time” without any intervention by accounting or other staff. If you would like more training on Dynamic Groups or POS Transaction Targeting, please contact your Personal Support Manager.
2. Personalization With Statement Data
Clubessential’s “Snippet” mail merge feature allows personalization of webpages and emails with data pulled from the online marketing database (for example, a member’s name, phone number, address, etc. can all be placed as Snippets which will be filled in with data personalized for the member who is reading). Clubs with Clubessential’s Online Member Statements can now use any data in the member statement as a Snippet. So, for example, an automated email could be designed that would go out every month to members who have amounts past due 60 days, showing the exact amount and with a link back to the statement on the website for review. Clubs who use minimums will find this feature very useful. Minimums have always had two big disadvantages: 1) some members blitz the club with phone calls to get their exact balance – this is irritating for both members and staff and also a bit tacky; 2) other members lose their minimums and only find out after the fact, at which point they are angry because no one said anything. Now you can use emails with minimum balances – sent only to those who have a positive balance – to remind members just in time.
This new ability to personalize communication with statement Snippets has been delivered free to all Clubessential clients using Online Member Statements.
3. Just-In-Time Opt-In Group Signups
One way to target members with the right mailings is by setting up Opt-In groups that the member can select from their profile page. Members can control what they get directly without any guessing or update chores on the part of the staff. And they can change their minds, too. The problem with Opt-In groups is that it is hard to get the members to review their profiles, setting their preferences.
Clubessential’s new “just-in-time” Opt-In feature lets the administrator associate an Opt-In station right next to the event or service description it relates to. So, for example, if there is a webpage devoted to bridge, there could be a place on that page for an Opt-In station, where a member could check a box to receive mailings on bridge. Members can be given the option to send a message to other selected members suggesting that they also sign up for this particular Opt-In group using Clubessential's member selector.; Members are much more likely to “Opt-In” when the opportunity is given to them just as they read about an event or service, or when a friend suggests they sign up.
Just-In-Time Opt-In stations are now available to any Clubessential client, at no additional charge.
4. SMS Messaging
You probably know people who use text messaging over their Blackberry or cell phone, and the trend keeps growing. Since some members of your club would prefer to receive certain kinds of messages by “SMS Messaging” (also known as text messaging), Clubessential has added this communication medium to the standard features of its Axis website, at no additional charge.
Now you can further target your members by choosing which medium to use (text only email, HTML email, telephone call and now, SMS text message). Text messages are particularly useful in situations where brief reminders or confirmations are appropriate – that is why Clubessential has integrated SMS text messaging into its NetCaddy tee time reservations systems.
Modern Website Technology –
A Moving Target
About three years ago Clubessential introduced the first “full canvas, in-place” WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor. Then eighteen months later we introduced the first full-canvas template support in the market. Today we offer over 200 stock templates for use by our clients. We also created and staffed our Studio Design Group so we could build custom templates for clients on demand.
In this email we have announced four significant features that will help clubs reduce NOISE and better communicate to members. These features involve tight integration with accounting data – tighter integration than any offered by the accounting vendors themselves. For example we expect our Dynamic Groups feature to be used as an auxiliary report generator for products such as the Jonas member billing system, where designing new reports is difficult and running reports a lengthy chore.
Each of these enhancements is an example of an Industry First from Clubessential and each illustrates that when we release a new feature we build it correctly with a proper foundation so that it can be expanded into the future and tightly integrated with all other aspects of our clients’ environment.
It may not be clear today what will be standard practice for Internet communication in three years, but what is clear is that Clubessential is breaking ground by delivering new developments every day and not just promising that new features are “Coming Soon.”