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keith-skillman-e1415825825472By Keith Skillman, CAE, VP, Publications and Knowledge Integration, ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership
Past President, KCSAE

During our May KCSAE event at Lidia’s, presenter Reggie Henry, CAE, the CIO of ASAE, underscored associations’ need to integrate into their constituents’ digital world by reminding us that we’re operating in The Age of the Customer—and have been since roughly 2010. The source of Henry’s friendly admonition was a report by research and advisory firm Forrester, whose CEO, John Colony, had this to say about the shift from an age of information to an environment characterized by customer control: Buyers are “using technology to gain control over institutions. That power flows from customers’ newfound ability to seamlessly price, critique, and direct their purchases.”

While Henry’s presentation focused on developing IT structures that appreciate members’ and customers’ needs and perspectives, it’s fair to say that stakeholder expectations shaped by a digital world hold implications for everything we do. Even if we’re not always entirely comfortable with the concept, we’ve understood for a while that the game is not that members are buying what we’re selling but rather this: We have to be selling what they’re buying.

Further, a customer-focused strategy has to go far beyond using feedback to inform the programs and services we bring to market. We have to obsessively focus on understanding our stakeholders’ perspectives: What are their characteristics? What are their mindsets? What are their behaviors? What problems are they trying to solve? On this front, we probably have a leg up. In associations, we enjoy a close relationship to our customers, particularly those who are our members, and we get engagement.

But that isn’t enough. We have to design from the customer’s perspective. If we’re thinking about engagement only with a mindset of persuading our members and customers to do what we’d like them to do, maybe we’re not doing as well as we could be. The customer age demands that we design our offerings through a lens of our customers’ definitions of value, not ours—which is the topic of the May KCSAE program “Leading Engagement From the Outside In.”

Your KCSAE board, committees, and task forces have been taking these ideas to heart and mind, particularly as the association focuses on the education and networking opportunities you’ve told us over and over are the most highly valued KCSAE offerings. But appreciating your perspective at that high level is not enough. We have to dig deeper. For instance, while the recent member needs survey tells us that 98 percent of respondents consider KCSAE education very important or important, it also reveals a spread of preferences for which topics and types of engagement opportunities you consider the best—some of which break down to professional role or career stage. Many of you also took the time to tell us about things you would like to see and challenges you are facing. What should the interplay of understanding tell us about designing KCSAE experiences? Rest assured, your perspectives, pain points, and questions will be invaluable as the association moves ahead on a programming and networking strategy designed to meet you where you live, so to speak. You will read and hear more about programming and networking initiatives in the coming weeks and months. Meanwhile, I hope you will join us for the May program and that you will continue to help KCSAE develop offerings through your eyes.

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