Membership

It’s all About the Membership Experience…

Sébastien Desmet, Head of Membership at UITP, the International Association of Public Transport, makes the case for growing the organization around those who make it what it is: the members. Today, UITP is in the process of building a people-centric approach, focused on a more personable membership experience.

Heading the membership department within a member-led association. This sounds like a self-explanatory description on the process of membership recruitment, engagement, and management. But in an organization built around those who participate in it, what does it truly mean to become a member of one that has existed since 1885? And what is that experience like for more than 1900 of them in over 100 countries? 

The word to highlight here is experience. At UITP we often refer with pride to the fact that we are the only global association of our kind to bring around the table those with a vested interested in advancing sustainable urban mobility. We know that as an international umbrella to operators, networks, and authorities, we can make sure the discussion and debate being held moves us towards the desired outcome: healthier, more liveable cities, built around people. This time I’d like to highlight the word people. If we are a member-led association, and our members are the people who make UITP what it is, what does it mean to consider their actual membership experience? 

Vital collaboration

These past two years have brought unprecedented times to the forefront of every sector around the world. Public transport, and associations themselves, have faced crises like never before. And in times of unpredictability, the need for collaboration is vital. We may have already known the value of public transport to urban life, and the importance of UITP and our members to advocate for that vision, but the strength of community that the sector is known for shone through during the coronavirus pandemic.

With almost 2000 different members now a part of UITP, we must always work to make sure their interests and needs are recognized and met. Throughout the pandemic, we saw the importance of sharing ideas and holding conversations, to showcase what our members were doing, and what the eventual recovery would look like for public transport. Our members worked tirelessly to keep cities across the globe moving, and UITP’s role as an exchange platform for sharing this work has grown. This key role of UITP during these times was shown through our membership retention rate: currently 94%. Our average growth rate has been 3.7% in the last four years, with a peak during the pandemic of 5.5% growth in 2021. 

These figures are a success story for our membership outreach, and the result of very hard work. But we must never be complacent. Alongside seeing the dedication and drive of our members to building back better, UITP came to the realization that we needed to rethink what it meant to be a member of an association defined by its membership. This may sound obvious to consider, but we can only see what best to do, if we take time to recognize where we may be falling short. 

Personalized experience

It is our members who drive the direction of UITP. And moving forward, the members should shine the brightest in an association that puts them first. We’re currently developing a personalized membership experience strategy that will mean from the very first contact, to their lifecycle as a member, they will know what their engagement means to them and UITP. Bringing on board new members helps to grow the association, but the focus is not just on the beginning stages of membership, it is on the entire membership cycle. Existing members should be able to see what their membership is worth, as well as new members who are currently being onboarded. 

By creating a personalized membership experience, we can manage expectations, answer needs, and deliver more personalized products and services. This should include adapting existing services, as much as offering new, more tailored services. Expectations matter, but our members also appreciate results. If we are realistic in what we promise, we increase our chances of delivering on those promises. Our members are making strategical choices every day in their own workplace, and in reviewing our membership strategy, we can make strategical choices to better enhance their experience with us. 

Without the full ability to hold physical events and gatherings, our members can miss the intimate connection this brings. Therefore, a digital experience is key to bridging that gap, and provide members with the opportunity to exchange virtually in a way that still delivers the essential discussion the sector needs. 

Improved journey

Public transport has been tackling the big question of recovery and a new normal moving forward. I want the new normal for our members to be an improved membership journey, where interaction and experience is key to them as individuals. Membership should be driven and targeted, but this is not always the case when you are fortunate to have so many of them call your association home. What does it actually mean to recruit members? How do you make sure you bring on board a new partner in the absolute best way? 

I want all of the members of UITP to understand that our association knows who they are, and what they want and need from us. I don’t want a member to feel like they may not have a place to grow within UITP, or that their experience is less than any other. For them to be part of the community, they should exist within an ecosystem. What are our products? What are our services? And what do they gain from them? I am excited to see our new membership experience strategy answer those questions. 

A welcome pack and a digital handshake are personal touches, but if we are to serve our members, our customers, then we need to have the absolute best customer experience. Recognizing the pain points is as important as acknowledging the success stories. 

Ensuring high membership satisfaction is the target, and we stand the very best chance of growing our retention figures further if we understand membership from their perspective. A member-led association should put the members at the centre of each activity. I come back to the phrase ‘A member-led association.’ Words matter, but actions deliver. Within the membership department that I head, I want each member to experience a journey with us. We’re beginning a new chapter with this approach right now and I hope to share that in detail with you in due course.

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