What Matters is the Experience of Staff & Members

7th June 2021

For ESAE, Mohamed Mezghani, Secretary General, International Association of Public Transport (UITP), makes the case for a member-intimate organization, the only way for associations in general to stay relevant.

The coronavirus crisis has questioned the way associations serve their members. The impossibility to hold large in-person conferences and exhibitions during the last year and most probably for several more months has forced us to develop new services and engage differently with members. 

Despite the absence of events and in-person meetings, members have never been as engaged and active as they have been during this crisis. Committee meetings attracted many more people, more diverse profiles (more women, more young people) and from more countries, when organized remotely. With active advocacy, strong media engagement, numerous webinars and e-training sessions, a rich production of knowledge papers and study reports, diverse research projects, on-demand initiatives and a close follow up and coverage of COVID-related issues, UITP has offered its members and stakeholders a diverse and dense portfolio of services. We have succeeded to be up to the expectations of members and demonstrate the relevance of the association and the importance of belonging to a community, today more than ever. 

In times of crisis, it’s essential to go back to the basics, the foundations of the organization. And the foundations of an association like UITP are the people: the staff, who work in the association and those we serve, the members, both of whom are engaged by the mission of UITP. Everything else is nothing but means to an end goal: events, studies, committees, trainings, webinars, projects, newsletters, etc. are engagement tools. If you ask members why they join an association or what they want from it, they will never tell you that it is to attend an event or contribute to a project or read a document. Same for most staff, it is less about the salary or the job title. For both, employees and members, it’s their experience of the association which is key. 

“Employee wellbeing is about understanding your employees from a holistic perspective which can only be achieved within organizations that are employee-centric… When people are in a state of wellbeing at work, they’re able to develop their potential, be productive and creative, build positive relationships with others, better cope with stress, and make meaningful contributions.”[1] In other words, if we ensure the wellbeing of our staff, we will make our members happier with our services. 

Wellbeing covers three domains: physical, mental and social. Those three aspects are impacted by the crisis. In UITP, we are developing actions to make sure they have positive impacts on staff engagement, because our employees believe in the higher purpose of the organization and feel belonging to it; on their motivation, because they feel recognized, trusted, empowered and having an impact on the organization; and on personal development, because they perceive they are taken care of at a personal level and see opportunities for professional growth. Measuring performance in terms of staff wellbeing is not about quantifying the input (ex: number of training hours, level of salaries, social benefits, etc.) but rather measuring the output by analyzing the impact on employees in terms of engagement, motivation and personal development. In UITP, we are engaged in measuring those elements via periodic surveys completed by the employees. 

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The approach towards members aims to answer their expectations by offering a personalized experience. The main lesson drawn from the crisis is that we need to be available, proactive and caring. This is what made UITP appreciated and praised by the members and other stakeholders. In other words, it’s important to start from what people want and then develop the right service and the right experience for them. This implies a very good knowledge of their expectations, not only at the company level but also at individual level. The aim is to better know those people, their expectations (from the association), their aspirations (what they dream of), their ambition (how they want to grow), their plans (their company’s projects). This needs to have the right approach, the right behaviours to get to know them better. And it needs to be part of the association culture. The association team has to be proactive and go towards members. It needs time, resources and the right expertise.

This intelligence/knowledge should be structured and shared in an organized way. It may imply revisiting the way the team is organized, acquiring new tools and defining new working processes. This is the way for being a customer-intimate association. “Customer intimacy means segmenting and targeting markets precisely and then tailoring offerings to exactly match the demands of those niches. Companies that excel in customer intimacy engender tremendous customer loyalty… Companies pursuing a strategy of customer intimacy continually tailor and shape products and services to fit an increasingly fine definition of the customer.”[2] We strongly believe in that. That’s the way to attract more members and to retain them.

The crisis was a sharp reminder that members and employees are the foundations of the association. UITP is not an event organizer or a publishing house but a membership association that happens to organize events and publish reports. During the crisis, our WHY did not falter, despite not being able to deliver many of our habitual services. We found alternative ways to achieve our aims by focusing on members and caring about them while caring about the wellbeing of our staff. We are revisiting the member experience, ensuring that each interaction, the whole journey, is designed in a way to be positive and consistent. And this is only possible if we also provide UITP staff with a good experience. “In order to win the market place we must win the workplace” said Christiane Just, Director of Lean Transformation of Transdev, a leading member of UITP. 


[2] ‘Fundamentals of Global Strategy’ by Cornelis A. de Kluyver, University of Oregon, 2012

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