Seven months ago Dan Dummermuth took the helm of the YMCA of Middle Tennessee in Nashville. He didn’t waste any time getting a serious member engagement initiative underway. Systematic engagement is something Dan had already rolled out at his previous YMCA in Colorado Springs. Since his new Y in Nashville is a much larger operation, with centers that are literally hundreds of miles apart, a consistent approach to engagement became even more imperative. I had the pleasure to interview Dan a few days ago to see how the new efforts are going, and he was kind enough to allow me to share his thoughts here.
Why is engagement important?
When it comes to membership, engagement is critical for us. It’s why we do what we do. We have to understand individual needs, as well as those of the entire family, to connect them with appropriate services that will help them get where they want to be, from a holistic perspective. That's critical…and we need tools to do that. We need the data to measure the approach and adjust when needed. We need to put staff in a position to be successful on that. We have to assign the right people to our engagement effort…some people are better at building that relationship than others. In addition to having the right people, we’re putting together engagement training to help them be successful.
Why do Y's typically struggle with systematic engagement?
I think a lot of it is the sheer volume of people coming through our doors. What happens a lot of time on the engagement side of things is the capacity of the staff is tested. We already ask staff to do so much, and taking a systematic approach to engaging members is one more thing. So as leaders we have to take a hard look at that. If engagement is going to be a priority, if we really want to help people--and grow revenue by adding members and stem attrition by keeping members-- we have to make engaging them a priority. Sometimes we may have people in the wrong roles, or lack adequate training to make engagement successful. So that’s something to evaluate too.
What results do you expect to see from your engagement program?
We used to do a 13-month snapshot on retention--that’s one way to measure it-- but we’re now looking at 120-day retention too, and that is getting an increased focus. As we look at overall retention throughout the entire year, of course we want to see a percentage increase there. We’ll be measuring member giving too; if our members are engaged at a much higher level, they’re going to understand our organization, and I believe our member contributions should go up. I have seen that happen when we start getting the engagement part right. So overall, I think we’ll see overall membership revenue increase, our member acquisition rates will improve when we truly engage at the point of contact, and member contributions will increase.
What value do you see in the software component, Daxko Engage?
Engage will help us capture information much better than we have been doing, especially if we go to tablets and can plug in information as we are talking with prospective members when we interact with them. It also allows us to understand their needs to a higher degree--to get to know the member, to understand the member, to know their interests, and to communicate more effectively—it’s how we can support them as we move them along on the journey to a healthier lifestyle. Finally, Engage is going to automate certain triggers that need to happen along the way and assign them to the appropriate staff. We will have visibility into all of that, to see what’s getting done and where we still need to improve.
Operationally speaking, how are you staffing and training for the roll-out of your engagement initiatives?
We have staff with roles as “greeters” and “connecters.” The greeters are there to meet and welcome members. Then we have connecters; they’re the ones that are really driving our engagement program. So that’s how we’re structured now. We have a full launch planned in December, when we plan to roll Engage out beyond our wellness program to include aquatics, child-watch, and so on throughout the entire operation. We are being really strategic about how we implement this in alignment with our priorities, versus just “turning it on.”
Do you have some advice for other Ys thinking about rolling out an engagement program?
You’ve got to position staff to be successful. In most cases, you can’t just drop this in and keep the same structure you had before. You have to look at the capacity of your staff. You may have to take some things off their plate. You may need to assess some staff. Do they have the skillsets needed to really drive this? You also have to make sure you have ownership at the branch level so that the right activities are taking place and branch leadership is bought in to the priority. We’re driving this at the senior level and talking about the importance of engagement at our planning meetings. We are measuring the metrics that we have set, and we are learning from each other on why some centers are more successful than others. We are creating a culture of support for the overall initiative. We are really just getting started, but from my perspective, staff preparedness, focus, and buy-in from the senior team are non-negotiable for success.