A year ago, while reopening for the first time after shutdown, the Greater Green Bay YMCA reevaluated their operations. Reopening required new strategies and solutions to get members back in their doors. To help with the transition, they enlisted a virtual engagement assistant through Conversica. We sat down with Greater Green Bay’s Membership and Program Manager, Michelle Gillespie, to learn more about her experience using a virtual assistant and how it has helped her organization thrive.
How did you first hear about virtual assistants in YMCAs, and what was your initial reaction?
We heard about the tool being used by YMCAs prior to COVID-19, but had decided it wasn’t the right time for us then. We had a sales team in place, and didn't see where the technology fit in. During the shutdown we sadly had to release our sales team. So, after the shutdown we had to reevaluate our needs. We needed to get members back in the door, but we had limited staff.
We decided to give Conversica’s virtual assistant another look and decided to implement the tool in August 2020. At that point, I was still not 100% on board. I was trying to figure out exactly how the virtual assistant was going to do this job. After talking to the support team, I realized I had actually interacted with a virtual assistant in some Daxko emails. In those back-and-forth emails, I had no idea I was interacting with a virtual tool and not a person. That’s when it clicked. I really couldn't tell the difference. So that understanding of how the tool works made me feel comfortable sending these communications to potential members.
How has using a virtual assistant changed your day-to-day responsibilities?
Conversica does all the legwork for us.
Before, with a bigger sales team, I would generate lists of potential prospects and divide that list amongst the team. We would investigate the prospect’s potential, their history with our organization, if they were in our system, and then devise the best follow-up strategy. We contacted them manually on day one, day two, day three, day four, day five, etc. It used to be about how many people we could feasibly contact in one day and how we could best follow up in the coming days and months.
Conversica eliminated almost all of that. Now, I get a list to put into the system and the virtual assistant does everything else. This allows me to manage way more prospects and be far more efficient. There's a lot less manual follow-up because the assistant does it all. Whether it's days or months later, Conversica’s virtual assistant maintains contact in the right ways. And I can easily see exactly when each communication happened.
Can you talk about the overall reception and experience of your staff learning to use a virtual assistant?
Actually, it was pretty easy. When we reopened, before we brought in Conversica, we were expecting our frontline staff to follow up with people that had canceled their memberships. Our frontline membership staff is not a sales team, so many of them were not thrilled about having to make calls.
Once we shared Conversica with them and said, “Here’s a system that is going to help us really target old and potential members and does the legwork for you,” people were on board for that! We did have a little bit of a reset time with training, but I think that's true with any new tool. Overall, it fit nicely into our operations.
Do you have success stories of people joining your Y as a result of emails sent by your virtual assistant?
Our biggest success has been from campaigns that target people who have been to our facility with day and guest passes. Those prospects are already tied into our facility. They've come in and know what to expect. I'm most curious to see what happens when we target people that have no ties to our facility, or maybe haven't been in since they were kids. I want to see if I get any success from that type of prospect. I'm still building that out, but when we launch, we’ll be targeting a list of like 6,000 names. The majority of those people have never been in our facility before. With Conversica, sending that many emails it is totally easy for me to manage.
What kind of messages have been effective in getting responses from prospects and members?
What’s interesting is that it can take six or seven emails before a response comes in, but it’s that consistency that keeps us at the forefront of their minds. I remember our sales team saying it takes 5, 6, 7 times before people respond. I look at this and I think, “Now it’s 5, 6, 7 automated emails.” You can't replicate the amount of work that Conversica is able to do in the same amount of time.
What do you tell organizations who are apprehensive about using a virtual assistant?
We have not had any members reach out and say, “I'm talking to a robot!” If anything, the feedback we get is people calling in or coming in and asking to talk to Riley Hanson, the name of our assistant. We typically reply that “Riley works from home, but we're happy to help you with whatever you need!” So, it hasn’t been a detriment to the image of our organization at all.
I think the biggest comfort was the fact that I experienced it through Daxko. When I realized I had interacted with a virtual assistant on the member end, it clicked! There was nothing to “give it away” as virtual. So, that made me feel much better about it. I would also share with them that the fields are customizable and easy to change. It easily becomes a conversation with prospects and members created from words you want the assistant to use.
In terms of return on investment, I think of it this way: I can spend an hour uploading a list, pulling a conversation together, and I can immediately contact a thousand people. You just cannot do that manually in such a short period of time.
I can see if people are actually opening up the emails, and it really maintains the right contact in the right ways. It saves us so much time.
Are there any other ways you’re using your assistant that you’d like to share?
Yes, a couple of ways! Our promotion for youth programs this fall. We're building something from scratch and want to see what kind of excitement we can generate with more of that targeted method, instead of just sending it out to everybody in our system who fits this age group. We can narrow the age groups down a little bit more. We can pull people from similar programs in the past.
The other program we’re looking to highlight is our small group training. We haven't really done much to target our current members. We are going to target existing members to steer them towards what we call our Smart Start Coaching Program, with a fitness evaluation and a free personal training session.
We've also tossed around the idea of using the assistant for a little bit of fundraising, and I think our team eventually will launch some campaigns for that.
I love our Conversica virtual assistant!
Michelle described herself as what organizations call a “Y brat.” The Y was always a home for her. She was part of the gymnastics team from age 6 all the way up through high school. After college, Michelle started coaching gymnastics until her oldest started kindergarten. At this point she needed work with more traditional hours and moved into the membership field. She has been in different membership roles for the last 10 or 11 years at the Greater Green Bay YMCA.