Author: Jon Smith, Head of Digital, YHA (England and Wales)

About 18 months ago, I gave a talk at the annual MemberWise Digital Excellence conference in London. I spoke about plans for YHA England & Wales to simplify its old, outdated and complex membership scheme in a bid to remain relevant to today’s customers, guests and supporters – and to hopefully reverse the steady decline in its membership base. (Video tip: skip forward to 9mins to see what YHA’s online membership purchase experience used to look like – Ouch!)

It’s interesting to look back at how just complex the project became as we tried to simplify 85+ years worth of membership history. The number of meetings, discussions, papers, plans, designs, prototypes, post-it notes, problem-solving sessions, flow-charts, compromises, approvals and sign-off’s were eye-wateringly painful. It felt at times like it really might not be worth getting another grey hair for. Perhaps settling for the easy life of complexity was all we had the energy for?

At the MemberWise conference, after giving my presentation, I was approached by a few attendees who were facing similar problems in their membership organisations. They asked all sorts of questions like “how did you manage to get internal approval for change?”. “Will the cost of such a big change generate ROI?”. “Will it really make a different to membership numbers and sales once it’s launched?”. Great questions, but at the time I had no concrete answers nor the data to prove the theory. And there were still lots of unresolved issues to sort out before launch. In fact we even changed the model from the version I presented at the conference eventually once we’d finished all of our customer testing, prototyping and financial models.

Fast-forward a few months later when we finally launched the new membership product with much trepidation – would all this effort have been worth it? Oh yes! Overnight YHA’s online membership sales were in double and then triple-digit % growth and have been ever since.

Now, fast-forward to this week and the main reason I decided to reflect on the content of the video (above) all these months later. Today, we celebrated a new record high at YHA, with the most ever online memberships sold in a single week. In fact, 126% more memberships than the same period last year! When I presented our roadmap at the conference I was confident that what we were doing at YHA would make a positive impact on membership, but I never quite imagined that we’d be announcing record-breaking growth in such a short period of time.

I’m really proud and thankful to the people and teams across YHA England & Wales along with our partner agencies who helped to make this happen. It took an army of passionate people across all levels of the organisation to get here. And we’re by no means finished – there’s still so much more work on. But today it became clear that our efforts are paying off and it feels good to play my small part in YHA’s history to help secure its future as a leading youth charity in the UK.

For the six years I’ve been fortunate enough to work at YHA, I’ve been on a mission to avoid the easy-life and settle for just giving users complex solutions – which is just an excuse for poor thinking or lack of effort to sort out the hard stuff.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. And what we’re proving, project after project at YHA, is that it’s also the linchpin of successful user experience and design.