By Guest Blogger:

Sarah Alder, Digital Marketing Professional

Cranmore Digital


It was great to meet so many MemberWise members at Digital Excellence this week.  A busy, buzzy conference, we all came away with our heads crowded with new ideas.

I chaired the Futures track and I thought I would share my reflections on my day. Hopefully it will ring some bells with those who attended one or more of the sessions, and give a taster of what the event was like for those who couldn’t make it.

We started out with Alastair McCapra of CIPR discussing the role of the professional and how AI will impact that. He illustrated this point with examples of how pilots are trained and how the rise of the autopilot has impacted that. His conclusion was that professionals will continue to be needed, because the robots can do the tasks but we still need human intelligence for understanding context and dealing with sensitive subjects. The challenge will be to train the professionals of the future, as they won’t build up their skills from completing routine tasks in the early stages of their careers.

This tied in well with the presentation from Adam Thompson and Azhar Baig later in the morning, who told us about Mia, the chatbot for member enquiries at ICAEW. Mia answers questions on a range of membership topics, and she provides the 24/7 service that ICAEW needs to serve its global membership.  Despite initial concerns internally that the chatbot would give the wrong answers or take people’s jobs, the project has been very successful and led to new roles for training the chatbot, focusing on the conversations that get only 1 or 2 star ratings.  ICAEW aims to make this a multi-platform service and to enable Mia to hand the conversation over to a human member service agent when it is a complex or sensitive issue.

Interestingly, the presentation from Matt Day at Liquona, talking about the use of moving images in member communication, from video to 360 video to virtual and augmented reality, showed us some of the ways we might train future professionals. Providing immersive scenarios to test their knowledge and skills for instance.  Rachel Wilson from CIPS and Louella Morton from Test Reach illustrated how the assessment of professional skills can be enhanced by digital technology, and indeed how the student and member experience of studying and qualifying can be brought in line with the kind of online experience they have in other parts of their lives. Could this be the end of the three hour, hand-written exam at last?

A large part of the challenge of using digital to improve our future offering is getting from where we are now to where we want to be.  We had three presentations that focused on this.  Liam Giles of Spindogs and Emma Waddingham, consultant to CILEX talked about how they had created Regulation Matters for CILEX as a powerful online communications channel.  Roger Garside, Consultant IT Manager at Nautilus International and Richard Coope of the MTM agency, showed how they have brought the union’s entire membership offer online and made it a great experience for the members, whether they are at sea or onshore.  Rachel Warden of the European Association for Cancer Researchers told us how they stopped producing their yearbook, that had to be posted to 10,000 members in  100 countries and created an online news and information platform, with a very small budget.

From those three presentations, we saw that although creativity and good understanding of the tech is needed, what drives the success of those projects is:

Really understanding what members want: Nautilus did very detailed research, EACR ran a competition for blog entries related to members’ work and found out a huge amount about what they do.

Getting senior management buy-in, not just to the budget but to the online interactions and the transformation of the customer experience: CILEX’s chief exec’s involvement in the new platform on a day-to-day basis was crucial to member take-up.

The future is digital but it’s digital in service of what members need. Russ Magnusson of Results Direct Mobile, who provide the conference app, spoke about creating apps for members and the need to find something that truly adds value.  His analogy was with the Waze traffic app (if you haven’t tried it, do, if only so you can understand Russ’ point, which is a good one). Waze takes an everyday, very real, problem that people face – being stuck in traffic when they have to get somewhere – and uses technology to crowd source information about what’s happening, deliver it to you in your car in real time, in a format that is visual and voice controlled.  Russ’ challenge to anyone thinking of producing an app was to ask yourself “How can I create a Waze-equivalent for my members?”.

The presentations will be available to delegates in a week or so (you’ll be emailed the link).  If this inspires you, then our next conference is Membership Excellence on 2 My 2019, find out more here and put the data in your diary.

I’m an experienced digital marketing professional with a keen eye for spotting opportunities and turning ideas into business plans. I have been advising clients for over 10 years.

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