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The Member is Always Right

January 04, 2020 12:41 PM | Anonymous

By Anna Jovel
SOS Account Executive
About Anna

I spent eight years in the wonderful world of restaurant customer service. It is a faced paced, demanding, ever changing environment. However, between each restaurant, each new position, and each new management turnover, one thing remained the same: the customer is always right.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “What? No one is ever always right.” And that is entirely correct, they are not always right, but the goal is to make them feel like they are. To ensure the happiness of the customer, they need to feel valued, heard, and appreciated.

The same idea applies in the association world, but instead of the customer it is the member who needs to feel valued, heard, and appreciated, maybe even more so since they are usually paying money to be a part of the association.

Some members are really engaged. They know the ins and outs of the organization, they can maneuver the website, are always on time to events, and never forget to pay their dues. These members are the easy ones to show value and patience.

On the other end, there will always be the member who forgot to register for Monday’s event, or who cannot figure out how to pay their dues online because they swear the website isn’t working even though you were just on it and someone else had literally just paid their dues online. So how do we make those difficult members still feel valued as a part of the association?

1. Do things with a smile on your face, in person and on the phone. Yes, I know no one can see you, just do it! Psychology Today states that body language is 55% percent of our communication, vocal tone of voice is 38% and words spoken are only 7% of how others interpret our communication (Thompson, “Is Nonverbal Communication a Numbers Game?”). It is known that most people respond positively to a smile, and when you are smiling, it tends to change your tone of voice. This presents a more welcoming and positive atmosphere that can make your members feel welcome right from the get-go.

So why do you need to smile on the phone when the member cannot see your smile? The Psychology Department at the University of Portsmouth in the U.K. held a study that “investigated the vocal communication of naturally occurring smiles.”  The study found that “listeners can discriminate different smile types and further indicated that listeners utilize prototypical ideals to discern whether a person is smiling. Some acoustical cues appear to be taken by listeners as strong indicators of a smile, regardless of whether the speaker is actually smiling” (Drahota et al. 2) So, the member may not be able to see you smile, but they can hear the acoustical cues in your voice to interpret a smile, and that is just as important.

2. Restate some of their words and/or thoughts when you are conversing back with them. This makes them feel heard because you are using their exact words to help identify their concern and it reiterates that we truly listened to the words they used to express themselves.

3. Sometimes, we just have to say “okay.” We live in a world with multiple generations, different learning styles, different personality types. We all function differently and prefer to do things in a certain style. Because of that there will never not be the difficult member and sometimes all someone wants is to be heard and helped.

4. Find a happy medium. As I mentioned before, the member is not always going to be right, so how do we tell them they aren’t? Often, there is some type of solution to whatever problem is occurring. We can compromise, see what is available, discuss with our peers and our Board to address a situation. And when there is not…. As I mentioned before, politely explain what can and cannot be done, and do it with a smile on your face.

All these tactics together will ensure that you can be the best administrator, director, or executive for your association. The members are the key to an association's success, without members, there is no association, so we want to be sure to keep them happy!


Drahota, Amy & Costall, Alan & Reddy, Vasudevi. (2008). The Vocal Communication of Different Kinds of Smile. Speech Communication. 50. 278-287. 10.1016/j.specom.2007.10.001.

Thompson, Jeff. “Is Nonverbal Communication a Numbers Game?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 2011, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beyond-words/201109/is-nonverbal-communication- numbers-game.


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