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Though most associations are nonprofits and therefore don’t always adhere to the same market pressures that you’ll find within the for-profit sector, their needs align in at least one major way: just as for-profit businesses must attract and keep customers, nearly every association is trying to attract and keep new members. But while businesses have wholly embraced case management tools within their CRMs in order to closely track their interactions, both good and bad, with customers, many associations have eschewed case management in favor of less efficient systems.

What is case management? It’s a tool within CRM that allows you to open and track a case file on every single customer or member. When a customer reaches out for support, you can open up their case file and see their service level agreement as well as documentation of every past interaction with them. In addition to seeing information on individual members, you can zoom out and look at company-wide trends. Let’s say you see an uptick in customers who are having problems with a specific part of your website. That signals to you that you should probably revisit that page and address whatever’s causing the issues. Without case management, identifying system-wide problems is much more difficult because the organization must rely on anecdotal reporting from customer support representatives.

But despite facing the need for tracking member interactions, at both the micro and macro level, many associations have been slow to adopt case management, even when they’re already using association management software. “When it’s a small association, sometimes you might only have one person who’s handling all the customer support,” said Allison Jones, a software project consultant at Cobalt who works with associations to get the most out of their AMS. “If they are collecting data, it’s only on a personal Excel sheet. There’s no system in place tracking this information outside maybe a shared folder.”

This creates a number of inefficiencies whereby the association is addressing each member complaint as an isolated incident instead of developing processes that will speed up the time between when a member files a complaint and when it’s resolved. “It’s very time consuming,” said Jones. “Typically if it’s just one person handling customer support, then they’re probably encountering the same issues over and over again whereas if they had a centralized database they could simply copy and paste the solution, but instead they have to start from scratch. And if someone else comes on board at that association and they don’t have a clue as to the support issues in the past, then it’s even more inefficient.”

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Perhaps more important than how an association addresses individual member problems is whether it can fix systemic issues, and this is dependent on whether it has reliable data from which it can observe trends. “They will be able to track cases opened by region, by category, or even by month,” said Liudmyla Tretter, another Cobalt consultant. “So for example, if the data indicates to me that on a particular month, for some reason, people are all calling with the same complaint, then that’s an indication that something is wrong, and so you can identify why it’s wrong, how it’s wrong, and how the association should address it in the future.”

A case management system also allows you to quickly determine what you’ve promised a customer in terms of which services you’re offering them and how long it will take you to resolve an issue. “You can configure the CRM with the service level agreements for each member,” said Tretter. “And you can tell the system you want to resolve problems within, say, five days, and if it’s not resolved by then the system should send an email to the manager of the project to signal to them that we need to do something about this case because it’s against our general association policy to wait this long.”

In fact, all sorts of workflows can be put in place within case management in terms of who is notified about which issue. You can configure the CRM so that members are prioritized based on criteria ranging from how influential they are on social media to how long they’ve been a member. After all, if a person with 50,000 Twitter followers is complaining loudly about your services, you want to address them as soon as possible before they can inflict more reputational damage.

Implementing case management at an association not only makes for more efficient customer service, it also becomes necessary once the association reaches a certain size or expands its offerings. At some point you start getting so many calls on so many separate issues that, without streamlining your responses, the process becomes unmanageable. Better to adopt case management before you suddenly find yourself facing what every association hopes to avoid: angry members.

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