Membership Analysis: The Huntington Historical Society

A few years ago, I moved from Brooklyn to Huntington — a village about an hour outside of Manhattan. Since then, I’ve become rather fascinated with Huntington history.

(I live and work just a few blocks from a burying ground that dates back to the 17th century; The British occupied the cemetery during the Revolutionary War and used tombstones to build the hearth in the fort. The bread they baked was embossed with epitaphs of residents’ deceased family members. Members of the Order of the Ancient and Honorable Huntington Militia hold a grudge to this day.)

Anyway, yesterday I decided to become a member of the Huntington Historical Society (HHS).

While I was on the HHS website, I started noticing some opportunities for improvement — this always happens — so I decided to record the process of becoming a member. I didn’t know what would happen, but I was curious to see what the process would be like and how the onboarding process for new members worked.

Here’s the video:

  • Video Transcript

    So, here we are on the Huntington Historical Society's website, and I'm not going to go through the whole site and do some sort of tear down of the whole site. There's a lot of good things that are happening here, and plenty of areas for improvement and that's just the way it always is, right? But I'm going to really restrict things here just to the membership, workflow, the onboarding process. And, of interest to me was on this membership page, first of all, you have a fair amount of complexity here in terms of all these different options. And this is always a tough nut to crack, right? When you have all these different tiers, how do you present that in a way that's really user friendly and eliminates as much friction as possible to get people through the process, and get them, have them become members as soon as possible, as quickly as possible?

    So, as I was looking through here, you know, there are these, a lot of different tiers and you can see as you click through, you kind of have to carry in your head a lot of information as you're doing this comparison shopping. I mean, I was looking at something in this range, family, support or small business, so I have to go through, and I read these, and then ... Well, what's heritage friend? What's that? Okay, well now I'm kind of doing this diagonals, the exact thing, checking one by one. There's a lot of unnecessary cognitive load there I think, and then I go over to heritage and finally, you know, after a little while I figured out, okay, so it looks like basically the differences between these two is I get six complimentary tickets, rather than two and ...

    Okay, so I don't need six tickets, so maybe I'll go with this one. But there's just a lot of mental gymnastics that go on as you try to compare these things. And, one way to do that is, I mean, looking at certain SAAS companies, software companies, they'll handle this just by saying, the heritage friend is everything that is in support of small business except you get this as well. So you quickly, you can see like what the difference is. And, I think that this sort of checkerboard layout is probably problematic. Also, the fact that once you make the decision, there's no button or option here just to say, okay, I want to, I want to purchase this one. You didn't have to scroll down and then you're presented with another menu of four different options, and you sort of have to, you know, oh, heritage circle.

    And, let me point out that this is probably all super clear to the folks who work at the historical society, right? This is the water that they swim in, understanding all this terminology and stuff. But for somebody who's new, there kind of bouncing back and forth, trying to figure out, get their terminology right, and you just want to eliminate that as much as possible. And, just reduce all that friction, so you can really get people through the door as quick as possible. This was interesting. Also, there's this dropdown, I think they split this up because there are so many options. They don't want to put so many dropdown's. They want to put 40 different options in one drop down. So, I understand where that's coming from, but I don't think it solves the problem as well as they might like.

    Also, the dropdown is strange, it's always sort of faded out. It's like you've never actually confirmed something. Just visually there's a mismatch there. There's an expectation that the thing you select will be highlighted, and that's just an ... That can be an important confirmation that, you know, as you go through the process, that you're making the right decisions. Especially when you get up to these larger sums of money. Small things like that can be important clues for people that they're on the right track. I'm going to go ahead and click buy now. It takes me over to PayPal. So before I jump into the actual recording of me doing the transaction from earlier, I just want to say PayPal can be problematic in that, I've seen when organizations go from using PayPal to a form that they control to, they handle the checkout process the number of transactions tends to skyrocket. Like many, many times over.

    And, it's just that I think part of the problem is that people will see this, and they'll say, "I don't have a PayPal account, I don't want to PayPal account." They don't notice that you can actually pay with a debit or credit card down here, which as you'll see is what I chose initially, and I ran into some real problems. So, there's just a lot of problems with PayPal. I would encourage them to, [inaudible 00:05:12] asked to move away from this. You could still offer PayPal as an option, but I would definitely be really surprised if they didn't see their number of conversions increase quite a bit just by moving away from the default, PayPal is the default.

    Okay, so here I am on the guest check out. This was recorded earlier, and I go to pay now, and you'll see that I get an error because it requires a phone number. This is a problem with PayPal because you can't control these required fields. You know, people don't know how their phone number's going to be used, so some people won't like that. Now, I get an error message right here. It says, "We're sorry, things don't appear to be working at the moment, try again." Well, I don't know what that means. Why would I try again if I don't know what the problem is here. So at this point I'm going to go ahead and enter in my information again, but I think a lot of people would be wondering, well, did it really charge my card? There's a lot of questions as to the trust of the system, and you just don't want that stuff coming up when people are giving you potentially hundreds of dollars.

    So, here's the error again, and at this point, I think a lot of people would probably abandon, I go ahead and go through to the beginning. I check out using my PayPal account, which I really didn't want to do. The whole process took me like three minutes, and I'm fairly tech savvy, so I think a lot of people could take longer, or they could just abandon altogether. So, I would look at moving away from PayPal and finding a better process and experience for donor's. All right, so returning to the idea of onboarding, and you know, as someone who's just become a member, what happens next is I get an email confirmation. It's a PayPal email receipt, which is great. It confirms that my payment went through, and hopefully it sets aside some of those feelings that maybe I was charged twice or something like that.

    But, I wonder here if there's an opportunity to trigger an email that recognizes the member at their particular level. So in this case, like a heritage, I think it's a friend heritage membership level. I forget now, but the society could easily put forward an email, trigger an email that says, thank you so much. Here are your benefits, here's how to claim your benefits, or here's what to expect next. Like, I think there's tickets for certain events. You can say, well, this event happens in the summer, and we'll definitely be in touch with you, you will get your ticket then. Just sort of outlining what the process is next and confirming that there is a relationship that's being built and something that's somewhat tailored to the member.

    And, this is also an opportunity. This email is also an opportunity to say, how did you find us? What made you to decide to give today? What particular thing made you decide to become a member today? Because this is the best time to ask, right? Because, they've just made the decision, so it's clear in their mind, and you could really start to collect some great information from people, and start to identify patterns that you can then use in your marketing, in your outreach, with great effect. You can also put up a landing page. So, when people submit their automatically redirected to a page that has that survey on it, I've found it to be really effective in when you turn people over to a new page, and you say, "Everything's confirmed, you're exactly where you need to be. And by the way, if you could answer one question for us ..."

    A huge number of people will take that extra step, after they've gone through this process of giving money. They're happy to answer another question, and you can start to collect some real great qualitative sort of voice of the customer, voice of the member. Language that you can use on, turn it around and use it right on that. Membership page, so that when I, as a prospective member come in, I will see other people like me who have made the decision to become a member and why they did it. And, when people sort of see those, their own thoughts echoed back at them, it just assures them along the process more quickly. So, those are a few recommendations for the Huntington Historical Society. If you found this to be of interest, you're probably watching because you're a subscriber on my mailing list. If you found it interesting, just hit reply and let me know, and thanks so much for watching.

If some of the things I’ve been writing about lately, like Blank-Page Syndrome, have rung true to you, then the last segment about post-transaction messaging may be of interest to you. The moments immediately after someone converts on your website provide a number of opportunities. Is it just me, or do lots of organizations miss these opportunities?

Kyle BowenSuperHelpful