Journey Mapping: Improve the Membership Experience

The goal of member journey mapping is to understand the chapter and National membership experience from the member’s viewpoint, so you can discover ways to improve their experience and increase their engagement.
CEX: Member Journey Mapping Part 1

Journey Mapping: Improve the Membership Experience

At the (CEX), a member journey mapping session energized everyone at my table. They all talked about bringing this exercise back to their association. Even if you missed CEX, you don’t have to miss out on the impact this exercise can make. Describing it as “transformative” is not an exaggeration.

Diane Magers, CCXP, the CEO of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA), led us through the member journey mapping exercise. The goal of member journey mapping is to understand the chapter and National membership experience from the member’s viewpoint, so you can discover ways to improve their experience and increase their engagement.

The role of emotions in the membership experience

One of the factors making member journey mapping so insightful is its focus on a member’s emotions during their experiences with your association. You don’t only look at what the member does—the process or experience—but also how they might feel while doing it.

Why are emotions so important to our understanding of their experience? Because, Diane said, 85 percent of what we experience is emotional and subconscious and only 15 percent is rational and conscious.

Marketers have long known and leveraged this fact, but, apparently, hoteliers haven’t. Diane asked us to recall what we feel when unpacking in a hotel room. For example, when you open the closet at some hotels, the hangers have tiny hooks at the top that hold them to a skinny closet rod. Intentionally or unintentionally, the hotel is sending a message: “Don’t even think about it, you’re not going to steal our hangers!”

When designing a member experience, such as joining or onboarding, think about the subconscious messages the member may receive and the emotions they may feel. An experience must always take into account their emotional as well as their functional needs. If you succeed in meeting both types of needs, your association is more likely to benefit from increased member attention, participation, retention, referrals, and revenue.

CEX: Diane Magers, CCXP, the CEO of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA)

Journey mapping a member’s experience

How can you understand what your members experience as they interact with your association? Member journey mapping helps you step into their shoes. This collaborative exercise helps your association think about, understand, and design experiences from the member’s perspective.

Member journey mapping is a visual illustration of a member’s needs, emotions, and perceptions over the course of their relationship with your association—and no artistic skills are required! The four goals of member journey mapping are:

#1 Insights

Understanding what contributes to a member’s experience and what’s really happening on an emotional level by digging into their needs and wants.

#2 Issues and Opportunities

Discovering what’s getting in the way of a better experience and what can be improved to meet the member’s needs.

#3 Innovation

Designing new, engaging experiences that solve emotional and functional needs.

#4 Impact

Benefitting from the results of your journey mapping exercise—improving membership metrics and delivering greater business value.

CEX: Journey mapping a member’s experience

The member journey mapping exercise at CEX

We were ambitious at CEX. We attempted to examine ten different touchpoints of a chapter member’s journey. Although we didn’t have enough time to complete each one, we did enough to realize the value of this exercise.

Our ten touchpoints represented different milestones in the first five years of a chapter membership:

  • Prospect attends a chapter event as a guest and picks up membership information. (2013)
  • Prospect joins National through her employer. (2013)
  • New member opts-in to National and chapter emails, newsletters, and publications. (2013)
  • Member attends awards gala. (2013)
  • Chapter board leader invites her to join the conference planning committee. (2014)
  • Attends the chapter’s annual conference. (2014)
  • Enters and wins a chapter award. (2014)
  • Co-chairs the conference. (2015)
  • Elected to the chapter board. (2016)
  • Meets her new employer while serving on the chapter board. (2018)


We looked at several different aspects of each touchpoint, starting with the member’s needs, emotions, and expectations. I captured some of the points made at my table during a discussion of touchpoint #2—when the member joins National. So many “aha” moments occurred as my tablemates realized what new members might be experiencing. I’m sure many of them would have been happy to work on this exercise all day.

Step 1: Needs, emotions, and expectations

What is the new member thinking and feeling during this specific touchpoint? What is the voice in her head saying as she joins your association? What is she expecting? Here are some of the needs, emotions, and expectations a new member might feel when joining National:

  • She’s happy her employer is supporting her membership.
  • Optimistic about the value she’ll receive.
  • Wondering about the ROI for her organization and for her time. Will membership help her do her job better? Will her boss continue to support her involvement and pay for membership if she doesn’t show some kind of progress at work?
  • Perplexed about what she should do next.

The table agreed that this initial experience could color the rest of her new member experience.

CEX: Steps to Journey Mapping
CEX: Member Journey Mapping discussion
CEX: Journey Mapping Session
CEX: Needs, emotions, and expectations

Step 2: Factors that contribute to the experience

Think about the people and things the member comes into direct contact with along the journey. Who and what influences their experience? Sometimes even the little things (microactions) can turn an experience around.

What contributes (or not) to the joining experience:

  • Is the joining experience easy, quick, and intuitive? How did she end up on your website? How was her website user experience? Did she understand what you were asking on the application? Did she understand why you were asking?
  • How relevant and useful was onboarding? Does she know what to do now?
  • Is the communication frequency about right?
  • Did she find any initial value in the resources you offer?
  • Does membership fit into her life? Will it be worth her time and money? Her employer’s money?
CEX: Factors that contribute to the experience

Step 3: Opportunities—unmet functional and emotional needs

When you identify a member’s pain points during their membership journey, you can look for their root cause and figure out why the member might be feeling that way. Pain points represent opportunities to enhance the member experience.

Pain points (opportunities) during the joining experience:

  • Feeling confused and/or overwhelmed during onboarding.
  • Feeling like the association doesn’t really understand her needs and expectations.
  • Wanting to build her network, but feeling excluded or intimidated.
  • Hoping for peer networking and/or mentoring, but not knowing how to find it.
  • Frustrated by attempts to get to know (and be known by) prospective customers.

Step 4: Understand the “Why”

The third step (also covered in part 1) of the member journey mapping exercise is identifying possible pain points (opportunities for improvement) during the joining and onboarding experience, for example:

  • The new member feels confused and/or overwhelmed during onboarding.
  • She feels like the association doesn’t really understand her needs and expectations.
  • Wants to build her network but feels excluded or intimidated.
  • Hopes for peer networking and/or mentoring, but doesn’t know how to find it.
  • Frustrated by her attempts to get to know (and be known by) prospective customers.


Now, in step 4, we figure out why this pain point or unmet need (opportunity) exists. Diane introduced us to a technique—the 5-Whys root cause analysis—that helps you define the “Why” behind the pain point and get at the real cause. This technique helps you uncover emotional needs, motivators, and/or the real cause of a problem.

Here’s how it works

Once a problem has been recognized, repeatedly ask “Why” questions to drill down to root causes. Asking “Why” five times allows you to move beyond obvious answers and reflect on less obvious explanations or causes.

When our table asked five Whys about the onboarding pain point, we came up with several possible root causes. The conversation went something like this.

Why doesn’t the new member know what to do next? Why can’t she see the appropriate pathway?

  • Because we don’t have sufficient or appropriate communication channels with new members.
  • Because our communication isn’t clear.
  • Because we haven’t learned enough about her to provide relevant information.
  • Because our marketing expertise is lacking.
  • Because there’s resistance to change in our organization.
  • Because we’re dealing with assumptions and blind spots caused by legacy thinking.
Do you have gaps in your member journey due to a lack of empathy between members and leaders at the chapter? Billhighway can help – let us show you!

Step 5: Vision and Innovation

In this part of the exercise, we imagined that time, money, and effort were not an object. We gave our brains permission to let go and come up with big ideas. Strangely enough, that’s not always easy to do. A CEX attendee said, “It’s hard to imagine because we always feel so constrained.”

Some of the possibilities we imagined for the onboarding phase of membership:

  • Seamless integration between systems, and between National and chapters, with business solutions you could offer all chapters.
  • AI-powered bot that guides new members through onboarding.
  • Landing page for new members.
  • Phone calls to every new member at the chapter and National level.

By exploring many facets of existing opportunities (pain points), we allow innovation to bloom. Generate as many ideas as possible so you can select one (or some) to prototype and test.

CEX: Vision and Innovation

Step 6: Impact on your association

Imagine what the member would say about a newly designed onboarding experience. Imagine the member behaviors that might follow. Imagine the impact this newly designed experience would have on your association.

  • Word of mouth referrals
  • More volunteering
  • More awareness leading to increased participation and purchases
  • Higher retention rate
  • More power on the Hill and strength in numbers
  • Increased revenue


It’s fun to imagine, isn’t it? But this exercise doesn’t just result in pie-in-the-sky imaginings. You can start making improvements with the low hanging fruit you discover, and start making plans to work on other areas that need improving.

The benefits of member journey mapping

You can probably already see the benefits of this exercise, but let’s review.


Identify Biggest Pain Points

Member journey mapping leads to empathy. You understand how prospects and members are interacting with your association and what they’re thinking and feeling as they move through different experiences.

You get a better perspective on the existing membership experience and the factors influencing that experience. You identify where the biggest emotional and functional pain points occur.

  • What are members trying to accomplish at each touchpoint?
  • What are their emotional and functional needs during these different interactions with the association?


Increase member satisfaction

Taking the member’s perspective, you and your colleagues brainstorm and explore opportunities for improvement. You imagine how these improvements might change outcomes and increase member satisfaction.

  • What are the opportunities for the chapter and the association to deliver a better experience to the member?
  • Why do these opportunities exist?
  • Are there any intersections and/or transitions between chapter and National where we can optimize it for the member?
  • What new technologies, talents, resources, and/or processes do we need?


Identify Gaps

With these new insights and ideas, you identify gaps where needs are still unmet. You map out an improved experience (journey map) along with a plan of action. Finally, you get a working pilot version of the new experience up and running to see what works.

CEX: The benefits of member journey mapping

Try member journey mapping at your association

You can take an hour or two and work on one member touchpoint, like we did here, or take a few days to map out the entire membership experience. Here are some resources to help you get started:


Simply start by sitting down with a few colleagues and asking: How does a member feel when they do X? What gets in their way? Why is that happening? What would an ideal solution look like? This conversation alone will reveal issues and insights you may have never discussed before.

Try a journey mapping exercise with chapter staff or leaders. Imagine how much you’d learn from each other’s perspectives. You could work together to improve your members’ experience—while building trust and closer relationships.

Or, go through this exercise with colleagues from the IT, marketing, membership, communications, finance, or other departments. Even better, involve someone from the executive team. Each of them would benefit from better understanding the member perspective and mapping out the parts of the member journey involving their department.

You’ll need your colleagues’ buy-in to improve many aspects of the member journey—that’s where executive support can help. Old policies and practices often stand in the way of the experience members seek. Look for disconnects between members’ emotional and functional needs and your existing programs and processes. These discoveries will help your association decide what legacy programs might not be worth supporting, and what new processes and programs to put in place.

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