Today we have selected Karen Kuah to take her interview. She is the CEO of membership works.
First of all, how are you and your team doing in these COVID-19 times?
We are operating remotely, which has allowed us to continue serving our customers without interruption during the Covid lockdown and the Texas ice storm in February.
MembershipWorks has always made decisions based on our employees’ and customers’ wellbeing. Since our founding, we have allowed all our employees the option to telecommute. They’ve found it made a huge impact on the quality of their lives; no one misses a 45 minute or hour-long commute.
This philosophy enabled a smoother transition when faced with the challenges of COVID-19. Our employees were already used to working from home and communicating across long distances.
We’ve also provided employees some flexibility in their days when they need to access COVID-19 tests and vaccines. As COVID-19 has affected physical and mental health, we introduced a mental health benefit to help employees cope with the new stresses in their lives.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined this company?
I had spent much of my career working in the nonprofit sector, including serving in event planning at Goodwill and as an executive director at a minority chamber of commerce. During this work, I encountered the opportunity to serve nonprofits differently. Coming from a nontechnical background and understanding the struggles nonprofits face allowed me to help design a service that would truly benefit them from an administrative, member service, and financial perspective.
I had faced the frustrations of not understanding how a given software platform worked, only getting canned responses to my questions, and trying to utilize software designed by people unfamiliar with how nonprofits worked. This insider knowledge inspired and empowered me to tackle these challenges.
How does your company innovate?
We do a good job of listening to our customers. When you build software, you can not envision every scenario that a customer might come across. Because our customers come from various organizational structures, their needs and requests are quite varied; we serve nonprofits, chambers of commerce, professional organizations, groups, clubs, cooperatives, and more. We keep a running list of these requests and consider the needs of our core customer profile to curate the list of new features that our development team will implement.
Our system was built to anticipate adding features as time went on; this allows us to innovate more quickly than some legacy membership platforms.
We also stay abreast of trends in the nonprofit sector, privacy legislation, and the competitive landscape. In this way, we make sure our customers use a membership system that remains familiar and evolves to help them best serve their members.
How the Coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
We heard that our customers had members who needed to pause memberships due to losing jobs because of COVID-19. We quickly added that feature; this was a financial win for customers who could offer another option to their members beyond canceling memberships or requesting a refund.
We also heard that some nonprofits were temporarily shuttering, so we allowed our customers to pause their accounts. This allowed customers to lower their operations costs without starting from scratch when things picked up.
With so many events changing to an online format, we initiated a Zapier integration with our events feature (in beta) that allows organizations to send their event registrations to Zoom. We also added a new field to our events system to allow an online meeting link.
These changes made it necessary to quickly bring our customer service agents up to speed to educate customers about these new features.
Did you have to make difficult choices and the lessons learned?
Before the pandemic, we learned to stay flexible and build in time to address the unexpected. For example, the other tools we integrate with will often make changes that require us to take action. We’ve seen that with the payment gateways that we integrate with. We’ve also had to implement software changes to address privacy legislation like the GDPR and CCPA. So our development team will sometimes need to shift gears to work on these issues instead of forging ahead at full speed with our new features.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Just as our development team has to remain agile to react to emerging issues, as a leader, I also have had to be ready to hear and react to new information I gather from employees and customers during the pandemic. It has been a challenge, but making decisions is easier with my focus on honoring the needs of these two most important stakeholders.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
We compete with other software offerings in the membership management software space.
When we built our system, we were ahead of the curve in that our customers weren’t tied to one platform to build their website. At the time, many of our competitors required customers to build their site within their software. Organizations didn’t like this because it was costly, had a big learning curve, and limited the technology stack the organization could use. Although our competitors have made improvements in this arena, we are staying ahead of the game by adding new integrations and features that larger and older systems don’t always have the flexibility to add.
We also have an extremely strong focus on customer service and use that as a competitive advantage. Not all membership software supports phone, email, and live screen share training. We resolve most issues or questions on the same day a customer reaches out to us. By staying close and responsive to our customers, we can hear their concerns, meet their needs, and gather ideas for future development.
Your final thoughts
While COVID-19 is disruptive to so many businesses, we were lucky to be in a position with a remote workforce that could easily continue operations during lockdowns. So instead of focusing on setting up workstations at homes, we focused on developing new features and coaching our agents to offer knowledgeable and helpful responses to customers who were sometimes in difficult situations.
It has been rewarding to help customers achieve their goals and overcome obstacles during this stressful time. When you often read about people acting out due to their frustrations, we are fortunate to have customers that treat our agents with kindness and respect. This makes it easy for us to team up with them to accomplish even more.