Developing the Accountancy Profession

IFAC & cloudThing's PAO Digital Assessment Tool Part 7: How Are You Driving Digital Engagement Amongst Your Members?

cloudThing | May 10, 2021

IFAC recently teamed up with cloudThing to offer our membership a free Digital Readiness Assessment Tool that would assess an organization's digital readiness ahead of a digital transformation project. The Digital Readiness Assessment Tool has been designed to measure how digitally 'mature' an organization is, or where they already are on their individual digital transformation journey.

The Digital Readiness Assessment Tool is broken down into 11 different pillars. So far, we have blogs covering the following sections:

  1. Culture & Capability;
  2. Vision & Strategy;
  3. Business Systems & Automation;
  4. Talent Management;
  5. Product & Service Developing; and
  6. Sales & Marketing

We recommend reading the previous articles before proceeding to Part 7 on Driving Digital Engagement.

Driving Digital Engagement with Your Members

The seventh pillar of the Digital Readiness Assessment Tool seeks to analyze an organization's ability to drive effective digital engagement among its members, prospective members, and partner organizations.

Digital engagement is not just ‘another thing’ you must do these days, though. Rather than being a goal in itself, it should be another focus in an organization's digital toolbox that helps achieve specific aims such as attracting the above groups to participate and interact with a brand and/or content online.

While PAOs will likely have at least one function or department whose specific focus is digital engagement, there are a variety of ways to achieve this. Many, if not all, the key aspects of digital engagement can be improved through technology, such as adapting communications in response to changing market conditions, member behaviour or interactions, analysis of trends, or automating processes.

Effective digital engagement allows a PAO to:

  • Support the growth of subscription and non-subscription revenue.
  • Develop new revenue streams by better understanding membership trends through data.
  • Automate communications.
  • Nurture desired behaviours and interactions.
  • Improve member retention;
  • Improve organizational reputation and brand awareness.
Improving Online Registration and Conversion

The first step in driving digital engagement for any PAO should be to have a modern web portal. The portal needs to be capable of providing an end-to-end experience for the registration and subsequent engagement of a person throughout the lifecycle of their membership with an organization, whether they be a prospect, trainee, or a full-fledged member.

Having such a portal enables a PAO to have a single view of all engagements with their members from the start of the journey as trainees to paying members. It will also create a continuity of experience for members as they progress through their various roles within the organization. That continuity will also enable an organization to present multiple options to their users depending upon their unique membership journey.

Other benefits include:

  • Easier administration and management of membership profiles,
  • More efficient marketing, and
  • Nurturing activities with integrated tracking and tooling while providing a visualization of the membership journey to potential members.
Why Does an Online Portal Needs to Be Real-Time Capable?

When providing a consumer-grade online portal, it is important that items like completed transactions and events are recorded in real-time. 

Ensuring real-time capability means that:

  • Self-service experiences for members, such as certificate requests, membership accounts, invoice views, and payments, can be efficiently enabled.   
  • Automated service of requests based on pre-configured rules is much easier.  
  • The PAO can have a single, unambiguous channel for two-way communication with its members. 
  • Members are equipped with a capable resource that provides relevant, searchable, and contextual content suiting their needs.  
  • A member’s continuing loyalty or affinity to an organization can be fostered with easily discoverable content delivered via the portal. 
  • The PAO has a mechanism to share real-time in-app notifications with their members.  
  • Members are provided with a single destination for all their information which, if updated in real-time, reflects the true state of their data as stored by the organization.
Mobile-First Needs to Be First

Mobile-first is a UX (User Experience) principle which means designing an online experience for use on mobile devices ahead of desktop or other devices.

Mobile First Experiences are tailored to the needs of users who are on the go, using smaller screens and will be viewing them in multiple contexts.  

From the outset, a responsive design and smartphone-friendly interface are considered as foremost requirements, which are met by focusing effort on getting the experience right for the smallest and most constrained end first. The channel, audience, and behaviour are all considered to deliver the best possible experience to the user. Often, the technological capabilities of mobile devices enhance the experience with features not available to the desktop user. 

This is important as traffic to your new web portal will likely be much higher from mobile devices than it will be from a desktop.

More and more members will expect to access all aspects of their membership while either on-the-go or while at home. Meeting these user expectations will be vital to the long-term success of a digital transformation.

Getting mobile-first right leads to all sorts of benefits, apart from the above, such as:

  • Delivering the right User Experience (UX) no matter what device is being used.
  • Improved Google search results performance (Google’s algorithms favor responsive web-portals).  
  • Improved lead conversion and revenue. 
  • Improved engagement and social media interactions. 
  • More consistent cross-device and browser experiences to all members.
Personalizing Content & Services to The Membership Base

Today, most users expect personalized service, especially from a membership organization like a PAO. They will want an experience that is tailored to them, with choices and content based on their preferences, interests, past behavior, relationships, among other factors. 

While this might be more work to initially set up, getting it right:

  • Drives engagement by providing highly relevant content. 
  • Increases conversion rates by helping users achieve their goals quicker. 
  • Targets the member with specific campaigns to influence their purchasing decisions.
  • Promotes, up-sells, and cross-sells relevant products and services. 
  • Builds customer loyalty through 1-2-1 engagement. 
  • Improves perception of your brand, in turn strengthening membership relationships.
Ask & Answer: How Mature Is Your Knowledge base?

A knowledge base for your members should be a self-serve online library of information about a product, service, department, or topic, easily accessible by any that need it.  

It needs to be both easily discoverable and easily searchable, forming a self-service repository of community-curated knowledge and information relevant to an organization’s focus areas. 

This form of user-generated content fosters engagement amongst a membership base by encouraging and allowing members to answer each other’s questions, thus forming a ‘true’ community. With robust moderation tooling, the PAO can curate and manage the quality of the knowledge base. Oftentimes, the community will self-moderate, which all feeds back into creating a community spirit, making a well-earned sense of contribution from members.

However, the biggest perk is a well-ordered knowledge base. It establishes a PAO as a credible, reliable, and consistent source of citable information in its sphere of influence, fostering its position as a thought leader.

It is also useful in identifying the need for events or seminars based on the nature of the questions being posed by members.

Have You Considered A Self-Moderated Community or Forum?

Related to, but slightly different to a knowledge base is offering a platform to your members to form a gated community or forum where they can interact with each other.

Members can voice their opinion, ask for advice, respond to questions, and mutually benefit from the interactions.

Often these communities and forums are self-moderated, with the PAO acting as “super moderators” to provide general oversight. Active and contributing members are voluntarily assigned the role of forum moderators. 

These kinds of platforms often provide:

  • Increased member satisfaction derived from their community contributions. 
  • Effective member engagement in professional growth discussions. 
  • Efficient fostering of members’ interactions, allowing a PAO to better understand the ‘pulse’ of their members. 
  • An impartial, effective platform where members can voice their opinion and share concerns, which establishes transparency.  
  • An opportunity to observe trends and patterns from the collective voice of the members, allowing PAOs proactively act to address concerns and foster trust with their members.
Why Enabling Unified Search Is Vital

Unified Search offers an organization’s members and staff the ability to search through many different information sources and repositories with just a single query. It involves the coordination of queries transmitted to the individual search engines and the fusion of the search results returned by each.  

Typically, the user is offered a simple interface from which to search, hosted on an organization’s website or membership portal. The results, when presented back to the user, also include options to filter or refine the findings.  

The benefits of Unified Search include:

  • Ensuring relevant information can be easily discovered without having to know where first to look. 
  • Allowing members and non-members to engage with the organization in a meaningful manner.  
  • Establishing the organization as a credible authority within their relevant spheres of influence.  
  • Providing tooling and support for information upload, management, and presentation.
Digital Service Desks as Part of A Digital Transformation

Digital service desks are brilliant in helping to keep a PAO’s systems up and running. They enable employees to use the new technology implemented in a digital transformation effectively by resolving issues as and when they occur.

In many ways, the service desk is the glue of a digital enterprise – keeping the people, processes, technology, and data connected to operate effectively as a unit. Traditional service desks are reactive rather than proactive. Still, by fully digitizing a service desk, a PAO can rely on analytics and automation to derive insights from the vast amounts of information being generated.

In order to do this, agents need to work closely with machine learning-powered management platforms, to train the automation tools and conversational artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots to handle much of the regular user interaction. This will allow the PAO to assess developing trends so that proactive steps can be taken for emerging issues.

That level of automation ensures a PAO can respond almost instantly and service requests from a member through an easy-to-use, self-service digital outreach medium, resulting in a high degree of member satisfaction.

It also means the PAO can effectively utilize the digital service desk team to monitor multiple service channels via one unified interface.   

Empowering More Efficient Communication Through Virtual Agents, Web Chats & Co-Browse

A virtual agent is a software program that uses scripted rules and artificial intelligence applications to provide automated help or guidance to humans. 

Webchat is a system that allows users to be able to communicate with an organization and seek help and support in real-time. 

Co-browsing software allows service desk or sales agents and their customers to collaboratively 'browse' a website, web application, or mobile app together in real-time.  

Combining virtual agents with web chat means users can receive help and support even when there may be limited real-person resources to assist them, allowing for commonly occurring queries to be handled without human intervention in a consistent way, 24/7. 

Enabling these functions as part of a digital transformation:

  • Provides an immediate increase to customer service to a PAO’s users, even out of hours. 
  • Frees up service desk agents from repeatable service requests such as rule-driven letters and certificate generation, allowing them to focus on complex service tasks instead.  
  • Increases the responsiveness of the organization, with all the reputational benefits that that brings.
  • Allows automated creation of tracked cases for member requests. 
  • Allows the organization to benefit from using the automated flows to aid in query insights and analysis-driven development.
  • Provides necessary tooling to the service desk personnel to be able to screen-share to troubleshoot issues if required and to collect sensitive information during a service session securely.
Efficient Profile & Preference Management

Self-serve functionality for the members of an organization should, as a minimum, allow them to view and update all their relevant personal information and keep it up to date.  

Typically, this information is collected at registration, then located and managed in the profile area of their online account. Users should, at that point, and any point in the future, be able to record their preferences against each channel and/or type of communication they receive from the PAO. 

Doing this correctly enforces the compliance that the organization obtains in a non-obtrusive way and thus provides the necessary consent required to enable it to communicate with the member as per their preferences.

The obvious benefit to all of this is the reduction in workload on the service desk team by avoiding constant profile update requests.

How Effective Is Your Partner Relationship Management?

As part of a PAO’s digital transformation, Partner Relationship Management will comprise of the identification, selection, nurturing, and engagement with all partner organizations.

Partners will likely include, but not be limited to: academic partners, learning providers, employers, and other associations.

Doing this effectively as part of your transformation will:

  • Provide the necessary tooling and processing for end-to-end partner relationship management.
  • Ensure effective sharing of information with partners.  
  • Foster engagement with partners through appropriate communication channels.  
  • Allow the organization to identify new partners in-line with growth and changing requirements. 
  • Enable the curation of strategic relationships for growth and reach. 
  • Deliver enhanced value to members, made possible by the strategic partnerships. 
How to Best Manage Federated & Honorary Memberships

Federated or Honorary Membership Management involves offering reciprocal membership to the members of a federation/association or partner organization on a complementary basis. 

While entry criteria or proof of qualifications usually applies to new members, these can be waived if the organization initially joined has similar criteria and will have assessed their member’s eligibility already. This process needs to be tracked and documented.  

Making this process as easy as possible:

  • Increases the reach of the PAO within a much wider eco-system. 
  • Enables a PAO’s ‘direct’ members to benefit from reciprocal memberships if they move to a location outside their current jurisdiction, facilitated by the partner organizations. 
  • Enhances the value proposition of the current organization’s membership by offering wider exposure. 
  • Fosters ecosystem collaboration between organizations within the federation or partnership(s) 
  • Allows organizations to benefit from strategic partnerships. 
Why Curating Faculty & Community Management Is So Important

Faculty and community management is at the heart of every PAO’s operations. By curating and nurturing areas of specialization aligned with their vision and objectives, PAOs provide a structured framework to their members for their professional growth and form the foundation of all membership benefits.

Faculties build value propositions for PAO’s membership by providing members with essential technical resources required to perform their roles and a clear path of professional growth. They also ensure that members continue to see the benefit in their professional membership.

Communities provide a platform moderation capability for the various member forums supported by the community management platform. These forums allow PAO members to interact with each other in a secure and collaborative environment managed by the PAO. 

Community management tooling enables an organization to effectively moderate forums with active member participation while providing necessary checks to maintain.

Certificate & Badge Generation

Having an online portal for PAO members to access a repository of their certificates is another great avenue for membership engagement. The online portal allows the member to self-serve and receive an automated notification from the PAO when relevant examinations have been passed, and new practice certificates have been awarded and are ready to view, download, print copies, etc.

A digital badge is a validated, standardized graphical representation of knowledge and skills that can be earned by undertaking various learning activities. Each digital badge has a unique URL that badge earners can share electronically via social media and email, and embed on their online CV.

  • Digital badges help professionals gain recognition for significant professional development by allowing them to share their achievements easily.
  • Prospective clients and employers can verify a digital badge holder’s competencies and skills quickly.
  • The digital badge provides greater credibility and visually declares an individual’s commitment to professional development.
  • Increase in views/engagement actions through social media platforms, such as LinkedIn.
  • Reduces impersonation and fraud as the digital bade is only accessible to the registered email address holder.
Efficient Renewal Automation

Renewals automation means a system-driven membership renewal process that is assisted by custom pricing rules, discount matrices, reminders, integrated payments, automated reconciliation, and machine-learning assisted income predictions.

These processes enable a PAO to gain a clear view of potential membership renewal income while also predicting renewal income and churn based on past trends.

It removes the overhead of manual renewal processing, rewards members that renew early or on-time with automated rule-driven discounts, ensures a high retention rate, and enables bills to be presented in advance for smoother collection while simplifying the payments and backend reconciliation processes.

Incorporating Event Management Solutions as Part of Your Digital Transformation

Event Management solutions provide support for identifying, planning, promotion, setup, and execution of events, both physical and online. They also provide necessary tooling for end-to-end management and administration. Implementing these solutions:

  • Enables the organization to engage with the members via events of popular interest. 
  • Facilitates knowledge sharing and organization’s expertise with members and non-members. 
  • Establishes the organization as a credible authority and source of knowledge. 
  • Fosters community participation and engagement.
  • Aids with the professional growth of members.
  • Builds the organization’s brand and supports the organization with marketing and lead generation activities. 
Gaining Insights from eForms & Online Surveys

The ability to easily generate and administer forms and surveys online to collect and receive structured, actionable feedback and information from stakeholders is a massive boost to any PAO looking to encourage further digital engagement. Online forms and surveys:

  • Enable an organization to easily build web forms for various purposes and collect data in a centralized, structured fashion.
  • Allow a PAO to easily collect valuable feedback from various stakeholders and produce visualizations from which meaningful insights can be drawn. 
  • Ensure timely responses by funnelling the collected data into actionable information surfaced in appropriate places. 
  • Enable 2-way communication with members as a further, robust channel of communication. 
  • Position an organization as a responsive body by ensuring the feedback and data is proactively utilized for providing better services to its members.
  • Allow a PAO to address any issues based the feedback collected.

Be sure to check out IFAC’s PAO Digital Transformation Series webpage which houses helpful resources, articles and videos on Digital Transformation and is regularly updated!

cloudThing, based in the UK, is a technology company that help organizations such as the British Red Cross, The South African Institute of Accountants, and the Institute of Chartered Accountants (England & Wales) to name but a few, digitally transform by taking advantage of the automation technology available to them on the cloud. 

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