When someone leaves, it’s natural to want to know why. No matter what the relationship, leaving hurts. If you’ve lost a member (or more) this year, your chamber of commerce board may be asking you to conduct exit interviews of members who quit.
With COVID, the why behind the departure may be more important than ever. You want to differentiate between a business leaving because they are closing (or trying desperately not to) or one that simply isn’t feeling the return on the investment of membership.
While COVID closures are easy enough to spot, your board may want additional insights into why members are dropping, especially if you’ve had a lot of that happen recently. But don’t reactively just send an exit email their way.
Here are a few things you need to know before implementing an exit interview for members by survey or email.
Exit Interview Survey Response Rates
First, it’s important to understand that many people have reached survey fatigue. It seems like every organization has implemented one.
Exit interview requests by survey have lower response rates than any other types of surveys.
That means you will work hard to get answers and the small sample you receive answers from may not be representative of your exiting population. Sometimes it’s only those leaving you angrily who will take the time to answer. That will skew your results.
In order to help ensure the results are representative of those leaving, you want to consider the following:
Exit Survey Formats
Exit survey response rates are often similar to email open rates, somewhere between 10-25%.
The format of the exit interviews of members has a lot to do with response rate. After all, it’s harder to ignore someone calling to ask you a few questions than it is an email.
Asking in person will always result in more responses, but they may not be as transparent as an email or blind survey.
You can create lapsed member surveys in an email, online (by providing a link), or hire someone to call every lapsed member and ask why they’re leaving. There’s also a direct mail option (provide a return envelope for easy sending).
In addition to the method in which you’ll share it, you’ll need to decide on the style.
Some chambers prefer an easy multiple-choice format, while others choose a short answer style. The benefit to multiple choice is that it is quick and easy to fill out making it more likely to be completed by your former member. However, multiple choice is only as effective as the choices you provide. It’s possible your former member may have left for a reason that you have not included in your multiple-choice answer.
On the other hand, a short answer survey will provide more information, but will be harder to correlate the data and will take longer for the former member to complete.
Whatever method you choose to send it in, keep it relatively short.
Even if you have someone who’s interested in filling it out and providing you with the information you desire, if they see a long survey they may decide it’s not worth their time. No one will take the time to provide an organization they’re leaving with the answers to 20 questions. Unless they’re really mad and you’ve probably heard plenty from them long before the exit interview. Check out 19 Proven Tactics for Dealing with Difficult People if you’ve got an unreasonably difficult member departing.
Since response rates will vary but are best when surveys are shorter, you’ll need to give some thought to what you really need to know.
Here are some suggestions.
Questions to Ask During Your Exit Interviews of Members
You can use all these questions or just 1-2 of them, but either way you should ask things like:
- Why did you decide against renewal?
This is the question you really want to know the answer to, but it’s also predicated on their trust of you and whether they feel they can be honest. Plus, this question is assuming the former member can voice the reason why they’re leaving. Sometimes people lean toward inaction.
You can also ask the question this way…
- Was your departure due to an outside circumstance (such as a business closure or new management)?
This question allows the lapsed member to provide reasons to the chamber as to why they are not renewing in a way that saves face and helps leadership understand that there wasn’t much they could have done with programming or providing additional value. It’s very similar to the first question but allows you to remove businesses that answer this way from your data analysis.
- How likely are you to recommend chamber membership to a friend? (use a 1-5 scale)
This may seem like a weird question to ask someone who’s not renewing, but even though membership wasn’t a good fit for them, they may have a friend that would be a good fit. A question like this can help you understand that differentiator. The scale can also help you figure out how disappointed or disgruntled the exiting member is.
- What could we do to keep you as a member?
Sometimes it comes down to return on investment. Maybe the timing just isn’t right or they’re not using the benefits. This question helps you understand if the member was salvageable. You can also ask this question with a broader application of “How can we improve the member experience?”
- What benefit are you sad to lose?
This question does two things. It makes them think about what they’re giving up and it helps you understand what some of your most valuable benefits are (in the eyes of the members). Knowing this may give you better insights when you seek to rework membership tiers.
If you watch a lot of legal dramas, you’ll often hear the phrase, “Objection. Leading the witness.” You don’t want to do that when creating an exit survey either.
The survey is not a marketing or advertising tool. Don’t use biased language in your questions.
For instance, “What was the best thing about our incredible events?” The former member won’t feel like they can give you their honest opinion and they may feel like you’re not open to hearing the truth.
Instead, ask something like “What did you think about our networking events?”
You can still ask about best and worst–just leave the other adjectives out (in this case, the word incredible.)
Final Tips for Greater Response Rates
If you want better response rates there are a few things you can do:
- Allow answers to be anonymous. While it is likely you will be able to figure out who said what on your survey, a former member will feel freer to answer if they think it is anonymous. Most survey software allows anonymity as an option.
- Think about your format. Multiple-choice may provide more results (it’s quicker) but short answer space will deliver more thoughtful (and likely, actionable) responses.
- Allow for time. Don’t send your survey the minute the member tells you they are canceling. Instead, give them a few weeks to spend some time apart from the chamber.
If your board wants you to implement exit interviews of members who quit or don’t renew, think about what you’re trying to accomplish. Are you looking to find out why people are leaving because you’re curious or because you’re wondering what can be done to stop the exodus? Whatever you’re trying to figure out should influence how and what you ask.