Karen McSteen: ‘What is your promise as a bar?’
There are three types of organizations, McSteen believes:
- those whose customers or members are completely disengaged, considering themselves to be users rather than customers (for example, utility companies);
- those whose customers or members are somewhat engaged, in that they enjoy their experience and feel warmly toward the organization (for example, Target or American Express); and
- those whose customers or members are fully engaged, meaning they love the brand and feel aligned with its values (for example, Southwest Airlines and USAA, a banking and insurance company that serves members of the military and their families).
It stands to reason that any organization would want to be in that third category, but for anyone needing extra incentive, McSteen shared a recent finding from Gallup: People who feel full engagement and love toward a brand bring in 23 percent more profit for a company than those who are only moderately engaged with the brand. Also, she noted, in an age when people can get many traditional association benefits from other sources, bar associations would do well to look at other types of businesses and see how they inspire love.
One important way, McSteen said, is by understanding different segments of their membership and customer base—not so much in terms of demographics, but in terms of experience and needs. For example, before a new employee at USAA can ever meet with a customer, they receive a “deployment letter” and undergo training in which they arrive early in the morning, wear a 50-pound Kevlar vest, and eat military rations.
This commitment to putting themselves in their customers’ shoes has led to such innovations as being the first bank to allow remote deposits via text, and reducing insurance rates during a deployment, McSteen said.
“What is your promise as a bar?” McSteen invited attendees to ask themselves. “And what are the reasons that people should believe it?” Consistency is key, she said. For example, United’s tag line promises “friendly skies,” but it does not rank very high in customer satisfaction—not because it never delivers on its promise of a friendly experience, but because it sometimes does and sometimes doesn’t.
Elsewhere in the airline industry, she said, Southwest has remained profitable for longer than any other carrier, even though it often doesn’t charge a change fee, and it has resisted the trend toward fees for checked bags (which also helps it move passengers on and off planes more quickly, McSteen noted, because not as many people are trying to cram things into the overhead space). It consistently delivers on its promise of “LUV,” and the experience it offers is reliably less expensive, more flexible, and even more fun than with other airlines, McSteen said.
What could bar associations borrow from Southwest? Intentionally look for industry norms that cause distress for members and potential members, and then try to do the opposite. For example, she said, most bar associations have complicated dues structures, so finding a way to simplify it would reduce stress and help the bar stand out. Similarly, bars are known for hierarchical governance and for catering to certain members who are heavily involved—so, make a point of creating more ways for members to participate.
The stakes are potentially quite high, McSteen said, for any type of bar association. “Being mandatory is great,” she noted, “but maybe that won’t last. You need your members to love you.”
McSteen cited another example from the business world that illustrates the need to adapt to changing consumer preferences and market forces: Will your bar association be a Netflix—which saw the streaming revolution coming, and made sure it was out in front—or a Blockbuster, which clung to rentals of physical objects, and died?