Always On

Best Practices : Article

My holiday gift to myself this year was a Pebble Smartwatch. Of course, I got one in part because I can’t resist the latest gadget. (For other gadget geeks out there, I strongly recommend the UK Magazine T3, available on the iPad. It’s like porn for gadget geeks.)

But another reason I got one is even more pitiful. I simply can’t resist the siren song of my vibrating phone, and the twenty seconds it was taking me to dig my phone out of my pocket was just too much.

I’m not alone in feeling this way. More and more, you see devices that display your texts on your car dashboard (yikes!), your watch, or even your ski goggles. We’ve become an “always on” culture, where the idea of waiting to read something is just more than we can bear.

So what does this have to do with associations? Quite a bit. A funny thing happens when people read their texts and emails that fast. They reply just as fast. And expect a reply even faster. Cell phone maker HTC did an informal survey to gauge expected response time ( , segmented by audience. They found that during work hours, clients expect responses to text messages within 1 hour. And colleagues and “boss” are even faster—expecting a response within 15 minutes. Emails are only a bit slower, with clients expecting 4 hours and boss/colleagues both at 1 hour. And during non-work hours, the response time goes to 24 hours. (Note: weekends are at least 48).

So what does any of this mean for associations?

It means that traditional expectations for member service need to be dramatically updated. A “same day” response policy is likely angering your members. Same day is too late. Same hour is what they often want.

There are four things I’d recommend for associations to function in this environment.

  1. Arm your employees. Make sure your employees have the best technology to stay in touch with their members. If someone needs help accessing their work email on their phone, give it to them.
  2. Communicate expectations. Make sure your staff is aware of the changing expectations of members. I’m not that old, and in my first association job I still called in to have someone read my pink “while you were out” messages when I was on the road. People didn’t expect immediate response. Make sure your staff is well aware of how much times have changed.
  3. Communicate expectations, part II: It’s also critical to set expectations to your members of when they will get a response. Remember a quick message saying “got your question…I’m on it” often assuages concerns.
  4. Provide flexibility. It’s only fair. If you expect employees to respond at odd hours, you should be flexible with their work hours as well—the advantage (and disadvantage) of technology is people are still connected, even at a little league game or appointment.

I’d have more to say, but I have to run, my watch is calling me.

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