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A five step customer-centric approach to help associations provide value to members

This article first appeared in Becker’s Hospital Review

Today’s healthcare professionals, like all of us, are the center of their own universe.

They are driven by choice and hyper-connectivity: the very shifts that may be contributing to fluctuating membership in specialty healthcare associations.

Based on our work in this sector, we know that associations that take a customer-centric perspective to their services can offer greater value to their members. To remain relevant, specialty healthcare associations must help members navigate their complex universe.

Here are five key steps to consider:

1. Understand the changing membership demographics.
While membership fluctuations are normal and cyclical, reduced membership is also spurred by population shifts and the changing needs and interests of younger generations of professionals, including healthcare providers. Of Americans who work in hospitals and health services in 2017, about a third were under age 35, part of either the Millennial or Gen Z generations.

There are meaningful differences in the way millennials prefer to work and engage with their colleagues, compared to older generations in the workplace. And when it comes to membership, younger healthcare professionals may take part in free social networking and advocacy opportunities available online or through other organizations. They may not see the added value of career development or networking opportunities that an association membership provides.

2. Offer services that meet customer interests.
Healthcare professionals may also be looking for services and benefits that aren’t offered by their specialty association. A cornerstone benefit of many associations has always been education, but some members report feeling that “the educational focus is now wholly devoted to passing the board,” rather than providing access to unique and valuable content to help them at different career stages.

Beyond education, today’s healthcare professionals are looking for their associations to provide other types of professional support, such as legal advice or business-focused advice on how to market or manage their practices. These valuable services are educational beyond the scope of healthcare delivery. Furthermore, many professionals join large practices or hospitals as employees rather than independent practitioners, and may be able to find development opportunities or camaraderie among their colleagues rather than through an association.

3. Segment their members by outcomes, not demographics.
Demographic shifts may play a role in the changing interests of healthcare association members. Focus on the goals and outcomes of members, rather than their age, gender, or location of residence when segmenting them. For example, some members value the board certification preparation, while others want to know that their association will advocate to lawmakers on their behalf. Offering these two groups the same services in the same way would be inappropriate, but not because millennial members value education and boomers care about lobbying. Rather, their goals, interests, and desired outcomes dictate how the association can serve them best.

How can you find out about your member’s goals? Talk to the rank-and-file membership on a regular basis to ensure you are aware of member’s interests, experiences, and goals. Communicating through informal and formal channels can yield insights about pain points that really exist in members’ lives that associations can solve.

4. Map their members’ universe to understand their world.
While healthcare associations interact with their members in a professional context, the professional context is just one component of their members’ lives. Customer-centric associations understand that they are one of many stakeholders in a member’s professional life, including their colleagues, employers, patients, current and former fellow students, trainees, or residents. Outside the realm of their jobs, healthcare professionals’ universe also includes family, other community-based organizations, and day-to-day lifestyle activities like the gym. They may also seek social engagement from online social networks, educational content from podcasts or YouTube, or hear about advancements in the healthcare field in the media. Specialty healthcare associations that understand the multitude of factors that touch their members’ lives will be able to design and deliver differentiated and valuable benefits and services.

5. Redesign their operations by thinking big, starting small, and scaling fast.
Customer-centric organizations adopt a new way of working that centers on their members’ vision, purpose, and desired outcomes. Use members’ desired outcomes to define transformational member-led vision. If a members’ vision is to be highly effective physician business owners, associations must implement that outcome into their own vision for the future. In some cases, the transformation may be huge – associations should not downplay the likely extent of the change in vision. While adopting a new customer-led vision can be daunting, start small by taking some of the steps outlined previously. For example, try segmentation based on outcomes, member universe and member journey mapping, developing value propositions, and testing new propositions. Gathering feedback from members frequently will improve strategies and tactics based on measurement, data, and insights. With data, you can continue to improve offerings through various iterations. Find a segmentation or proposition that works, then scale fast. Redesign target operating model based on member-centric offerings, always continuing to iterate and improve. All transitions and implementations require a plan, so engaging change management support and making detailed but flexible plans will help make sure the new model works and sticks. Finally, always measure how new offerings are being taken up by members and how well they are working.

Nilesh Chandra, Bret Schroeder, and Jenna Phillips are healthcare experts at PA Consulting Group

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Contact the authors

  • Nilesh Chandra

    Nilesh Chandra

    PA healthcare expert

    Nilesh is a leader in PA's healthcare business focused on helping provider industry clients develop new business models for an industry shifting towards value-based payments.

    Insights by Nilesh Chandra
  • Bret Schroeder

    Bret Schroeder

    PA healthcare expert

    Bret has over 20 years of business strategy and operations experience focused on helping companies leverage technology to improve business performance.

    Insights by Bret Schroeder
  • Jenna Phillips

    Jenna Phillips

    PA healthcare expert

    Jenna collaborates with stakeholders throughout the healthcare system to design and implement complex strategy initiatives

    Insights by Jenna Phillips

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