The changes brought by the pandemic, the fact that spaces lost large numbers of members and that the vast majority of spaces that were newly opened in 2020 and the first half of 2021 opened their doors with very low occupancy, has meant that the interest flexible workspaces have in retaining their clients has grown exponentially.
Before the pandemic, the combination of an increasingly competitive market along with very aggressive discount policies to open new spaces at 100% occupancy meant that when these initial contracts came to an end, some operators were not interested in renewing them.
The interest in these renewals decreases, in some cases, proportionally to the recovery of occupancy levels and pre-pandemic demand (in some markets even above it) and we start to see cases in which a client’s rate triples in value after a 30-day notice period.
I personally believe that trying to retain members is a strategy that should always be a priority. Not only is it much cheaper than recruiting new members, but in a well managed space I have seen 40% of leads come from recommendations from existing members of the space. Additionally, visits are much easier and conversions are higher than those leads that come from other sources:
We can say that when you work to keep your current members happy you are not only working on having to acquire fewer members by having fewer unsubscribes, but you are getting leads that will also be easier to convert.
Generally speaking, experience has shown me that the factors causing members to leave a space quickly are down to flaws in the foundation of the service offered that affect the productivity or comfort of the people using it. If your members are only in your space for a short time, there is probably something about your service that is affecting them in this regard. Examples in this category include: a slow, unstable or unreliable internet connection, poor air conditioning or climate control, uncomfortable chairs, insufficient cleaning,... These are usually issues that are not visible to the naked eye, that have worsened over time or that when they entered the space they did not think much of (if they were obvious they would have never signed up in the first place).
There are obviously other reasons for leaving a flexible workspace that goes beyond these but they tend to erode memberships more slowly. The social side that members seek to satisfy by being part of a coworking space is another reason for a person to leave if they fail to connect with others in the community. Obviously, the level of expectations varies with the type of client (freelancer, SME, large enterprise) and the personality of the person. In this sense, onboarding plays a fundamental role, as I will discuss below.
The interaction with the team, the way the space is managed, your processes, or a lack of flexibility can become factors that slowly erode the experience of members. There must be rules, if you know me, you know I'm a big fan of rules, but the rules must make sense and make things easier for everyone. And sometimes (just sometimes) there are good reasons to break them: if you are forced to break them too often then your rules are not right.
You can be given dozens of tips, and in fact, I'm going to give you a few, on how to improve your member retention but none beats this one: ask your members for their priorities.
Run surveys (once or twice a year, and if it's really (really) short enough once per quarter) to find out what these priorities are and then implement those that have a specific weight within the community and are aligned with the path you want the space to follow. I recommend taking into account the composition of your community and especially those people/teams that you have an easier time retaining. Implementing member requests is sometimes easier said than done: if you are not going to implement any of the improvements they send you, don't bother to ask. It's as simple as that because doing so will be counterproductive as it will make them feel ignored. Members are very conscious of what you spend your money on and when your priorities and theirs repeatedly differ it affects their perception of the service.
Asking members is a healthy exercise, it will make them feel heard and offers an opportunity for more timid members to give you feedback. Obviously, you don't have to implement everything they ask, but you should consider those requests that have a lot of traction in the community, as well as those ideas that you think are good for the present and future of your space.
Ideally, the survey should include open-ended questions so that members can express themselves freely, even if it is more difficult for you to "process" them. A very interesting and effective approach is to use the net promoter score. In short terms:
*Considering your complete experience with our company, how likely would you be to recommend us to your friend or colleague?
Based on the score, the customers fall into one of the 3 categories.
Promoters: Customers who rate 9 or 10 and are happy with your services. They are loyal enthusiasts and might prove to be evangelists for your business. They are extremely likely to recommend your company to people in their social or professional circles.
Passives: Customers who rate 7 or 8 and have average experience with your company. They are satisfied with your services but might switch your competitors if given an opportunity. They have a neutral stand - won't spread negative word-of-mouth but won't promote your brand either.
Detractors: Customers who rate below 6 and are not happy with your products or services. They share their bad experiences with others and damage the company's reputation. They would not like to repurchase your products or services and would discourage others too.
Your Net Promoter Score is calculated as the percentage of promoters minus the percentage of detractors.
You can use the Nexudus survey tool (use the Dropdown question type) to create these surveys for your members or use a third party service. My next question would be: What aspects do you think we need to improve to make your membership experience excellent?
This is the simplest approach and from there you can complicate it as much as you consider necessary but remember:
No one wants to answer endless surveys. Try to maintain a balance between getting information and getting responses.
An anonymous survey tends to get more honest responses. Allow them to optionally give their name and you can talk to them about their answers to get additional feedback.
Another good practice is to be able to differentiate the surveys for each of the services you offer: it may be interesting to have different questions besides the two suggested ones (even if they take more work) or to differentiate them in some way so that you are clear about which of your services are better and worse value.
Surveys are a fundamental tool to get information in volume and allow those people who are more reluctant to give you their opinion. They don't work alone, you and your team will have to go the extra mile to get a good response rate, especially when engaging with the space or its staff is lower (or if you do too many surveys or ask them to interact too often).
However, there is one thing I would like to remind you - this is a people's industry and we should never lose personal contact with our members.
A good survey is a must but so is personal contact with members. Identifying the key members of a community, not just the paying members, but those people who have a certain influence within their teams or within the general community of the space and getting them to be a source of information that allows you to gauge the pulse of your community is essential. Personally, it has always worked best for me to do it informally but every space and community is different.
Personal contact goes far beyond asking to know what you are interested in improving: personal contact is an essential part of what we do.
Having your community builders know the members by name, having their birthdays registered and congratulating them or having a detail with them is just the bare minimum - the ideal situation is when you and your staff genuinely care about them. That interest, when truly genuine, makes people feel valued and special. And who doesn't like to feel special?
Reading this may make you feel as if this advice comes from someone cold and calculating, but the truth is that in my case, these concerns/curiosity/interest comes naturally. If you have chosen the public-facing staff well, knowing the members, knowing how to listen, empathize, ... while knowing how to keep some distance from the members comes naturally to them. A community builder is not a friend of the coworkers, but if they are not able to sound different from the customer service of a telephone company, they will not be able to establish a personal relationship with the members.
Nobody likes difficulty, especially with everyday things or things that should be easy. Review your processes and try to make things as seamless as possible. One of the core values of coworking spaces is to simplify the day-to-day life of the members so that they can focus on the core of their business. If a member or a team feels that every time they have to interact with your team it's a bureaucratic maze, they might think about finding another space.
Another factor that influences people to opt for a coworking space is the social relationships created there. These can mean access to new clients, new suppliers, new opportunities or new friends.
Connecting members with the rest of the space community is essential the first few days/weeks a person arrives at a space. Staff play a key role in identifying what connections might be most interesting to people coming into a space. You must remember that we are all different and we are all looking for different things. Additionally, keep in mind that it is very different dealing with freelancers than with small teams or large teams.
Your staff should introduce new members to the right people, recommend the best events for them and pay special attention to new members in this first phase. Good onboarding can mean the difference between success and failure: understanding that every opportunity to interact with members is an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with them and differentiate yourself from the competition is key. Understand that the feel of the space (customer service if you prefer), unlike the look of the space which is very easy to copy, is much more difficult to replicate.
Don't send an endless pdf email, although I would also shy away from recommendations to send an endless chain of emails (Neither I nor you want to end up in the spam folder in the first two weeks). Combine automated emails with essential information and tips with visits from your staff.
Many sites bet on creating a virtual community or use an instant messaging tool, to connect all members. The truth is that it is difficult to compete for the attention of members on their smartphones and sometimes it is complicated to manage when the space has certain dimensions but it is worth trying because it is a quick way to make people feel connected. You can use Nexudus tools (this is the best as you will keep the people inside the system) but use other tools if your community is very into them: slack is very popular in dev spaces.
Another common recommendation is to create a loyalty program. I think this is a good recommendation but in many cases, the recommendation is applied in the wrong way. Let me put it better: setting up a loyalty programme is a fantastic idea. Freezing prices forever is a death trap that can lead to disastrous situations. Prices go up, inflation (higher or lower) is a reality to which coworking spaces are not immune: promising a price for life is absurd. It's a nice promise but it's been tried and it doesn't work.
When you offer a price with the promise not to increase it, what happens is that after a certain time, when your costs have increased, your priority will be to get rid of this customer at all costs and this obviously goes against the initial intention of the loyalty program.
If you offer a loyalty programme your proposal can be something as simple as a promise to always offer a better price than the one you currently have on your website (for example last year's prices) but don't tie yourself to a price that you can't change without breaking a promise.
I would like to close the post with a thought that, although seems obvious to me, the truth is that I have never heard it from anyone else yet. Your best source of information about people leaving is actually the people who are leaving. You have to be able to create an environment where these people feel comfortable enough to tell you why they are leaving. They're not strangers, you've probably shared months working in the same space, you should be able to get sincere feedback. My approach: "I would like to ask you a favour… I'm not trying to change your mind but it would be great for me to know why you are leaving. An honest response would help me understand what we are doing wrong and how we can improve to prevent other people from leaving."
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