Software News June 2014

Dmitriy Buterin 25 June 2014 0 comments

The rollout of the new version is almost complete. There is just one small set of accounts waiting to be migrated this Saturday (June 28) so come next week everyone will have arrived at the station called “Wild Apricot Version 5.”

This has been THE BIGGEST project of this kind in our company’s 7-year history.

With the Version 5 work almost out of the way, guess what our teams have been up to recently?

Nope, not lying on the beach (nice try though LOL!). Beyond all other product enhancements we talked about last month, we’ve also been very busy working on several projects designed to help you get more “mileage” out of Wild Apricot, grow your membership, and have an easier time bringing your new staff and volunteers up to speed. If you were to come to our office today, you’d hear the word “onboarding” mentioned a lot.

Intrigued? Please read on.

Surveying the small membership community

Small Membership Survey

In our efforts to help understand the specific issues and challenges facing small membership organizations, we conducted our Small Membership Survey for the second year in a row. We were pleased to have 487 respondents from small associations, non-profits and clubs participate in this second edition of our survey. The final report will be available soon (you can sign-up to receive it here). But along with offering benchmarking information on small organizations, the survey also provides an opportunity for participants to find out about and ask questions of their small membership peers.

Small Membership Advisory Community

In fact, requests from customers and survey participants led to the development of our Small Membership Advisory Community, which we launched last month. We’re now hosting regular sessions to help share information and insight among the volunteers and staff of small membership organizations. These discussions also offer us keen insight into the full range of issues and challenges small organizations are facing.

Through our survey, as well as in the candid discussions with our Advisory Community members, we asked “what are the topics you’re most interested in, which are most pressing, what are some of your biggest challenges?” And we found that member engagement and member retention came up very frequently. This has led to many discussions about how to better engage members and volunteers, and in particular, about what types of member onboarding processes small organizations have implemented.

What is Onboarding?

Onboarding is the common term for the process of welcoming and acclimating new members, donors or supporters to your organization. This process can dramatically impact how long members will stay and how active they become. For small associations, clubs and nonprofits, onboarding can help to increase engagement, including better event attendance, increased volunteering as well as other contributions. And more engagement leads to increased retention.

We’ve been gathering some great insight and ideas from our Small Membership Advisory Community and will share this with you in regular blog posts such as the one we published last week – so stay tuned to the Wild Apricot Blog.

Onboarding is extremely important for Wild Apricot and our customers

For your association, club or non-profit, onboarding means creating a welcoming experience for new members. Similarly, for Wild Apricot, it is about creating a welcoming experience for product users during their initial interaction with us (from opening a trial, through their evaluation, upgrading, and the first weeks of being a paying customer). Sure, we are a software company. But we are also a membership organization, our members being active users of the software, people like you.

Now, obviously, this endeavor is not as much about creating something entirely new as it is about building on what we’ve been doing already. While we offer one of the most comprehensive help systems in our industry, as well as email and telephone support through our dedicated support team, we are continually listening to customer feedback and identifying ways we can enhance the Wild Apricot experience, especially for new users as well as new administrators just getting starting with our software.

We’ve come a long way since the launch of  Wild Apricot 7 years ago –  when it was easy to know our customers and understand their Wild Apricot journey since we could just ask them! But since then, we’ve grown to supporting over 50,000+ administrators, working or volunteering at the 14,000+ organizations using Wild Apricot.  So we’ve launched an initiative that involves contributions by all of our teams –  marketing, customer service, product design, and support – to ensure we are offering optimum help and a welcoming experience with our software.

Here’s a brief overview of some of the ideas and plans we’re considering to enhance the onboarding experience at Wild Apricot.

Product Design (Frank Goertzen, Fresh Apricot)

As you know, we’re constantly enhancing and changing our product to meet our customers’ needs. But the product team has begun a project to focus on the thousands of new users who try Wild Apricot for the first time every month. We’re coordinating efforts with our support and marketing teams to make the first 100 days of using Wild Apricot as smooth as possible.

In terms of specific changes in the product or in the admin view, we’re looking into, for example, getting started wizards and embedded checklists to help users explore Wild Apricot. As you’ll see below, these initiatives will be in addition to and complement a number of enhancements to our documentation.

Help Enhancements (Steve Andrews, Picky Apricot)

You can design the most intuitive software in the world, but users – especially new ones – will always have questions or run into roadblocks. And when they do, the quality and availability of the help can make the difference between a productive user and a frustrated one.

We are proud of Wild Apricot's online help but we know we can always do better, and we are constantly re-evaluating how we structure, format, and deliver our documentation.

Finding the right topic

One issue we've identified is the difficulty some users have finding the right help topic to address their problem or answer their question. Maybe they searched using certain keywords and ended up on a related page, but not the one that provides the answer or details they need. To help direct users to the right topics, we've made the following changes. First, we've moved all the See also sections from the bottom of the page to the top. Now, links to pages that might contain the answers they are looking for will be immediately visible without scrolling the entire topic.


Next, we've combined closely related pages into larger self-contained topics, to reduce the chances of searching your way to the wrong page. For example, instead of jumping between multiple pages covering the different steps involved in setting up a discussion forum, now there's just one.

Finally, we've added section-specific search boxes to topics with a lot of subpages, so you can search just within a particular section without getting results for the entire help site.

Don’t be buried by content

Another issue we've identified is that users can feel overwhelmed by large help topics – particularly those with a lot of subsections. They don't know where to start and they find it difficult to browse through the multiple sections to the one they need. To reduce that sense of being buried by content, we've borrowed a concept from UI design called progressive disclosure. Instead of displaying all the instructions, we hold back the detail until you choose to view it. Within longer help topics, we've started collapsing sections so you can see all the different sections with minimal scrolling, and choose for yourself which one you want to expand.

You still have all the benefits of one-stop shopping – less jumping between topics, more targeted search results – without having to scroll to find the information you want.

Scenario-based tutorials

Yet another issue involves scenarios that cut across multiple functional areas within Wild Apricot. For example, setting up a member-only portal involves setting up membership levels, modifying a page template, and designing and grouping multiple site pages. The instructions for each of these steps could be found in separate help topics, but no one topic pulled together all the instructions needed to address the scenario. So, beginning with site customization scenarios, we've started assembling help topics – we're calling them tutorials – that address common yet complex scenarios.

Answers for all types of users

We’re working hard to get to know our users better, and in doing so, we've realized that there are two main kinds of users – the tech-savvy types who want to quickly zero in on the details, and newbies who need comprehensive, step-by-step instructions. To accommodate both types of users, we've started experimenting with more “quick start” topics – abbreviated topics providing minimal details, along with links to more detailed information. We hope this provides power users with a faster route to the information they seek, and while providing less technical users with a path to the detailed instructions they need.

These are only a few of the incremental steps we're taking to improve the help experience for our users. Future plans include making the help option more visible, and possibly providing on-the-spot help – aka inline help – that provides tips and explanations right on the admin screen, maybe within a collapsible side panel. We also have heard you on the issue of accessibility, and we will be discussing the implications of an aging population with decreasing visual and hearing skills. As a first step, we will be looking at adding captioning to our instructional videos.

Support (Milan Malivuk, ASAP Apricot)

I’m always surprised when I hear from a client that they didn’t even know we had a great support team or one of the most comprehensive help guides I’ve ever seen. That’s why one big part of our onboarding enhancements will be focusing on introducing new users to the plethora of support options.

Along with paying close attention to the surveys we send our customers, recently we’ve been spending a lot of time walking through the whole setup process from the perspective of a number of different types of users. This helps us develop a better idea of where a new user is likely to have issues and need support, as well as giving us a better understanding of what kind of support would be most appropriate in that instance and for that user.

We’re currently developing a list of potential candidates for onboarding initiatives that we’ll review, test and roll out in our efforts to improve our users' onboarding experience with our system.

Stay tuned for more details on our onboarding initiatives in the near future

We’ll provide more details once we roll out some of these new onboarding initiatives. And while we recognize that this may not impact many of our existing customers who know their way around our software, we understand that many organizations have high staff and volunteer turnover and bring on new Wild Apricot users frequently.  We get that your new volunteers and staff need to get up to speed quickly and often without a lot of help from former administrators.  So we’re doing our best to make their onboarding as helpful and welcoming as possible.

Do you have any suggestions for onboarding new Wild Apricot users?

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Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot] Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot]

Posted by Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 25 June 2014 at 9:07 AM

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