The Member As Customer

When the RAC board and executive group meets in Ottawa in October to discuss the future of our national association, what will be the focus of the meeting?

How about if we focus on the member as a customer?

So what does that mean? It means that fixing problems is all well and good but does it actually serve the customer – RAC’s members?

For example, does the much discussed governance model serve RAC’s customers in Quebec? With approximately 25 per cent of the Amateur Radio population in Canada how does it serve VE2-land to have one representative on the board?

How about The Canadian Amateur Magazine? It costs the members over $6,000 an issue to publish (so with six issues per year times $6K = $36K divided by 5,000 members = $7.20 a year out of your $55 membership dues).

If it went online with a PDF version there still would be the editorial and layout costs. (Despite calls to end paying positions no one with professional editorial, sales and publishing experience has yet to commit to doing the job.)

Would an online TCA serve the members if the magazine was available free to everyone (thus eliminating fears that someone could freely post it online)? Would that attract more paying members thus creating a stronger national organization?

Does it make any sense when it comes to time and effort to sell $50 ads to a handful of small amateur radio retailers? Will major manufacturers spend their limited ad dollars inTCA? Or does the advertising model even apply to in-house magazines like TCA?

It comes down to whether or not TCA serves the members.

What about non-members? RAC claims to represent all Canadian licensed Amateur Radio operators. But does it? Does it serve the paying members to ignore the needs of the non-members? That’s the model most clubs run on and rightly so as the members get the benefits but does it serve RAC’s members to exclude non-members thus weakening our claims that RAC represents all Canadian hams?

What about the costs of running a bricks and mortar office? Does it serve the members or would a virtual office work better for the members? (One of the reasons an office was created was to better serve the member’s needs around reaching a “real person” as opposed to a telephone answering device or service. The virtual office had its issues.) Does that still serve?

So why are the board and executive members coming to Ottawa (at their own expense BTW)? If it’s just to fix the old leaky administrative plumbing then what’s the point? What we end up with is expensive new plumbing but we end up drinking the same old tainted water.

What do you think the board and executive should discuss in Ottawa in October? What is your future vision of RAC?

8 Responses to “The Member As Customer”

  • A simple “it costs $X per issue” is a nice start, but doesn’t really go into enough detail. By knowing the actual breakdown of costs, it would be possible to make more accurate predictions about what might happen if membership dues were increased, or if TCA was changed to be an optional ($10? $20?) addition to the standard dues.

    $6k per issue sounds like a great deal for such a limited print run… but what’s the breakdown? Is that before or after advertising revenues have been subtracted from the true cost of publishing? What are the actual printing costs? Editorial costs? Honorariums (if any) for contributors? Postage and handling charges? How much time and effort goes into attracting and retaining advertisers, and is the person in charge of that being paid for their time?

    A brick and mortar office seems to be a luxury for an organization that is having financial troubles. The vast majority of the time, it seems that members should be able to get by with contacting an answering service, provided that they received a response within a couple of business days. Not only would you save on the salary of whoever is answering the phones, but you would not incur the overhead associated with renting an office.

    You say that the virtual office had its issues. What were they? And how long ago was this last attempted? Technology moves quickly, and it seems likely that any problems you had could be mitigated.

  • I think the questions are a step in the right direction, but I’m in agreement with the other hams who have stated that transparency is one of the bigger issues that RAC has to face. My first thought when reading this post was “These numbers don’t add up. Why are spousal and blind person memberships only $20 as opposed to $50, if the magazine only costs $7.20 to print?” If this information was available, we could see for ourselves. Without the information, the inevitable thought is “What are they hiding?”.

    What about this board meeting.. I would love to be able to attend the meeting to see what it is that RAC has to meet over, what is the heart of what the executive does? Are the meetings open to the public? Do I have to be on the board to attend? Is it open to RAC members to view? Is it open to any ham?

  • I see two different issues here. One of them is retaining current members and provide value to them, and I would agree that maintaining TCA could be very valuable in that respect. The other issue is to attract new members to join RAC – and with only 5000 members out of 40k+ hams in Canada, there should be quite a pool to draw from. The real question should perhaps not be “are we serving our current members” but more “why do people not want to join RAC?

    I speak of cost breakdowns and fiscal belt-tightening more towards the cash shortfall that RAC apparently finds itself in. It seems that addressing this for at least its short-term survival is critical.

    To me, it appears that RAC is wearing two hats. One of these is to be a publisher of a magazine like TCA for its members. The other is being a lobbying organization that is committed to representing amateur radio in Canada. For individuals such as myself, the only value I see in the RAC is as a lobbying organization. I can get news online and in a more timely fashion than via a magazine. Likewise with technical articles. While I understand that there are some hams out there who are not comfortable with computers and the internet, there are undoubtedly many who are just fine with using these tools to gather their information. As a result, I just see it as a magazine subscription that I don’t really want.

    Perhaps it would help to have a blog post or two about some specific successes that RAC has had in the lobbying arena over the past several years?

  • I appreciate the efforts this blog has been making to promote discussion around RAC’s future (although I’ve been disappointed by some of the responses).

    At the same time, I think that viewing members as “customers” is a dead end. Customers generally have a choice between several options — Canadian hams do not: if we don’t support RAC as our national organization there isn’t anything else on the horizon.

    More importantly, encouraging members and prospective members to see themselves as customers will be harmful to RAC. The payment of annual fees will no longer be a contribution to the national organization that represents our interests, but a mere exchange of cash for goods or services. Members contribute to a common good and share common goals; customers pay their money and expect to be served.

    So, yes, it’s important to understand what current and potential members think and to offer a vision they can support. But encouraging self-interested consumerism won’t give RAC the community of support it needs.

  • The comments or replies to the post entitled: “The Member as Customer”, as well as the post itself, are very thoughtful and informative. Thank you Peter for giving us the rough cost information on TCA. I digress with Andrew here in that I willingly would pay (and do) $7.20 a year for TCA. It is a good magazine in my opinion. I would have thought it would be alot more to produce, but $7.20 is a bargain for what we get. TCA is a magazine I want, contrary to Andrew’s view.

    Even so, Andrew’s questions WRT the breakdown of costs, or what exactly the $7.20 covers, are appropo. Is this the net cost after factoring in advertising revenues, postage costs, and government grants to offset some of these?

    I certainly believe that RAC needs a means of communication to all its members. TCA is that means. At $7.20/yr, TCA is obviously not the fiscal problem that RAC needs to solve.

    VE3DNI makes a very good point about transparency. RAC absolutely needs this if it really wants to eliminate suspicion from all minds, and be able to attract those who are presently distrustful to become part of the family.

    Peter asks about services to non-members. When RAC makes representations to the government, it is in behalf of all Canadian radio amateurs. There is no other federally-focussed amateur radio organization out there. However, IC knows how many hams RAC really represents and no doubt responds accordingly. Whose fault is it when RAC fails in some of the representative things it is trying to do? Are non-members at least partially to blame for the lack of clout that RAC is hampered with? Would it not make sense for all hams to unite together to make a strong representative for our interests? As far as I’m concerned, I’m not too worried about providing services to the “Freddy the Freeloaders” of the world, as I am in enticing them into the fold.

    Therefore, the question of the day should be:

    How can we change RAC from being the place where everyone SHOULD be, to the place where everyone WANTS to be?

    If that question can be successfully answered, then RAC’s problems will be over.

  • I don’t see a point to the group having a physical office. With modern technology it’s entirely possible to dispense with a physical office without having to dispense with having the ability to answer telephone calls; just contract to a receptionist service who will then forward calls to the appropriate individual’s phone. This will cost far less than a full premise rental, and serve the bulk of the organization’s needs that are being met currently by an office rental. There is simply no need for a physical office to ensure that people can reach a “real person”.

  • Steve Cutway VE3KC

    VE3DNI asks why ‘white caners’ and spouses pay $20 membership per year. As a ‘white caner, I can answer that question for us at least. We don’t get TCA. Why? Because it isn’t now and never has been available in an electronic format that can be read by a screen reader. This matter has been discussed off and on for years and RAC has stubbornly insisted that making available an accessible electronic version of TCA could open it up to wide, free distribution from which RAC would get no revenue. This is a fallacy.
    I’ve lived this argument since hardware and software became available to make computers accessible to the blind. It’s a classic response from publishers. My response to them is that they, in fact, are losing a sale because I won’t be buying their product. The same is true of RAC.
    Other posts have suggested that computer technology is sufficiently evolved to allow RAC to eliminate its physical office. Well, it’s also sufficiently evolved for RAC to produce an electronic version of TCA that is accessible to all. When that day comes, I’ll happily pay the full membership price rather than the current $20; but not until then.
    Why do spouses pay only $20? I think because only one copy of the magazine has to be sent to a household rather than two. Many organizations offer a similar price reduction for family members living at the same address. Interestingly, this very issue came up at last Wednesday night’s Kingston Amateur Radio Club meeting. One member opposed the ‘courtesy’, as another member called it, but we now offer a half price membership for immediate family members living at the same address.

  • The Kingston Amateur Radio Club enjoyed an extremely informative and motivational presentation at the September meeting by Assistant Director Stephen Mayne VE3LWX.With people like Stephen working toward the transformation of RAC, I am very optimistic.

    I read the long multi-part Transformation document. Although the sentiment and the ideas were commendable, I think that we need to be brief and concise about our ideas so our members will read the ideas and be able to clearly understand them.

    I wonder if those most involved in transformation have looked to other successful Canadian national organisations, and to national amateur radio organisations in other countries, especially in Europe.

    I know it is difficult but I think a guiding objective should be that every amateur in Canada should be required to belong to RAC and/or a provincial organisation with affiliation with RAC, as a prerequisite to holding an amateur radio qualification. This might be something less than full membership, maybe without TCA if desired. One way or another RAC needs to represent 100 percent of Canadian amateurs.

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