Why reps avoid online join forms (and what it means for a union)
Posted: 28 June 2022
Loads of parks have them - dusty tracks across the middle of an otherwise pristine lawn, worn down because it’s quicker than taking the asphalt path twenty yards away.
They’re called “desire paths”, and they’re the result of layer upon layer of individual actions (in this case, walking) being repeated thousands of times.
But someone joining a union isn’t the work of an individual. It’s a collective effort.
When a prospective member wants to join a union, they apply, the application is collected (by whatever means), processed, the branch is informed, the member is approved and ultimately they’re welcomed into the union.
Over the last five years we’ve spoken to tons of union reps and organisers, along with many more working in membership teams.
In those conversations, we ask them about what they do when someone joins.
What we hear back are the “desire paths” for signing up members.
One of these is how reps will often avoid using the union’s digital application form because they feel it takes too long and asks for too much information.
Instead, they use the union’s paper form because they know the shortcuts they can take to get it done quickly.
The problem with this “desire path” is it takes others in the process away from where they want to be:
- For the member, they don’t get any confirmation of their application until the form has been received, processed and approved by the membership team. And if the form gets lost, they may never become a member at all. All this means the members’ first impression of the union isn’t exactly one of a modern, responsive organisation.
- For the membership team, they have to spend time transcribing paper forms into the membership database, correcting errors and typos and potentially having to contact the member to confirm details, or collect missing information. It takes a lot of time, is frustrating, and is using up resources that could be better used elsewhere.
- Lastly, the union suffers the repeated cost of the additional processing by the membership team as well as lost revenue from the delays in signing members up (Across the UK unions are collectively losing tens of thousands of membership months per year in this way).
If it’s not already obvious, the answer is an online join form that reps prefer to use. Doing this effectively “asphalts” the entire union’s desire path; bringing together and aligning the expectations of members, reps, membership teams and the organisation as a whole.
At the start of the pandemic we worked with a union that used a lot of paper forms. Almost overnight they had to drop them entirely. We redesigned their joining process, replacing “print, fill in, and return a PDF” with an entirely digital experience.
With the pandemic now receding, how many paper applications do they get today?