What You Need to Know About AMS User Experience (UX) During System Selection

Dan Hickey | 05.03.19
Topics: Software Requirements & Selection

ams user experience

Digital transformation has completely altered how associations use technology to interact with and deliver value to members and customers. But have you changed the way you select and implement technology?

For example, the requirements checklist on a typical request for proposals (RFP) for a new association management system (AMS) hasn’t changed much over the years:

  • Membership requirements - check
  • Accounting requirements - got it
  • E-commerce requirements - done
  • Third-party integrations – covered

And so on.

You think you have all functional requirements covered, but you might have overlooked a critical one: the AMS user experience (UX) for the self-service application (member portal).

AMS User Experience: It's a member portal requirement

How does such an important requirement get left off RFPs?

  • Staff are naturally more focused on back office requirements.
  • An emphasis on UX might increase design and implementation costs.
  • You assume AMS vendors include UX services in their implementation methodology.

AMS requirements discussions usually end up focusing on staff needs because you’re the ones using the data. But you have to focus on member needs as well during the selection and implementation process. Think about all the different ways members, prospects, attendees, learners, and certificants use your AMS self-service application (member portal).

  • Joining your association
  • Renewing their membership
  • Updating their member profile
  • Managing their CE credits and certification status
  • Registering for events
  • Submitting abstracts

What is the user experience like now for your members and constituents? Is it intuitive and streamlined? If not, how would you like to improve it?

Is it a cohesive experience? Does it reflect your brand?

How confident are you that members can find and do what they came for? Can your app handle a large membership renewal campaign or the first day of event registration? Or, are you worried that the calls and emails of frustrated members will overwhelm your member service center?

User Interface Design from the Member's Perspective

Take a holistic approach to user interface (UI) design—how a system looks and feels to the user. If your digital properties are designed in silos, the content management system (CMS) interface is going to feel different than the AMS and learning management system (LMS) interfaces. If someone goes from your home page to the member portal and then to the LMS, they shouldn’t even know they’re being shuffled from one system to another. It’s all one association to them, and that’s how their online experience should feel.

AMS vendors address UX in different ways. Ideally, your AMS partner includes wireframes in their methodology. Wireframes are layouts of web page showing the interface elements on each page. When a vendor shows you wireframes during the design phase of the project, you can provide feedback on user interface before they begin development.

Ideally, your AMS vendor has web designers with UI/UX skills on their team. But some AMS vendors still rely on backend developers to build user interfaces with little to no user experience in mind.

In this case, you could remove the self-service functionality from the AMS applications and instead use your CMS and web services to accomplish your goals. This approach allows your web design firm to control the look and feel of the application without the design restrictions of the AMS framework. This option is usually more expensive, but it’s worth considering when you factor in timeline and level of effort.

Don't Forget About Usability Testing

Usability testing must always be part of your AMS requirements, including the testing of self-service applications. Don’t assume your AMS vendor will include this critical step in the project. It’s your responsibility to make sure it’s part of the project plan.

During the project planning and budgeting phase, decide whether it makes sense to seek outside feedback during usability testing. If it does, engage the services of a consultant who offers usability testing services.

Usability testing ranges in scope and cost. A comprehensive approach typically includes in-person interviews conducted by a consultant. They track and record user movements to determine where users encounter problems and experience confusion.

If you have a limited budget, consider a lightweight study that you can do over the phone with a few of your members or attendees. You could also take advantage of onsite opportunities, such as conferences or committee meetings.

Given your budget and timeline, you probably won’t be able to conduct a usability study for each of your online applications. However, objective feedback from your members can provide dividends for both them and your association.

Your members are busy. The easier and quicker it is for them to renew their membership or register for an event, the more likely they’ll continue their engagement with your association. Likewise, the less time your staff has to spend dealing with frustrated members, the more time they have can spend moving your association forward. Everyone benefits when you pay attention to user experience.  


Should you issue an RFI or an RFP?  Before you cast a wide net for software vendors and solutions, use our  checklist to determine which approach—a request for information or a request  for proposals—is more fitting. Download the Cheat Sheet

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