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Listening To Our Members

by Madeleine Jacobs, ACS Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer
October 11, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 41

Madeleine Jacobs, ACS Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography

Periodically, ACS asks our members: How can we serve you better? We do this through formal surveys, focus groups, ACS Network discussion groups, and informal chats. By listening to you, we learn what you value, need, and like.

Earlier this year, more than 24,000 randomly selected members received invitations from me to participate in an online Membership Satisfaction Survey. The survey was conducted under the auspices of the ACS Board of Directors Committee on Professional & Member Relations by market research firm Harris Interactive. The questions were nearly identical to previous surveys conducted in 2004 and 2007, thus allowing us to compare results.

ACS members are busy people, yet nearly 6,500 of you took the time to share your opinions. Moreover, because the 2010 survey went to many more people than the 2007 survey and the response rate was also higher, the 2010 survey generated nearly 10 times more responses—1.5 million data points! Let me share some high-level results. My thanks go to ACS staffers Jeff Allum, Gareth Edwards, and Alicia Filson for providing data analysis for this comment.

First, why do members join ACS? The data show that products and services that provide direct, tangible benefits to members are the primary reason members value ACS. In particular, the top three reasons people join are for access to scientific and other information, networking, and professional and career advancement.

On the whole, members are satisfied with ACS. In 2010, 84% of survey respondents were either somewhat satisfied or very satisfied with ACS overall, with more in the very satisfied category than somewhat satisfied. This percentage is generally the same whether members are domestic or international, and irrespective of whether they work in industry, government, academia, or elsewhere. The overall satisfaction rating was nearly identical to the two previous surveys; the percentage of very satisfied has increased by 11% from the 2004 survey, which is movement in the right direction.

Only 4% of members said they are somewhat dissatisfied (3%) or very dissatisfied (1%) with ACS, similar to the percentages in the two previous surveys. We do take these findings seriously, and we consider them to be part of our ongoing efforts to listen to members’ concerns. We know about some of these concerns from commentaries on blogs, Listservs, and in letters we receive.

The three most widely used programs, products, and services stayed the same in 2010 compared with 2007: C&EN, the ACS website, and technical publications. Among those who have used ACS services, technical journals and Chemical Abstracts Service are the top-ranked programs in terms of importance and satisfaction. In 2010, 85% of respondents said they probably or definitely would recommend ACS to a colleague. This is down from 2007, however, when 89% said they would probably or definitely recommend ACS to a colleague. Although this is not a large decline, it is something we will want to look into.

One definite take-away message from the survey about our programs and benefits is “If you try it, you’ll like it.” Nearly all of the 26 different membership benefits described in the 2010 survey were given high importance and satisfaction ratings among respondents who actually used them. But some membership benefits are not used widely. Career services, for example, are typically used only when members are seeking employment or professional development opportunities. By contrast, C&EN, the ACS website, national meetings, and technical publications are widely visible and recognizable. They, too, received high importance and satisfaction ratings.

ACS offers a huge array of programs, products, and services. One of our challenges is to continually raise and refresh your awareness of these offerings without simultaneously overwhelming you with information. For instance, since the survey was taken, the ACS website has been refreshed, with a new layout, new content, and improved search capabilities. Members have to know about what ACS offers; otherwise, they can’t tell us whether they like it or not.

The final question on the survey asked, “What, if anything, can ACS do to improve your membership experience?” Nearly 4,000 members responded to this question alone. We are currently analyzing these responses and expect some great ideas to emerge. In addition, at the ACS national meetings in San Francisco and Boston, we hosted eight informal focus groups with meeting attendees who shared their thoughts on topics ranging from networking to diversity. By taking the pulse of our national meeting attendees in this way, we hope to nurture member relations and inform the continued development of member programs and services.

To everyone who responded to the survey, thank you for giving us the gift of your time and opinions. Five lucky survey respondents won Amazon Kindles, and we hope that they are enjoying them!

Ultimately, we want to understand the unarticulated needs of our members. Finding out about those unspoken and sometimes unknown needs is difficult, but we are thinking about a way to periodically query a lot of our members in the coming year with such questions as, “What keeps you up at night?” and “What does another organization with which you interact provide that ACS does not?” In the meantime, please speak up! We are listening to you to ensure that ACS is the indispensable professional and information resource. I would love to hear your thoughts at

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.



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