If you've been onto the membership page recently you'll see that this year, for the first time, we're managing club memberships using a system called "ClubSpark". We're one of the first clubs in the UK to make use of ClubSpark, which has been developed (and is still being further developed) for the LTA, who in turn are making it available to clubs like ours (who pay an annual fee to the LTA).
For some years now we've held all our member details in a simple Excel spreadsheet, with columns for name, address, phone numbers, etc. This doesn't make these details particularly easy to use though - for example, if we wanted to send an e-mail to all members we'd have to separately set up e-mail distribution lists within our Yahoo! Mail account, which would need to be manually kept in line with the details in the spreadsheet (a reason why we haven't done it, although I've tried to maintain member mobile numbers to send information by text). And getting member details into the spreadsheet has always been a fairly manual task, with the only technological tool available to Kate, our membership secretary, being the copy and paste facility!
ClubSpark should streamline all this, allowing members to create their own ClubSpark account and to manage their own details. And 2014-15 members should already have seen evidence of one of the automations provided by ClubSpark - they should all have received an e-mail inviting them to renew their membership (anyone who hasn't please get in touch, ensuring they include their current e-mail address).
I say "should", as it's still fairly early days, and there have already been one or two teething problems where members were unable to renew when they tried. But for the most part it appears to be a slick and efficient system that works well.
And, all member details are in ClubSpark - though not without effort!!! All current member details needed to get from our old spreadsheet and into the ClubSpark database. With magic unavailable, the best that Sportlabs (the company responsible for ClubSpark) could provide was an import-from-spreadsheet facility. Could it import from our spreadsheet...?...of course it couldn't (magic was unavailable remember), the data had to be in one of three different formats depending upon whether the membership was Family, Adult or Junior. So what was the technology employed? That's right, copy and paste! And how long did it take? Four very tedious hours!
This is, thankfully, a one-off task though (trust me, no one could bear doing this task more than once!) and now it's done we should be able to appreciate the benefits over time.
ClubSpark handles payments as well as member details, working in conjunction with a service called GoCardless. To pay on-line using GoCardless you just specify your bank sort code and account number and the payment is processed as a direct debit. This is the case even if you choose the single payment option, but it also allows us to offer payment by monthly direct debit so that, if you wish, you can now spread your membership subscription cost over six months! ClubSpark / GoCardless monitor the payments on behalf of the club, and they're also a lot cheaper than our previously used online payment mechanism, PayPal - it costs the club 1.8% to accept payments via ClubSpark / GoCardless, whereas PayPal charge 3.4% + 20p for every payment taken.
Online Court Bookings
We haven't got the final part of the ClubSpark membership module yet - we can't yet allow new members to access a link where they can select a membership type and pay for it (for the moment we need to take their details and then send them a payment request), but this facility should be with us soon. And another facility that should also be with us soon is the online court booking module. This will be offered initially on a trial basis and on Court 1 only, but it will hopefully prove successful and allow members the sureity, when they want it, of knowing that there'll be a court available when they come along to play outside of organised activities. Certainly, for members who like to play amongst their friends and family, and especially those who live further from the club, this could prove a useful facility.
There are some concerns with offering online court booking. For instance, we're an unstaffed site so there's no one there to control bookings. Members using Court 1 will need to be aware that, if they've not checked the current booking, they may need to vacate it at any moment (best to book it then!) And when the court has been booked, members will need to be sure they can prove to someone already on the court that they have reserved it (e.g. by printing the confirmation email / showing it on a smartphone).
There's also the possibility that people may book and then not turn up, whilst someone else would've liked to have played but thought the court was unavailable. The system allows a charge to be levied for court bookings, which could be used to deter this sort of thing, but hopefully that won't prove necessary.
It's fair to say that past experience has shown there's rarely a problem getting a court when turning up to play, except perhaps in the busiest time around Wimbledon, but we now have a lot more members, some of whom live a good few miles away, so this will hopefully prove to be a useful additional facility.