Birmingham Museums Trust

Project Overview

We built a cutting edge membership system for Birmingham Museums Trust, making it easy for new members to sign up and benefit from their many fantastic locations, including Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (BMAG).

The system includes automatic renewals to improve customer retention, and a secure and intuitive console for staff to manage members and payments.

Who are Birmingham Museums Trust?

As the largest independent charitable trust of museums in the UK, Birmingham Museums Trust is responsible for nine sites across the city and welcomes visitors in their millions every year.

Sites include Thinktank science museum, Sarehole Mill, Museum of the Jewellery Quarter and, of course, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, known locally as BMAG.

Raising funds is of vital importance to the future of these sites and the collections they house, many of which are of national cultural importance.

Project Overview

Birmingham Museums Trust rapidly needed to overhaul their membership system to increase customer retention and ease-of-use, helping to raise crucial funds to maintain the Trust’s many museum sites and world-class collections.

Our solution involved creating a standalone membership system that looked and behaved as part of the existing online provision yet communicated directly with the Trust’s CRM and provided a streamlined UX and online payment facility.

Project Brief

BMAG were using a ticket purchasing system, originally used for the sale of individual tickets for special events, to power memberships.

A number of issues arose due to this choice in technology:

  • Prospective members needed to add a 12-month “membership” product to a basket and proceed through payment as if buying a ticket.
  • After 12 months the system would deliver an email encouraging members to purchase another membership, putting the onus on them to take action.
  • Retention levels were low despite feedback that members really enjoyed the benefits of their membership.

Our brief was to develop a bespoke membership system to provide a streamlined, purpose-built online interface for members to buy memberships.

Our Proposal

Our intention was to build something intuitive, attractive and secure, encouraging as many members as possible to complete their purchase, while automatically renewing memberships by processing future payments to increase customer retention.

  • The front-end needed to look and feel like part of the existing website but there was still work to be done to make sure it was clean, simple and intuitive.
  • Users would be able to choose from a number of different membership options (individual membership, family membership etc) and also have the option to purchase membership as a gift for someone else; a feature that wasn’t really possible with the existing system.
  • Payment needed to be quick and easy so we decided to integrate with Stripe to give us a reliable and slick payment experience, again maximising conversions.
  • We would use OAuth to create an integrated experience for museum staff to manage members and payments and also push system data to the internal CRM to keep all membership information centralised.

In order to meet these requirements, we made two deliverables; a customer facing front-end user interface design, and a bespoke back-end membership management system.

User Interface Design

When designing for any organisation we will take into account their brand guidelines, which typically outline usage of the logo, fonts and colours, with useful examples of proper placement, alignment and scaling. However, when designing an “add-on” to an existing website, like this membership system, there are further constraints to consider to ensure that we create a seamless and cohesive user experience.

The system itself has been built on a subdomain of the Birmingham Museums website, so it’s not actually part of the full website. We don’t want this to be obvious in any way. The basic body of the page, namely the header and footer, has been replicated to ensure that all links and expected facilities are in the same location. Our main job was to create a logical user purchasing journey to ensure that prospective members follow the sign-up and purchase journey without abandoning the process.

In terms of look and feel, we have been very lucky that Birmingham Museums has such a strong identity, as well as a wealth of imagery to choose from to excite users. However, moving forward through the signup process you will see that the form uses colour blocking to help the user focus on the task at hand. There is a distinct lack of additional imagery which may be distracting.

Membership Management (The Backend)

Access & Authorisation

Several groups of museum staff need system access to manage members and payments:

  • Management need to be able to report on sales, amend pricing, membership types on offer and general content;
  • Meanwhile, front-of-house staff needed to be able to quickly verify if a membership is valid before allowing a member to access a site, handle the purchasing of memberships bought over-the-phone or in person and handle refunds.

Birmingham Museums Trust uses Microsoft Office 365 internally, so rather than build a separate user management and authentication system we built the backend using OAuth. This means BMAG staff can log in to the membership management system using the same Office 365 account they already use on a daily basis for managing emails or accessing and sharing documents, etc. No need to set and remember a separate username and password.

Management can also grant access to the membership system to team members within the user management tools for Office 365 that they are already familiar with, even defining the level of access they should have.

Interface Design

In the backend, we aimed to keep a minimal UI (user interface) so that the focus is on form interaction to improve UX when entering and managing data.

We used Material Design, a design language developed by Google, to provide users with an intuitive interface with components they might recognise from other systems (including the Android operating system). This minimises the time needed to train staff and reduces the ongoing support requirements.

CRM Data Integration

Beyond the membership system, the museums trust uses Microsoft Dynamics 365 to store and manage their membership data. Therefore, our membership system also had to integrate with Dynamics, pushing the details of new members into their data set, managing renewal dates and handling cancellations.

With this data, BMAG and other museum sites can continue to produce the reports they need from Dynamics and deliver highly customised email marketing campaigns (for example, delivering an email to all current family membership owners about exclusive school holiday events).

Outcomes

Launching in late 2019, the new membership system initially performed exceptionally, sales were increasing significantly as the institutions began to drive users to the system to purchase memberships… but then Covid-19 hit museums hard.

Before the system was online for even 6 months (long before we would be able to see the benefits of automatic renewals for members), the coronavirus pandemic forced BMAG, Thinktank and all other museum sites to close to the public during the first national lockdown. Sales of memberships dropped off the radar.

Despite suffering losses, Birmingham Museums Trust took the noble decision to extend the length of existing memberships by the amount of time the sites were closed. National restrictions (Birmingham was placed in Tier 3 when these were announced in late 2020) and subsequent lockdowns have further hampered membership sales but we’re hopeful that, despite the closures, members will allow their memberships to renew and continue to support these iconic sites around our city.

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