Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Association Staffing and the End of Toll Booth Workers: 3 Lessons for Association Executives

Goodbye Toll Booth Worker (left); Hello Automatic Billing (right)
When driving with my son in the Dallas area a couple of weeks ago, I discovered that Texas is tearing out toll booths.

Rather than stopping to drop coins in a basket and watch the gate go up to let you through, he just keeps driving. A scanner checks his easy pass every so often and deducts the toll. And, if you don’t have an easy pass? Simple, the toll authority snaps a picture of your car’s license and sends you a bill for using the highway.

Technology at work ... disrupting the workforce ... and, in this case, the life of highway toll booth operators.
I was thinking about this and associations the other day.

As new, disruptive technologies emerge, what jobs within associations are similar to a toll booth worker? You know, those jobs that we used to need but that have been replaced (or can be replaced) with technology?

As we change our processes and operations, how are we using the people resources we no longer need? Just cutting the costs? Using the cost savings to pay for upgraded technology? Using those resources to add value to our members and potential members? Or, worse, keeping staff no longer needed because we’re uncomfortable with terminating staff?

As I explored news about unmanned toll booths, I discovered that highway departments are using them not just to save staffing costs but also to help drivers by reducing time lost to traffic jams. Interestingly, many major cities are doing it via dynamic pricing (see USA Today story: 
Toll lanes create 'another option' to avoid traffic.)

I love this quote from the story:
  • “The product we're selling Northern Virginia commuters is a faster and more reliable commute," says Jennifer Aument, vice president of corporate relations in North America for Transurban, one of two private firms that partnered with the Virginia Department of Transportation on the project along Interstate 495, known as the Capital Beltway. "It's not just about going faster, but it's also the reliability."
Are you letting your members know the value of your new technology ... in terms important to them ... like this “faster and more reliable commute?”

As you may recall, I posted a story (When will associations move to “dynamic pricing?” Lesson from Black Friday)  about dynamic pricing and associations last month.
So, what can we as association executives learn from changes in highway management?
  1. Technology continues to disrupt the way we’ve always done it and our members expect similar technology from their associations.
  2. Adapting new technology may allow associations to shift staffing resources to something more valuable to our members.
  3. The disruptive technology may be able to allow us to add value (like saving time during rush hour) to our members and potential members.


  1. Associations who fail to leverage technology to better and more efficiently serve members risk becoming the dinosaurs of our times. Here's a not so little secret. Members, like users of EZPass and line bypassing schemes like FastPass at amusement parks will pay a bit more for the convenience of using their time wisely and efficiently. Associations could benefit from finding these time wasting bottlenecks in their business model and unclogging them for increased revenues and member satisfaction.

  2. Excellent points Kerry. That's exactly what I thought when I saw them tearing out the toll booths and why I posted this piece. Just saw more evidence of the radical disruption ... the New York Stock Exchange just sold to a small and apparently more tech-savvy company.