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5 Ways to Competitor-Proof Your Customers Using Your Private Online Community

Written by Joshua Paul | on October 2, 2012 at 10:54 AM

Keeping Competiors Away from Customers Using Private Online CommunitiesOn the day that you are reading this, at least one of your customers is watching webinar, downloading an eBook, or fielding a phone call from your competition.

Almost all organizations have competitors. Even the most innovative products are in industries where other companies are trying to solve the same business problems for the market. And today, like every day, your competitors are engaging your current customers.

It is well documented that business-to-business companies focus more on customer acquisition than they do on customer marketing after the sale. However, we live in a world where customers' expectations continue to climb, access to information is easy, and competitors have more ways to get at your customers than at any other time in history.

The good news is that many b2b companies have a plan and continue to fight for their customers post-sale. Private online customer communities offer companies, user groups, and membership organizations unprecedented ways to create two-way communication with diverse customer segments, provide differentiated value, and find flexible ways to keep customers engaged over time.

How to Use Online Community Software to Make Customers Think Twice About Switching to a Competitor

Tip #1) Provide Exclusive Advice

Content marketing is so popular right now, in part, because your market is so hungry for authentic advice on how to meet their goals. People don't want miss a sentence of truly helpful content. Your customers are no different.

Create useful blogs, ebooks, and videos that are only available in to your customers. The segmentation and content management tools in your online customer community make it easy for your customers to become aware of, and access, highly relevant content. This private distribution channel allows your organization to focus on creating the most useful content possible.

Your customers' success is only partly attributed to your product or service. The value that your customer base receives from their relationship with your organization also comes from the processes, support, and best practices that your business delivers throughout the customer lifecycle. If they switch to a competitor's product, they risk losing access to this invaluable information.

Tip #2) Know When Customers Are Struggling

Customers are going to run into roadblocks. Even longtime customers encounter situations where they don't have the answers as their goals change and your offering evolves. Customers expect to have questions, especially in a b2b environment. However, how your company handles those moments determines whether you will retain that customer over time and how susceptible they are to competitive promises.

Online customer communities allow employees to plug into the social activities of specific customers. You can see the information that customers download and the questions that they ask in the community. From this type of information, you can determine where a customer is struggling before they reach out to your support team.

You community and customer care teams can then take action like pointing them toward other resources in the community, introducing your customers to someone else in the community who might have the answers, or personally reaching out to further understand their challenge and try to help them.

Tip #3) Bring Customers Into the Community

When you arrive at a neighborhood cookout on a Sunday afternoon, you are much more likely to stick around if you feel like you know people there. It could be that there are people there that you already know. And if not, it could be that the hosts and other guests welcome you warmly, introduce you to people that you might have something in common with, and check in with you as the afternoon progresses.

When you first sign a customer, think of them as the new neighbor looking in from the back gate at the gaggle of strangers mingling over fruit salad. Take steps to welcome them to your online customer community, show them relevant features and content, and introduce them to groups and individuals that they are likely to engage.

Identify those social actions that your best customers take. Use that data to lay out a roadmap for taking a customer from "new to the community" to "unmovable advocate." Use the analytics built-in your customer community software to report on the progress of each customer's onboarding process. Follow up with customers and re-promote the value in those activities to help them become more ingrained in your community.

Tip #4) Help Customer Build Connections

It is often said that customers initially visit your private customer community for the insightful content and stay in the community over time for the connections. Think of all of the relationships that customers can build on your company's social network thought-leaders for insight, other customers for support, partners for best practice options, employees for access to the company, executives for potential future career moves, etc.

If your customers were to end the relationship with your organization and do business with a competitor, they would not only have to transition their solution, but also seek out and rebuild the relationships that they have developed that help them get the most out of the product or service. If this is even possible with the competitor, it could take years. That is a major consideration in continuing their relationship with your business.

Tip #5) Get Results for Customers

This is the most important element of preventing your customers from being poached. While the other tips in this list provide value in a tactical way, the ability to tie the support, access to experts, and information in your online community to how your customers succeed in using your solution and, in turn, meeting their business objectives is the glue that keeps customers in your community. Cutting your product from their budget or strategy will have a direct impact on how effectively they meet their organizational goals.

Online Customer Community Takeaway

No business has a right to customers. It is your business's privilege to have customers. As more and more businesses find ways to solve customers' most critical problems, your customers' choices are growing. Creating an active customer community enables your organization to differentiate your offering, stay on top of customers' radar, and most of all help them find more tangible success with your products or services.

Get the metrics you need to track ROI in your online customer community.

Topics: Customer Success, Online Community

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