The use of online communities to manage customer relationships is still an emerging business strategy for most organizations. For many of Socious' customers, implementing our online community software is their first serious attempt at planning, launching, and growing an online customer or member community.
Are you in this position? Your organization may be enthusiastic about the outcomes, but you are standing on the edge of an abyss, looking out over a long process that you have never undertaken before. You may be excited to get started, but don't have a clear view of the path that leads to a thriving online community that is used and valued by customers, employees, and partners.
Once your company has decided to move forward with social software, it is critical to position your community at the center of your customer relationship or membership management strategy.
There are four key areas that need to be firing on all cylinders in order to give customers or members real value, as well as deliver returns to the company.
Key #1) Business Integration
Online community software must deliver tangible benefits for multiple departments across your company. Business processes and access to customers will become easier, which leads to increased efficiency and customer satisfaction. Examples of how online communities benefit companies include:
- Sales teams collect better data about their prospects and increase repeat business.
- Marketers identify brand advocates more easily.
- Businesses lower customer support costs while boosting customer loyalty.
- Product managers test ideas with the market more effectively.
- Public relations professionals have a platform to better handle screw-ups and industry turbulence.
Business integration is the foundation on which your online community strategy is built. The more areas of your organization that see tangible benefits from an online customer community, the higher the usage and buy-in you'll see from stakeholders around your company.
Key #2) Technical Integration
Your organization already uses technology today. You may have a client portal, customer support ticketing platform, back-end association management software, or a learning management system. In order for your company and customers to get the most out your online community software, you need to make sure that it is compatible with these existing systems.
Examine which external websites and third-party applications make sense to integrate with your social platform. Sometimes, you may want to even build custom widgets that are specific to your online customer community. Linking your social software with your back-end systems enables your community to consume customer data from systems of record, like customer relationship management software, as well as pass social activity data back to those systems.
Having APIs that automatically updates information to other systems can help increase adoption by reducing the frustration that comes with manual processes and making your customer community an integrated part of your technology infrastructure, rather than another system hanging off the side of your website.
Key #3) Cultural Integration
This is important! If your social community software is going to be a success, then employees are going to have to rethink how they are doing their jobs and how they are going to engage with customers.
Introducing a community-based approach to employee, customer, and partner collaboration is a significant cultural shift for organizations of any size. There will be some employees in the beginning who will not be ready to jump into this change with the rest of the company. Find your core team of employees who are ready to embrace the changes and will work hard to encourage and educate others over time.
To help employees become comfortable working in an online community, set specific tasks for all employees when getting started with social community software, such as setting up profiles, uploading photos, taking surveys, and answering questions in an employee-only discussion forum.
There is too much written about this subject to cover in this article. You can learn more by checking out this video on creating a social business culture.
Key #4) Customer Experience Integration
Your customers already have their own set of expectations when it comes to interacting with your business. When adding a customer community to the center of your customer relationship management processes, it is important to keep the community experience in line with those expectations.
Take cues from your customers. Find out what they expect and how you can make their interactions more informative and helpful. You'll be able to knock down many of the problems you may encounter by testing your customer community experience with actual customers. Their feedback will be invaluable in smoothing out your customer experience during and after the addition of an online community.
Every organization offers a unique customer experience. It is part of their product strategy. When giving your customers or member the value that comes from an online customer community, it is important to avoid alienating them by immediately presenting them with an experience that is totally different from what they have come to expect from your company.
Social Software Adoption Takeaway
Getting everyone in the company on board with your social software is a key ingredient for online community platform success. However, every department has different priorities and sees a distinct side of your business.
How can you address everyone's needs without creating individualized training and support for your online community strategy? By planning to integrate your online community into the four areas outlined above, you can lay out an adoption strategy that supports people who are most concerned with business results, technical issues, job satisfaction, and your customer experience.