Higher Logic Blog

Online Communities: Two Ways to Increase Customer Engagement

Written by Joshua Paul | April 11, 2013 at 1:00 PM

When people download one of an ebooks, white papers, or videos on private online communities, they're often asked what their biggest challenge is. We've seen all kinds of serious answers to this question, but there is one answer that we see much more than any other - increasing customer or member engagement

Regardless of whether the organization has an online customer community or not, or whether it is a big business or a nonprofit membership organization (like an association or user group), how to increase customer engagement is by far one of the top challenges that businesspeople face.

Before we get into a couple of ways to increase customer engagement for businesses that serve other businesses, let's look at why organizations make solving this challenge is a priority.

Why Are Customer Engagement and Online Communities Important To B2B Companies?

Engagement is the fuel behind any number of business initiatives.

If you want your market to know something, they have to have a certain level of engagement with your organization for that information to break through into their busy lives. If you want your customers to do something, like spread the word about your company, they must be engaged at some level to understand what you want them to do and why.

I've written about many of the real benefits that companies are reaping when customer or member engagement play a central role in their customer relationship strategies.

They range from lower customer support costs to increased sales through competitive advantages and better customer advocacy. When members are engaged, organizations also experience higher event attendance, more leniency when they screw up, and better data by which they make market-driven product decisions.

How to Increase Business-To-Business Customer Engagement

Think about the words of legendary Harvard Business School marketing professor, Theodore Levitt:

"People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!"

In other words, customers don't want your product. They want to solve a problem. When keeping customers engaged, it is important to understand that customers don't want to join a private social network. They want to be successful in their jobs.

Just as customers are not naturally interested in your product or service, customers are not naturally drawn to your online customer community. Many customers are busy with their own jobs and other areas of their lives, so stopping to jump into the online community can often be difficult. However, there are things you can to to make your customer community more relevant and a better fit with your customers' priorities.

Many of the tactics surrounding customer engagement are dependent your customers, your company, and the specific behavioral data coming out of your private online community. Today, I'm going to give you two frameworks that lend themselves to a myriad of online community planning and community management activities.

Here are two ways that you can increase business-to-business customer engagement:

Tip #1) Help Your Customers Be Successful.

Customer engagement can be a very "pavlovian" cycle. Like any of us, your customers will respond to what works and disregard things that don't deliver rewards.

The trick here is to identify what it is that will make your customers successful and proactively help make that happen. To find out what it is that will make your customers successful with your products, services, or membership:

  • Conduct in-person or phone interviews
  • Confirm what you hear in the interviews with online surveys
  • Get data from the discussions and comments in your private online community

Tip #2) Listen And Respond To As Many Posts, Questions, Etc. As You Can.

After making sure that your online community is aligned with your customer's or member's biggest problems, the '24-Hour Rule' is a top priority for communities that want a boost.

This means that you put community management processes in place to make sure you identify questions and discussions initiated by members and craft a helpful response (that sometimes spurs further discussion among the members).

Responding within 24 hours, makes your customers and other members of the community feel heard, supported, and part of an active conversation. The member who asked the question or make the contribution will feel more comfortable participating, as will others who see active discussions in the community.

You will notice that community members will often respond to a discussion thread that is already running more often than they will initiate new discussions. It is important that your online community software alert you about new responses in ongoing discussion threads, as well as new content that is posted in the community.

On the flip side, if your customers or members start a discussion in your community and don't get a response from anyone, there is a much higher chance that they will get the impression that the community is not worth their time.

B2B Customer Engagement Takeaway

Align your private online community with what will help customers reach their goals. Show them that the customer community is active and will be there to support them.

Creating a plan and conducting active following these two strategies are proven to boost ongoing engage and, in turn, may play a big part in growing your sales with new and existing customers, controlling your support costs, and increasing customer satisfaction.