Do remember the Carousal of Progress at Walt Disney World?
It first debuted at the 1664 New York World's Fair. Along with being a nice break from the crowds and heat, it is one of the remaining attractions that was Walt Disney's idea.
If you haven't been to the Magic Kingdom or might have missed this old attraction tucked away in the back of Tomorrowland, here is the basic idea.
As you sit in the air-conditioned theatre, the stage rotates through six scenes of an audio-animatronic (i.e. Disney robot) family appreciating the evolution of household technology through the decades. The scenes take you from early 1900 to "the future" (as envisioned in the 1960s).
Since the role of communities is never too far from my mind, the Carousal of Progress makes me think about innovation in customer relationship management. Have you stopped and thought about how your organization's customer management strategies have evolved and why?
Chances are that the way that you interact with your customers, partners, and prospects is much different now than it was not so many years ago.
To start our journey, let's go back to 1995.
Most of your customer interactions were live, either using the phone or in-person. Customer communication was also mailed back and forth.
Moving ahead to 2005, businesses' options for engaging their customers exploded to include web content and tools, email messages, and even customer portals.
Here we are, approaching 2015, and the social web it at the center of customer touch points. Public social networks and private online communities play a significant role in creating value and keeping customers or members engaged.
The evolution of customer interactions has been dramatic over the past 20 years. However, it is not products or strategies that have driven this evolution. It is customers' expectations and behavior online, combined with the availability of customer-centric technology, that have led to innovation.
Recent research indicated that an overwhelming majority of customers expect to receive consistent information over multiple contact channels and more than half of consumers now expect companies to provide customer service via social media channels, such as Facebook. However, 74% of customers ranked poor multi-channel service as a major annoyance.
For many companies, keeping customers from calling them is one of their goals. The more information they can provide online to help customers make more informed decisions, the better (and cheaper).
Why have organizations expanded traditional customer touch points to rely on social communities?
Looking back at the primary customer engagement channels of the past couple decades, several things stand out. Namely, the cost and lack of scalability of customer touch points like phone calls, mail, in-person meetings, and email. For instance, staffing call centers, email response teams, and field account managers can be expensive.
Did you know that your company's credibility has always been in question? Your customers can appreciate the fact that your company is trying to serve them to both keep them happy and grow their own bottom line.
Customers used to live with this reality because your company was the only place they could receive information about your organization, products, and services.
With the rise of social networks (public and private), information provided by peers or people who have been in your customers' shoes holds an increasing amount of weight with your target audiences.
Traditional one-to-one customer touch points work great to solve customers' immediate problems. However, over the past 5 years, companies have recognized that they are losing a big asset if they don't capture that information and make it available to their customer base.
Answers to questions from your company or from your community can lower support costs and increase customer satisfaction when maintained in a searchable knowledge-base.
Many companies are creating private online customer or member communities as an affordable and practical way to respond to customer inquiries, foster education and awareness, while reducing support costs.
Online customer and member community platforms gives companies the opportunity to cultivate an environment where idea sharing, peer-to-peer discussions, and proactive customer service creates loyal advocates.
By providing customers with relevant discussions, resources, and support they need to be successful with your product or service, your organization can increase product usage, customer retention, and brand advocacy. Do you think that the customer engagement models of the 90s and 2000s could match that?
Whether you're a B2C or B2B company, online community software can help redefine your relationships with your customers. Here are a few unique reasons that businesses and membership organizations are making online communities the centerpiece of the customer management strategy.
Customers' interactions with one another play just an important a role in solving problems and providing a positive customer experience as customer-to-company communication. When customers can interact with other customers, information shared is considered to be more valuable, since it's is coming from a peer rather than directly from the company.
In contrast to traditional customer touch points, a customer's experience can be impacted by their interactions with other players in your ecosystem. Channel resellers, consultants, and other partners can play a big role in supporting and educating your customer base.
Even your relationships with potential customers can be improved using online community software. When potential customers can ask questions of current customers in an open, but secure environment, it can positively impact their buying decisions. Transparency breeds trust and online community software makes it possible.
Social data from online customer communities has the potential to provide companies with an added dimension of intelligence about their customer's interests, problems, and motivations.
When you know what questions customers are asking the most, you can tailor your website content, marketing messages, and one-on-one interactions accordingly. This insight can be used to provide a better customer experience online, as well as on calls, in person, in marketing segmentation.
Sharing customer feedback with internal departments can also drive product innovation and cost-saving process improvements.
Organizations with active online communities go from having specific hours that company representatives are available or from having to staff and manage a round-the-clock customer contact center to having a world-wide network of customers, partners, and advocates answering each other's questions "“ 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.
Although much of your customer engagement will be in your online customer community, that doesn't mean your company can or should not be involved. Customers' expectations will shift when they start a discussion or provide an answer in your online community. Often, community members will expect quick answers, but not necessarily immediate, real-time answers.
This means that your company can engage more customers with fewer people. Whereas, with one-to-one communication, one customer-facing staff member can handle only one customer at a time, online community software makes it possible to monitor and respond to multiple customers in the time is would take to answer one customer email or phone call. In addition, you'll have help from others in the community (i.e. partners and other customers).
Segmentation in customer management has been around for a long time. Organizations segment customers by geography, size, product etc. That segmentation was used heavily in traditional customer touch points - from events to email campaigns.
Online community software provide businesses the opportunity to bring specific groups of people together based on those segments to support one another, share ideas, and collaborate on a consistent basis.
Building a strong online customer community takes time and requires a strategic goal. However, with a variety of functionality with which to engage consumers, partners and thought leaderships, online community software can do a lot of the heavy lifting for you, so companies can focus more time and energy on engaging with and learning from their members.
There are many touch points through which customers can connect with companies. Most customers or members expect consistent and relevant information across digital, social and traditional channels. However, it's becoming harder and more expensive for organizations to effectively manage and engage with customers.
Many companies are turning toward online community software platforms to help them manage customer inquiries, educate customers, and build awareness of important information, while controlling costs.
Regardless of where your organization is on the customer management evolution spectrum, an online community's flexibility and breadth of customer engagement functionality can start your organization down the road toward "a great big beautiful tomorrow."