My brother is a computer programmer for a major cable channel. He loves it. He loves computers, tablets, and technology in general. He always has the newest cell phone model (most recently the unfortunate Galaxy Note 7) and he's constantly lecturing me on staying up to date with the latest technology.
I'm usually woefully behind, at least when it comes to personal gadgets.
Business, however, is another story. When you run a business, you have to stay current with technology and the latest trends if you want to be competitive.
That isn't always easy, especially since it seems like new technology and methods for improving business operations are released daily. This is especially important when you are serving other businesses where the sales process and customer relationships are more complex than for consumer brands. It's difficult to keep up and as a result many B2B companies to miss out on key opportunities to engage with customers.
The good news is that there's a silver lining to this situation. When you're behind (a little) on technology and new techniques, you often get to see how effective new ideas are before trying them out yourself. Other companies do the test drives, you choose what works best.
That's what's happening right now with branded customer community strategies. Businesses have tested them and the results are in. Research from leading accounting firm PwC has just put online communities at the top of the list for the best new technology that B2B companies can use to connect with customers.
The research appears in Commerce Next: Optimizing the Technology industry's digital channel. A series of reports, PwC's Commerce Next articles blend research and expert insight into today's digital customer experience. Here are three of their key conclusions regarding B2B customer relationships and the role online communities can play in those relationships.
PwC's research found that online communities increase interaction between businesses and their customers. Often, this interaction is driven by expert product users who are active online and in their profession.
Expert product users are some of your smartest members. They jumpstart engagement with both your organization and their peers by sharing innovation and workarounds that even your company may not have considered. They also promote new features, share information, and help other customers solve their problems.
Your expert users will get the ball rolling with other customers and as more people engage, they'll generate more opportunities for collaboration and data collection. Gather information on product quality issues, customer concerns, and product ideas that come up in online community discussions. By collecting feedback in these areas and collaborating with customers, you can improve your business's offers and services. Make data-driven decisions based on that information in order to become more effective in the future.
According to PwC's report, online communities are "less expensive and potentially stickier" than other customer communication technology, including phone, email, and online self-service. "Stickier" means that online communities are less likely to lose customers' attention over time, making them ideal for long-term engagement strategies.
Noticeable cost savings may come from the fact that B2B customer communities can incorporate many other communication methods, even replacing other systems over time. For example, email, self-service, and online documentation tools such as file libraries are usually included in online community software. Since businesses that take advantage of these tools no longer need to purchase separate technology systems, they often see large savings.
Online communities also allow your business members to approach one another for help directly, relieving the pressure of support for your business. When you do need to distribute answers to questions, they can be posted publicly. If other members had the same question, they can easily view your business's response, saving you both time and money.
Despite the fact that online customer communities lower cost and increase engagement, only 27% of B2B businesses use an online community to connect with their customers. Of those, only 21% collect feedback from customers to increase collaboration.
That means that the majority of businesses are missing out on the advantages of online communities. They don't see cost savings, increased customer engagement, or the opportunity to improve and win more future deals based on customer feedback.
With so few companies taking advantage of online communities, they're an area of prime opportunity for B2B businesses. Companies that don't delay selecting, purchasing, and implementing an online community will have a head start on their competitors. They'll also see the benefits of two-way conversations with customers and increased operational efficiency more quickly than the rest of the industry.
At this point, online communities have been tested by early innovators and are proven to provide positive results. PwC's research and expert insight clearly showcase the value of communities for B2B businesses and put a spotlight on just how underused online community technology is.
The trick now is for B2B companies to recognize and act on this on this opportunity. Will businesses heed the numbers and use online communities to improve their customer relationships before their competitors enter the arena? Increased engagement, lower costs, and improved products and services are just a few of the benefits early adopters may see.
Can your company improve operations by starting an online customer community? Now is the time to find out. Download our free report on 50 reasons why real companies created online customer communities.