A community isn’t just an afterthought for your customers. And it isn’t only valuable once the deal is sealed and you sold them your product or services. Communities can support both you, your team and your customers throughout the buyers journey; every step of the way, from evaluation, decision, retention and, ultimately, creating customer loyalty.
It’s important to think of your customer relationship as starting long before the first contact. Rather than the transaction solidifying a relationship, it’s the relationship that triggers the transaction -- as it did for this man. A relationship with a potential customer begins before you even know them; in a community, they see how you interact with your current customers and how customers interact with each other.
So how does a community bring a customer through the buyer’s journey, turning a prospect into a loyal customer?
A thriving community with engaging discussions doesn’t just educate current users; it educates the buyer on your product or services as they begin their evaluation process. Depending on their knowledge, they want to learn what differentiates you. Or, if they’re not far in their process, a prospective customer might only have a vague idea of what they’re looking for. Your community teaches them what problems you can help them solve and what questions to ask to learn more.
Why is that? Access to your community shows prospective clients how current clients use your product or services. Who better to educate than current users who have similar needs? By browsing through your community, a prospect sees all aspects of your product, and learns how people use it. Now they can visualize how it fits in their organization and how your unique features differentiate you.
Plus, an open community increases your brand awareness and SEO rankings. When a prospect begins their research, they’re not aware of every option. As they explore, the more open content your community has, the greater the chances are they’ll stumble upon it and be drawn in. The best part is -- your community created most of the content!
If you want to take a more active approach rather than wait for people to stumble upon the community in a search, create an ambassador program with your top members. Reach out to your top members -- the MVPs who are most helpful and visible on your site -- and ask them to be official ambassadors. Give them a ribbon on their profile so prospects know they’re good people to contact. Give them some training materials and even some swag to hand out to prospectives.
Consideration and Decision Stages
Now that your prospect is well educated on their options, they need to make the final decision. Your prospect probably has several strong options. How do they decide? By asking what differentiates one product from the other. Again, community is your ally.
The first differentiator is your customer support and transparency -- an open community that facilitates dialog between customers and the organization signal those traits. Rather than you telling a prospect, “we have good customer support” or “we value transparency,” they’ll see it in real time. They won’t have to take your word for it; they see how you respond to customers on your forum and how customers respond to your help.
You can even take transparency to the next level, by bringing prospects into the conversation -- create a specific discussion area where prospective customers can ask questions. A move like that lets you leverage your current clients’ enthusiasm for the product. They went through the same process -- and they ended up on your side. Let them help you by answering questions and reassuring prospective clients.
Having a prospective customer interacting with current customers has this added benefit: your sales, marketing and customer support teams can follow their trail through the community, getting to know them better.
Another idea is to take advantage of your community’s automation rules. If your prospective customer created an account to participate in discussions, you can create automated email campaigns, through the community, to specifically target them based on their engagement -- or lack of engagement -- in the community.
Great -- you went through the whole process and they picked you. To engage your new customer and make community a habit for them, encourage them to use it as they learn about the product. Create an onboarding program through the community. Rather than directly sending new customers information, have them access it on the community. The sooner they use your product the better; the first 30-90 days are critical for renewal. Not only will they get answers quicker by reading old posts or interacting with other customers, but it will also reduce the amount of time your support team needs to spend with them.
Another way to engage new customers is to.
Teaching a new customer how to find value in the community doesn’t just help them. It also allows you to maintain, and continue to build, the relationship you have with them. This strong relationship, in turn, will lead more customers to you -- one customer found that engaged users are 23 percent more likely to refer a peer to the community than unengaged users.
Communities are also a good place to begin planting the seeds for up-sells and cross-sells. Your new customer just bought a basic package, but in the community they’ll interact with people who have more features. Rather than you spending the time to educate them about a product, loyal customers will do the work.
Finally, if creating an open forum for all your customers and prospects to interact is still scary, remember this: if they can’t interact with you, they’ll find another place to air their grievances or talk. Whether it be Yelp, Twitter, Facebook or another platform, people will talk about you and your product. With a community, you create the space for those conversations to happen on your turf. That doesn’t mean censor or change their posts to be more flattering -- that would undermine their trust and your integrity. But it does mean that you can respond immediately, again proving your stellar customer support, and deal with their grievance. And happy, engaged customers may chime in to support you, as well.
Give Character to Your Organization
Beyond access to questions and ideas, why do customers love communities so much? Because it humanizes your organization. Rather than looming large and silent in their lives, communities give character to your organization by bring people together -- customers who love your product and employees of your organization -- to talk, share ideas and help each other. It’s a place where voices are heard and customers have a stake in the conversation -- they want to help a new user or to give you advice on how to improve a product. So let them.