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The 6 Biggest Business Benefits of Starting a Branded Online Community

Written by Hunter Montgomery | on June 15, 2017 at 8:30 AM

Help your business meet these six needs by starting a branded online community.

What drove your last business initiative?

For most of us, the answer revolves around meeting goals and improving the bottom line. We launched our latest project to be more efficient, increase sales, or improve retention.

Those are the same reasons why business executives are starting branded online communities.

Already proven popular with customers (think about Facebook and LinkedIn) online communities benefit companies across almost every department from marketing and sales to customer service. Here are six of the top business benefits of starting a private, branded online community.

1. Cut Customer Service Costs (And Increase Satisfaction)

People who enjoy calling customer service are few and far between. Have you ever met someone who enjoyed waiting on hold or being transferred to another department? It’s often more efficient and less frustrating to empower customers to find answers themselves.

Branded online communities decrease support costs and increase customer satisfaction.
See the full customer success infographic.

Companies launch branded online communities and customer service portals to help customers help themselves. They seed the community with product documentation, expert articles, and ask loyal customers to join. Struggling users can search those resources any time, asking questions in discussion forums or finding answers in videos and blogs.

A single helpful piece of online content can answer dozens of customers’ questions, reducing support calls to your company. This can cut costs and boost customer satisfaction.

2. Boost New Customer Acquisition

A major priority for marketing and sales, online customer communities can help you win new customers in three ways:

Get Found – Communities with public sections contain SEO-optimized discussion forums, articles, and updates that are indexed by Google. When prospects search for solutions to their problems, your community will show up in results, increasing brand awareness.

Persuasive Content – Fill your prospect sections with answers to frequently asked questions, documentation on best practices and product benefits to educate prospects on your solutions. Include customer-created content, such as testimonials, from your most successful customer advocates as well. This will typically become your most effective content, since people tend to trust their peers’ experience with a product or service more than they trust what the company says.

Reduce Risk – Peer-to-peer support forums, easily-accessible documentation, help guides, and other support content reduce the risk of new purchases. Prospects can clearly see that you’ve set up an “always-on” destination to support them and ensure their success, regardless of whether problems happen during business hours or not. That support net can be the tipping point that closes a sale.

3. Improve Retention Rates

Industry research shows that it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than to keep an old one, making customer retention a major goal for businesses.

Branded online communities help increase retention by engaging your customers and encouraging them to form stronger relationships with your business. Discussion forums, networking with peers, asking questions, submitting feedback or perusing file libraries all contribute to increased connections between your brand and your customers. This increases the value they get from using your products and services, making it more likely they’ll stay with you in the future.

4. Increase Upsell, Cross-Sell, and Add-On Revenue

Loyal customers are worth up to 10 times their initial purchase. A branded online community can increase customer lifetime value by increasing upsells, cross-sells, and add-on purchases through a combination of awareness, engagement, and data-driven sales enablement.

Product Awareness – To increase awareness of your products, seed the community with documents on all current offers. Include the benefits of upgrading to a higher service tier or how an add-on product improves results. As customers find these documents, they’ll become more aware of your full array of offers and what additional products will increase the value they get from your company.

Customer feedback increases upsell and cross-sell revenue.
See the full customer success infographic.

Customer Engagement – As famously found by Gallup: engaged customers represent a 23% premium in share of wallet, profitability, revenue, and relationship growth. So empower your customers to engage in discussions about your products and services, including providing feedback and sharing unique ways they’re using your products to solve problems. They’ll become more and more likely to take you up on that cross-sell opportunity.

Data-Driven Sales – You can increase the impact of customer engagement on sales by collecting activity data from your customer portal. Empower your sales team to review what pages customers are visiting, the files they’re downloading, and the discussions they’re participating in. When they find a customer who’s regularly viewing product pages, they can proactively reach out via phone or email to help your customer choose the best product for their needs.

5. Nurture Customer Advocates

Customers who love your brand want to talk about it. They want to share their stories and pass on their knowledge, and a community gives them a place to do that.

Create an online community ambassador program that nurtures your advocates and acknowledges the value they’re providing to your business. You can use gamification, ribbons, and badges to highlight each advocate’s contributions and make them feel special, for instance. You can also give them special access to advance information on business updates and product releases to keep them “in the know” and inspire them to continue advocating for your business.

Encourage your advocates to connect with their peers, other customers, and prospects in the community at large as well. They’re experts on your products, so they’re great at spurring discussions, answering questions, and helping people find the best solution to their problem – all of which helps your company drum up business and increase revenue.

6. Drive Product Innovation

Branded online communities are designed to start conversations about your business and its offerings. Take full advantage of that by tracking the most common customer complaints, sources of confusion, and new feature ideas. All of these are areas where you can improve your product to make it more efficient and appealing to your market.

70% of customers want to help you improve your products.
See the full customer success infographic.

Build improvements into your product roadmap when appropriate. Just remember that not all product requests and complaints should be included. Some won’t make sense for your company’s long-term goals, or may make your product too complicated. Help these customers resolve their issues, but don’t alter your product based on their feedback.

When you do make a change based on customer feedback, let the community know. People love when their suggestions (or frustrations) are taken seriously and spur action. You may even win more loyal customers because of it.

Bonus Tip: Pay special attention to product feedback and ideas from your customer advocates. They’re passionate about your products and use them often, so they’re excellent at drawing attention key areas where you can make improvements.

Position Your Community to Benefit Multiple Departments

Online communities are as diverse as the companies that start them. Some are built as customer service portals that specialize in supporting customers and ensuring their success. Others focus on increasing customer engagement or improving sales.

If you’re considering starting a branded online community, you can choose what critical business needs you want to solve, but remember that companies are rarely efficient when there are silos. Even customer support communities can contribute to product innovation, and product innovation can help sales.

Choose a clear purpose for your community and communicate with all major stakeholders in your business. Explain how the community can help make their jobs easier and more efficient. Getting buy-in across departments can help you get the resources you need to make a branded online community a valuable business initiative.

Download your free guide to buying and implementing a customer portal.

Topics: Customer Communities, Customer Retention, Customer Support, Customer Advocacy

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