Everyone is talking about customer communities these days. But when do you know it’s actually time to bite the bullet and get one?
There are tactics for ensuring a new customer community launch is successful, but at the end of the day, if your customers don’t want it, they won’t use it.
Rather than launching a community and holding your breath to see if it works -- or not launching a community and potentially missing out -- look at how your current customers interact with you and each other. Are there signs they’d benefit from a community?
CMX and Leader Networks explored these signs in their recent report, Keys to Community Readiness and Growth Study: How Brands Prepare for Online Community. They asked their survey respondents what signs made them realize customers wanted a branded online community, to interact with the company and each other.
Here are the top three reasons:
People love to talk and give opinions. You might not always want to hear what they have to say, but many of their thoughts will be invaluable -- your customers use your product, know it inside and out, and see it from a different perspective than you do. They probably have a point, and could help you stay competitive and relevant.
Communities create space for customers to give feedback, and for other customers to respond -- “Yes, that’s a great idea!” or “Awesome, I would add…” or “That’s not helpful for me.” Not only can you watch how things unfold from the sidelines, but you can jump into the conversation, ask follow up questions, insert a survey to gather data or give an update about your progress.
Rather than just nodding along to what customers say, actually hear their insight -- then you can begin creating meaningful change and improvements in your product or systems.
It’s no secret -- customer communities can reduce support costs by 50 percent, according to Gartner. Gartner also found that 89 percent of businesses are expected to compete mainly on the basis of customer experience by 2016.
So, if your members keep asking questions -- especially repeats or easy answers -- community could be the perfect solution. Not only will it reduce your support costs, but it will also give members one more way to interact with you. It’s 24/7 access and creates connections with other members.
Not all questions can be answered through a community (it’s true, community can’t do everything!) Integrate your ticketing or support system, and your community becomes the perfect bridge between customer and support representative. With the click of a button, a customer can start a support ticket, relaying the entire discussion thread -- filled with contextual information, attachments, etc. -- to the support team, saving everyone time.
Do a support audit and look at the number of tickets you receive in a given amount of time. How many are the same or are they easy answers? Then look at how much time/money they all cost. Once you’ve figured those numbers out, it will be easier for you to decide if a community makes sense for your company.
Your company is at the top of it’s industry, with a wealth of connections and knowledge your customers want access to. Open up the door for sharing and engagement -- customers will benefit, making your community an invaluable resource for them.
Pull back the curtain and allow customers -- and prospects -- to see what your company is really like. Rather than being a big, anonymous entity in their lives, dialogue and community humanizes your company, which is a good thing. It shows you care about your customers’ success and want to be transparent.
You can also incorporate thought leadership into your advertising plan. Allow partners or affiliates to buy advertising packages that include several blog posts or ebooks. It’s a win-win-win: customers will find value in the content, affiliates or partners will attract more leads, and your company will increase revenue. Plus, if your community is open, you’ll get inbound leads and increase your community’s SEO to attract new customers.
Once you see the signs that your customers -- knowingly or unknowingly -- want a community, you have to decide how to proceed. Is a branded online community really the solution to your customers’ needs?
First, come up with a plan, identifying exactly what the community is for. Be very specific: “It’s going to be a customer support community to answer questions on current and upcoming products.” Even create a business plan for your community, illustrating how it will benefit both the company and customers. What is the real value it will bring to everyone?
Next, bring your plan to an executive -- executive buy-in is critical. The CMX/Leader Networks study honed in on executive support: 45 percent of their respondents relied on executive support to keep their community strong. And 56 percent of the community builders who responded stated that strong executive support before the community’s launch was key for gaining critical funding.
What were the signs that your company needed to start a branded community?