Customer Communities- Innovate Your Social Business

Customer communities are the foundation for any customer experience strategy. 

To understand that statement though, it’s useful to first explore what I mean by CX and how a company can build the necessary culture and implement the underlying technologies that can truly impact customers and provide an engaging experience.

CX is a broad term used to refer to a strategy that is designed to orchestrate a positive experience or interaction for customers at any and all touch points. The definition extends to the systems, processes and employees that impact that experience as well, which in reality could be all employees and any technology. This probably seems exceptionally broad to many of you, especially since most companies define “customer facing” employees as a small subset of employees that interact directly with prospects and customers. I’d suggest though, that in the spirit of evolving a full CX strategy that companies must change that definition and include all employees, as

even the most remote activities of an employee has the potential to impact the customer.

For example, you probably don’t think of the employee tasked with locating a specific product in a warehouse to fill an order as customer facing, but I’d submit that in fact, that employee might own one of the most important pieces of a CX strategy…getting the right product to the customer in the promised timeframe. Let that part of the process go wrong and see how many happy customers you have.

Customer Communities – The Evolution

Customer communities are quickly evolving and companies are finding that they can be used across many functions very effectively. Many communities are initially deployed as a way to encourage peer to peer support and interaction as a means of deflecting some of the customer service calls. These customer support communities are proving very valuable to companies but if that’s the only focus for the community I think you’re selling it’s potential short. That same community is generating useful content that can be harvested and reused in the companies knowledge base and also for training and documentation, for example. The community also provides a fertile ground for marketing and sales. Word of mouth advertising is a very powerful marketing tool and can be driven through the community by providing a positive experience and by nurturing influencers in the community.

Customer Communities for Content Marketing

We hear the terms “content marketing” and “inbound marketing” a lot these days and for many marketing organizations the concepts are very different from the traditional approach to marketing. Outbound marketing in a world filled with individuals that are overwhelmed by information and numb to most broadcast ads, email marketing, telemarketing, etc. is just not as effective anymore. The customer community is a facilitator of content marketing, or getting prospects to view relevant content at critical education and evaluation phases of their buying activity. The community is also a vehicle for ongoing conversation, which is a key function of inbound marketing; listening, responding and nurturing a relationship.

Customer Communities for Sales Intelligence: Socialytics

The customer community is a great source of sales intelligence as well. By using socialytic listening tools and analyzing the collected social data in the community, buyer needs, potential and even direct intent can be determined. The extension of the use cases for communities doesn’t stop with marketing and sales though. Communities are a integral part of an innovation management process and can provide product marketing and product designers with a source of ideas for improving current offerings and for new products and services. Using the broad customer community as a source for product and service ideas not only provides much better and broader input to the innovation process but also increases customer engagement by involving them more intimately in defining and improving the company’s products and services.

Who Are You?

In building a CX strategy that encompasses multiple touch points across online and off, one of the biggest challenges is effectively answering the simple question of who are you? On the surface this seems pretty straight forward but it is not, in fact it can be extremely difficult. Knowing you as “you” on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, the company’s eCommerce site, in the company’s loyalty program, and in the actual store all require some way to link you to multiple identities. How many email addresses and usernames do you have? The customer community platform may hold the key to this identity problem, or at least be an important part of the solution. Most communities start with a simple sign up process, maybe even offering to use a public social network as the vehicle for signup like Facebook connect or Twitter. That is the first link in putting the complete identity picture together. The next step is the community profile itself. If you can establish a trust relationship with the customer, demonstrate value and draw customers into providing a more complete profile then you fill in the puzzle pieces even more. This is incremental trust building of course, much like the concepts that were developed in the 1990’s around permission based marketing by Seth Godin and others. In other words, the more you demonstrate responsible use of personal data and the more value I can get from the community by adding personal details, the more likely I am to help clean up the identity questions. The community is the most natural place to do this.

Companies are using customer communities for many things and seeing very good returns for the investment of management time and in the underlying technology platform to simplify community management. What unique use cases have you developed for your customer community?

 

By Michael Fauscette, Group Vice President, Software Business Solutions, IDC

Christopher Wofford is Digital Media Producer and host of WebSeries at eCornell.
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