Centers of Excellence: The Next Big Thing for Community

7 minute read

September 14, 2021

Centers of Excellence: The Next Big Thing for Community

Over the past few years, Vanilla has been conducting a lot of in-depth research on CX on how community can both facilitate customer success and impact customers’ expectations. 

Last year I proposed the idea of community triage – the concept of community acting as a place where the customer journey begins for proper treatment. I have gotten lots of great feedback on this and it led to me seeing how we, as community builders, can push this concept even further. Community is more than just the first touch point, but the fabric of everything; the center of excellence.

A lot of the time when I speak with people, they tell me about their blog, training, videos, the kb, their articles, and yes their communities (including forums, events and more). The most common challenge they talk about, is how to bring this all together and create a cohesive experience for our customers and prospects.

More than ever I am convinced we community professionals need to align ourselves with the community experience and customer success teams. Yes, I know many of you may report into marketing or may even have a marketing role. Or, maybe you have your own community department, which if you do, 👏👏👏. I am not suggesting you shift departments, nor am I suggesting that you should own the Centre of Excellence. I am, however, talking about shifting your mindset on our work and how to explain it in a way that can influence the company culture and how our organizations see the future of community.

In the end, community work is about helping our community be successful. So let’s delve into how we can make that happen.

There’s an opportunity for there to be a space – a digital home so to speak – for everything customers need to be successful – a center of excellence – but with community permeating all aspects of this – so the conversation is not to the community as much as it is with the community. It would touch all aspects: help, learning, connection, discovery, and thought leadership.

What are the benefits?

  • Standardization:  all working together in an organized and clear way

  • Reduced operating costs: more efficient use of resources

  • Better experience: a more fluid experience

  • Community democracy: for the people by the people.

But how do we get there? – let me share my 5 ways to help you transform your thinking and get you on the path to a center of excellence.

1. Lean into Existing Trends

Close to half of people would rather spend 30 minutes cleaning toilets than wait on hold with customer service. 

People hate ticketing systems. A ticketing system introduces a layer between the customer and the company and impedes direct communication. 

People start with search: TSIA recently conducted research which emulates our own research: 90% of people begin their support journey using a search engine.

Richard Millington of Feverbee has shown that a community’s best indicator of success is organic traffic coming from Google or other search engines. 

North of 80% of your customers want to solve things themselves and expect these self-service tools to be provided by a brand.

Creating these spaces is what people want. Almost 90% said they appreciated it. We have seen this positive impact on our customers using community:  NPS and CStat scores have both improved. 

Organizations need to review customer experiences and how CX can be impacted by community access. 

Despite knowing this, so many communities stay gated. But, why are they hiding?!

​​Companies need to be upfront and transparent but a lot of companies simply don’t want to share what’s going on for fear of the competitor finding out! There are so many great impacts companies have seen through use of community – I can share these anonymously with you: 

So we know community has impact across the organization but many communities are stuck in the “support” community phase and can’t seem to see why they should broaden their horizons.


2. Success First Mentality

​​Let’s stop talking about support this, support that, and start talking about success communities. We should be working on integrating and aligning our community strategy into our company’s success strategy.

We need to change the language within our companies to see how the support community can become even better as a success community.

It’s time to focus on outcomes that make customers happy & successful. How do we measure and prove this? 

  1. Customer Effort Score (CES)

  2. Time to resolution

  3. Sense of belonging

  4. Sense of value

  5. Likelihood to recommend & renew

3. Be a Silo Breaker

CMGRs should act as a silo breaker; ensuring the right content for the right person is available when needed. What happens when you break silos?

  1. Clear communication with key teams that will be impacted by the community

  2. Aligned priorities based on those that will have the largest organizational impact

  3. Incentivized people who think in new ways

  4. Effectively shared information from customers

How do we get there? We should create a COE Advisory board. What should you consider with this?

  • Create a working group – from your own employees to where team consists of people leading functional areas of importance: sales, marketing, product – managers of each area should be included to keep things balanced

  • Executive sponsorship is critical, but so is the face of your customers. I would aim to have the Chief Customer Officer or executive who doesn’t lead a direct department to be in charge. Community person does not need to lead necessarily but should be a leading voice. You want to be surfacing from the community their needs,

  • Communication – regular meetings to track what is working and communicating this – consider PM software or using something like – it should be clear what people are working on. There should also be constant communication with the community on what is working  and what is not, what they want more of, or less. How do you find out? You talk to them.

  • Impact – make sure work is directed towards the goals of organizational impact – and measure. In this case, if churn is an issue – or identified as something to be tackled, we know that unlocking and explaining the value of your tool may be paramount. That could mean some departments work on videos, others interviews or blog posts on how people use the product, could be an ask me anything session with experts. Your community is a wealth of information on their needs. It’s also why the COE can’t be successful without a strong community element. The community perspective is a lynch pin to the success.

In the end the CoE is about servicing your community to be successful – and that also starts by knowing more about them. 

4. Make Effective Personas 

Talking to your audience holistically can be easier when you identify their persona. 

Personas should be developed beyond community and the development process should involve other teams. Each of the personas you’re going to identify likely exists across your organization but your vision needs to be unified.

Take a total view of how people will interact with your company digitally from support to community to other resources you create

How can you start building effective personas? 

  1. Start by grouping people by job title

  2. Speak with a number of people from each group

  3. Build out the persona based on facts you garner from your interviews

Your CSMs can most likely identify several people you should talk with. 

5. People, Platforms, Planning

Investing in community people is more common than ever before, it’s even starting to become its very own discipline, which is the sole reason an event like CMX Summit Rise or Swarm can even exist. 

What organizations need to remember is that while a great platform is a necessity, great people to run it are even more important. 

On the topic of a great platform, I have seen many communities attempt to use a blog software for example, to launch their community. It just doesn’t work, people! 

Investment in a platform that is run by people who understand community is the only way to be successful!

Lastly, planning, planning, planning. 

Planning the CoE:

Ensuring you have a great team in place is paramount! You could even consider adding someone from within your community to your CoE Advisory. You want your team to be community centric and understand how to make things as easy for your customers as possible.

You should craft vision and mission statements that are customer experience focused. 

Though you should be able to design, develop, and launch your community in 90 – 120 days, many companies drag it out and fail. This is the time in which you need to develop governance, reporting relationships, and ownerships. You should be using this time to identify staffing gaps, and proper persona segmentation – is there enough content coverage in your CoE?

When you finally get around to completion and launch, you should be seeding content, and working out your methodologies for task completion. Schedule weekly or monthly CoE Advisory meetings and use an internal calendar or community for internal collaboration. Finally, plan for continuous testing, feedback and iteration. As we all know with community, these things never end.

Final thoughts

I am not saying this is easy. Please believe I am not saying one simply waves a wand and hopes this happens. I know in each company it will be different and there are challenges. However, what I am here to tell you, is this is happening now. If it hasn’t happened in your industry yet, it will. The companies in your space that do this well will crush those that don’t. What Covid has done is accelerated consumer expectations around digital experience in ways only a pandemic could. Those companies that understand these new trends and expectations will benefit the most. 

Want to learn more about investing in Customer Success and Experience? Check out our free ebook to determine the right balance of value between your CX tech and ROI.

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Adrian Speyer

Written by Adrian Speyer

Adrian Speyer is the Head of Community and Lead Evangelist for Vanilla by Higher Logic. Besides spending many years in digital marketing, Adrian has been building communities of all sizes for over 20 years.

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