For many companies, the drive to implement social business practices (interacting via social media, moving support to a customer forum, etc.) is driven by the desire to improve customer service while reducing customer support costs. Many customers prefer finding a solution to their problem online without having to make a phone call or waiting for an email response. A social approach to customer service becomes win-win when customers start to form a community and start helping each other out.
The benefits of a community go well beyond improving your support KPIs. An engaged community can:
- Turn customers into fans
- Create lots of content
- Provide in depth product feedback
- Help you identify potential beta testers and case studies
- Give you a solid point of differentiation vs. your competition
All these benefits make community building very appealing, but as with most things, it takes more effort than just buying software. Here are some ways to encourage your customers to come together and form a community:
1. Hire a community manager. Adding headcount goes counter to self-service and saving money but without someone to own the initiative and be very present in the community, it will be difficult to get to critical mass. Community Manager is not an entry level position and requires more skill and experience than simply knowing how to use social media sites. Case in point, a tax software company launched a customers forum which attracted many customers but had no community manger to manage the initiative and even discouraged staff from participating fearing they might get sued for accidentally giving bad tax advice. This hands off approach resulted in the community never reaching critical mass and it was eventually shut down.
2. Create an identity for the community. Customers will be more inclined to join if it's more than just useful. If it's seen as fun, unique, prestigious or exclusive, it will become more appealing. Sometimes little things can give a community a unique identity that bonds its members. For example the Big Green Egg BBQ company's customers call themselves 'Eggheads'. Once you're an Egghead, you can't switch to a competitor's BBQ because you would be losing a part of your identity.
3. Create rewards for participation. People who help others are more likely to help again (the Ben Franklin effect). Encourage those who help by awarding them a rank or expertise designation. This can be especially important if expertise around your product can help them progress in their careers. Another easy idea is to do a monthly customer profile and post it to your community. At GameSalad, a maker of software that helps developers build mobile games, customers are given ranks based on having received positive feedback from others customers. The rank names are fun and reinforce the brand: 'line cook', 'sous chef', 'head chef', etc.
4. Get the whole company involved. Customer communities are tremendously valuable to sales (finding leads), product management (getting product feedback), and marketing (customer testimonials). Your community needs to reach a critical level of activity to take off and that will happen more quickly if staff outside of customer support are engaging in discussions with customers. For example, the product managers at a manufacturer of household tools use the community to find beta testers and get quick feedback by posting polls. The product managers can quickly and easily get information and customers are thrilled to be able to help shape future offerings.
Customer self-service makes a lot of business sense, a customer community, if done right, makes even more sense.
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