Never underestimate your customers’ ability to support each other and your CX program.
As companies and customer experience (CX) professionals evolve digitally, many have already taken the plunge into public social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Having your own corporate-run customer community is the next step in the digital evolution for companies and CX professionals.
As a CX professional, I like the idea of communities. And speaking for the B2B technology company I work for and its nearly two-year-old social community, I can testify to the benefits of having our own online community. Developing it, however, was a much more involved undertaking than creating our Facebook page, as you might expect.
Looking back, technology was the easy part. What took time was building our community strategy. For us, creating the strategy was an involved process because we had been looking for new ways to build loyal customers from the very beginning of their relationships with us. We view our community as one way to do that.
Following are three best practices we’ve used to make the most of our community and to ensure it continues to achieve the goals we established at the onset.
1. Start small, with a specific objective.
The brand owns the customer community, but “the crowd”—e.g., customers, partners and employees—support it. You can either choose to take your hands off the wheel (not recommended) or direct the conversation. Customer community experts will tell you that there are three main directions or ways companies take their online communities. These include leveraging them as:
- an extension of the customer service organization to reduce costs, answer questions for customers and resolve issues
- digital marketing tools to give the brand a voice and give customers a place to connect with the business and
- engagement tools for employees to interact with each other and share ways to improve products and customer service. (Though these exist “inside the firewall” and don’t provide direct customer access, they are ultimately a resource that improves the customer experience.)
That said, our community started differently. We wanted to cast a wider net than simply being a customer service tool, and we wanted more than an employee site, a digital marketing tool or glorified Facebook page.
We started by discussing how much our customers like to talk with each other. They gain extra value from our solutions when they share ideas and lessons learned at our customer conferences, user group meetings and other connection points during the year.
This raised the question: why not give them the opportunity to do that 24/7? That was the direction we chose for the first phase of our community project: to provide a forum for always-on customer networking, with discussions periodically guided by our own internal team members. With such a foundation in mind, we developed a mission statement, agreed on a set of goals that formalized our strategy and ensured our team was on board.
2. Trust your customers to manage discussions.
Recently, one of our customers posted that they were considering purchasing our speech analytics solution and wanted to know what others in the community thought. Two customers responded. One stated, “It’s the best product out there.” The other’s response was more measured and contextual. It related the company’s experience with the product and provided tips on setting up categories and being sure to take both the foundational and advanced training. I thought that was a gold nugget because it involved peer-to-peer insights and support for the product. Let’s face it, comments are always more valuable when they come from a user than from the brand.
As these types of interaction have grown since our community started, various micro-communities of customers also have formed—customers who have taken ownership of specific solutions like desktop analytics and other topics “on the board.” While our internal team helps guide discussions, it’s not an overstatement to say that our community is “for customers and managed by customers.” It’s a beautiful thing to see this channel and these types of interactions and information sharing take off.
3. Share ownership internally.
Our CX team has primary responsibility for the Verint Community, although we don’t have a specific person assigned as a community manager, at least for now. We have group owners from sales, marketing and product development that are stakeholders and express opinions on how we should be managing the community.
That said, I’m pleasantly surprised that the platform doesn’t require much administrative time or technical support. My time is spent less on technical issues and more on increasing customer engagement, identifying champions, recruiting more community members, and ensuring members know how to do simple things like calling on other customers that can share perspectives and experiences, and answer questions.
I know some companies hire community managers to keep things going, but I find that if the rules of engagement are clear, the distributed ownership model works well. The philosophy “it takes 10 percent of 10 people to get 100 percent” is a good way to describe our community, and we’re pleased it’s working so well. With thousands of registered users today, we are ready to move from a Phase I to Phase II evolution of the community with a focus on expanding our scope, providing updated, relevant member content, and integrating our support portal.
Remember, you own the environment.
In talking with customer community experts both inside and outside our company, we know that many organizations are apprehensive about setting up their own communities. They’re afraid customers will post negative comments. Keep in mind that, positive or negative, people are going to talk about their experiences with your brand. Wouldn’t you rather see those comments in an environment that you own?
Companies are also concerned about how their employees will use the community. We’ve addressed this by developing employee guidelines and internal training on how to participate in the community. At our company, every employee in the stakeholder organization has a responsibility to visit the community at least once a day to see if any discussions relate to their department or team. In doing so, we advise them to spend 10 or 15 minutes each day answering questions or directing the conversation to other employees or customers who can provide perspectives and answers. And what if they spend more than 15 minutes in the community? No worries! Our philosophy is that any amount of time engaging with customers is time well spent.