In last week’s entry Three Ways Communities Change Customer Engagement And Deliver Value, I wrote about how online communities offer a new form of engagement with customers, and some of the benefits that result. In conclusion, I noted communities can take time to build and to generate a following. This week, I’d like to examine some considerations when launching online communities.
Have a Plan
All big projects require a plan, and your communities are no different. Your primary goal with communities is to have a large part of your customer base interacting together online, and most decisions you will make should further that goal. How will conversations and topics be organized? Will customer questions and comments be moderated or immediately posted? Will your communities have gamification? What types of policies will you have about acceptable use and content? How will you address abusive users? What type of problem or question might constitute contacting a customer directly and creating a formal case for them? This is far from a complete list but illustrates some of the considerations.
Just as with building a real city, it will take time to build your communities – there’s a lot to consider! Document all the features, policies, and goals for your communities. Next, prioritize them – and with the prioritized plan, you can develop a roadmap. What absolutely must be in place on day one? What is most important to deliver quickly after the launch vs. what can wait? And as your communities evolve, what are customers asking to be added (and would require reprioritization and updates to your roadmap)?
Staff for Success
I noted in last week’s blog that one benefit of communities is customers assisting other customers – they form your volunteer service team, and their participation and assistance is one mark of success. They won’t be available on day one, and therefore it will take time before that value is realized. As a result, you must invest some staffing in communities.
Your staff will address several needs. First, they will serve as primary responders to many customer questions and comments. Over time, their response rate might be superseded by other customers, but early on they are needed to provide timely and correct responses. As I mentioned last week, communities require a reason for customers to visit – for many it would be to get solutions to problems; you can add additional traffic with articles, blogs, and other engaging content. Finally, even with a highly active customer base in your communities, staff must be constantly curating the communities: are the topics and content appropriate? Are customer-provided answers valid? Should older, irrelevant content be removed?
Monitor and Adjust
Just because you spent the time to build a great plan and staff appropriately doesn’t mean things will go as expected. Like your service center, your communities plan should include KPIs and other metrics: activity volume and trends, average response times, time-to-resolution, most active topics, and top contributors, for starters. By paying attention to what’s going on in your communities, you can validate the effectiveness of your plan and adapt as needed.
Enhance the Customer Experience
Communities serve as an extension of customer service. They allow customers to interact with peers and other experts on problems as well as other mutually interesting topics related to your products and services. With proper planning and staffing supported by ongoing analysis, your communities will create a destination your customers want to visit, improving the customer experience and leading to greater loyalty.
(Image source: Pexels.com, used under the Creative Commons Zero license.)