Are You Prepared for These 8 Types of Discussions in Your Online Customer Community?


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Preparation is the key to many of the world’s elite performers. From the world best athletes, like LeBron James and Serena Williams, to top-tier musicians to the the best Ted Talks, preparation plays a vital role in their success.

Being prepared plays such an important role in our careers and personal lives, why wouldn’t it apply to the experience your provide your prospects, customers, and partners in your online customer community?

When you launch an online customer community, you are opening up your organization and customers to a new dimension of communication.

Your customer base and company are probably accustomed to linear one-to-one communication to and from your business. In contrast, customer communities revolve around peer-to-peer communication. In community-based customer relationship management models, many customers share their insights and opinions with your organization at once and they do it in a way where others can see and comment on their ideas.

A big part of managing and scaling your customer community is putting the processes in place to support the type of activity that you will see in your community. By anticipating the types of discussions your customers, prospects, and partners will initiate in your online community, you can:

  1. Prep the people in various parts of your organization to respond consistently and in alignment with your community strategy (sales, account management, support, marketing, product management, other customers or members, etc.)
  2. Incorporate the customer community software features that support the types of conversations that your customers want to have. See type #3 below for an example.
  3. Make sure that customer discussions get responses (especially during the early phases of your community)

Obviously, you are not going to be able to prepare for every type of question in your online community. However, this is a good opportunity to follow the Pareto principle (otherwise known as the 80/20 rule). Prepare for the 20% of the topics that account for 80% of the discussions in your community.

Types of Questions to Anticipate in Your Online Customer Community

Based on Socious’s experience helping large and mid-sized businesses plan and implement customer communities, here is a list of 8 types of discussions that you can expect in your online customer community.

Type #1) Company Discussions

These are questions about the direction of the organization or an action that the company has recently taken. Company questions are a great opportunity to build trust with your key constituents by being transparent, clear, and responsive.

Type #2) Non-Immediate Product Discussions

Medium-term product discussions are those questions that don’t have a big impact on your customers’ day-to-day operation of your products. They are those questions that customers have been meaning to ask and final had a minute to post them to the community. They don’t demand an immediate response, but should be answered correctly by other customers or your support team within a couple of days.

Type #3) Cases or How-To Discussions

In this scenario, customers or members outline a real situation that they need help with. These how-to questions may need quick short answers or call for lengthy explanations. These discussions may even include images and additional documentation.

This is a situation where your organization will want to make sure your online community includes engagement features that drive high participation, so that your customers get the support they expect.

For an example, we have customers in the health care field. These doctors and researchers can post a discussion question to a specific area of the community regarding a challenge they are experiencing. By the time it takes to reach the next building on the hospital’s campus, they have several answers from around the world.

Since their online community software enables customers or members to participate from the browser-based discussion forums, their email inbox via integrated listservs, and apps on mobile devices, more community members are getting immediate notification of other members needing assistance. From there, it is very easy for people to respond online, over email, or on their phones.

We also see this use case a lot with software customer communities. When people need answers to daily roadblocks, they need them accurately and quickly.

Type #4) Big Picture Discussions

Your customers are not all in the same place when it comes to understanding your product, their strategy, and their market. While some community members will focus on direct how-to questions, other people will want to discuss higher level industry or product concepts.

For instance, if you sell a marketing software platform, customers may start discussions about inbound marketing vs. outbound marketing.

These types of discussions are one of your best chances to have customers respond to other customers. However, this may not happen on its own, so you’ll need to have a community manager procedure in place that brings other customers or partners into the discussion.

Your organization can even chime in. Tip: If your company does respond, be careful to not to sound so authoritative that you shut down further discussion. Leave room for others to add their thoughts.

Type #5) Suggested Feature or Service Discussions

The open nature of online customer communities attracts a large amount of product feedback. You’ll see some constructive feedback and you’ll also experience some rants.

Assuming that you have a product management process for logging, validating, and prioritizing new feature ideas (many established companies don’t yet), the goal is to integrate that process into your customer community.

Along with adding transparency to your product roadmap, idea tracking where customers can submit, rate, and discuss new features gives your community management and product support teams a place to direct customers with suggestions or product complaints.

Type #6) Industry Discussions

Every so often, regulators shake up an industry. We’ve seen this recently with financial companies and health care organizations.

Though you are just providing a product or service to businesses in these industries, your customers will likely look to you for guidance on the changes. Put a plan in place to bring your compliance and legal teams into the loop, so that you can respond to customers and partners quickly with helpful information.

Type #7) Discussions about the Community

The many-to-many communication of online communities represents a new communication model for many of your customers, prospects, and partners. This means that you will get questions about the community, how to find specific information, and basic technical help.

Since not every member of your target audiences was in the room when you planned your customer community, you can bet that you are going to get questions. Here are three things you can do to prepare for these discussions, so that they don’t suck up too much of your community management team’s time.

  1. Tip and Tricks Documentations – Maintain a simple how-to blog in your online customer community. You can even use articles from the tips and tricks blog in your customer newsletters.
  2. Anticipate and Address – Make sure that customers with questions get responses to their discussions.
  3. Plug the Holes – Are you getting a lot of the same questions? Add features, processes, or content to help community members navigate specific areas of your community where many of them get stuck.

Type #8) Sales Signal Discussions

Prospective customers, existing customers, and partners will turn to your community to gather information and ask questions when they are seeking to purchase one of your products or services.

The question then becomes, “How will your organization respond?” Will your sales people and account managers be in a position to monitor community member’s activity to get the new sale, upsell deal, or renewal? Will you have processes in place to ensure that prospects get an authentic response?

Online Customer Community Takeaway

Even seasoned social business professionals can underestimate all of the time and activities that go into launching and managing a private online community for customers and other key audiences, like partners or prospects. However, there are thing you can do to create efficiency and get some of your community management time back.

Anticipating the type of discussions you will see in your online customer community will create a better customer experience, as well as enable your company’s community managers to handle more customer engagement and focus on the more strategic aspects of community management.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joshua Paul
Joshua Paul is the Director of Marketing and Strategy at Socious, a provider of enterprise customer community software that helps large and mid-sized companies bring together customers, employees, and partners to increase customer retention, sales, and customer satisfaction. With over 13 years of experience running product management and marketing for SaaS companies, Joshua Paul is a popular blogger and speaker on customer management, inbound marketing, and social technology. He blogs at


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