Building an Online Community: Lessons Learned from the Customer Service Experts at CXPA


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“The cobbler’s children have no shoes.” Those who can, do, those who can’t teach.”

Our society is full of these sayings, alluding to the fact that often “experts” in their own fields fall short when applying “best of” principles to their own practice. But in the case of The Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA), an organization founded to train customer experience professionals, those pithy remarks don’t apply. With 4,000 members around the world, providing an enjoyable and productive customer experience for them was no easy task, but we knew connecting those scattered members and building a community among them was the most important goal. We studied our own experience and tracked what worked and what didn’t so we could share those best practices.

With rapid growth in recent years, our challenge was finding a way to help members meaningfully connect — to support the global community, elevate the member experience, and provide a cohesive space for learning. We knew we wanted an online community and engagement with the community would be key — that it had to be successful from the start, and the features we chose and content we populated it with would determine its fate. We initially tried a small platform that acted as our database management, but it was limited and we ran into frequent roadblocks and bugs. We looked for a platform that could integrate well and offer a broad range of offerings for our members. We found that and then worked with the creators (Higher Logic) to develop kind of platform ideally suited for our members.

We hope the lessons we learned in building the community platform will help others create environments to foster ongoing communication and support their own customers. We all have access to different online communities, but we knew the key to success was in how an online community is set up from the beginning. It’s important to show a bustling community from the start – here’s how we got there with CXPA.

Online Discussion Forum

The goal of CXPA’s discussion forum was two -old — to be rapidly responsive so that members felt heard and to have rich content that heralds the community as a top resource for members. This of course is critical for association members, but can easily apply to any business and its customers. You want to remain a source of information for your customers/members, and you want to be there for them when they need something. We identified the 18 active, most sought after topics, then we enlisted subject matter experts to man those topics and ensure coverage. The forum we built turned out to be the most impressive feature. WIth two to three new posts a day, it’s rare (almost nonexistent) for a post to go unanswered. And as a member-driven and member-monitored forum, its success has become something that members value as much as their organization’s leadership.

User Friendly… and User Rated… Resources

Of course resources have to be user friendly, and we wanted members to be able to quickly and easily access the tools they need to do their jobs better. In addition to hundreds of pieces of relevant and timely content, again we wanted member involvement in the content library. We built a resource center where members could comment, rate content, vote for favorites that would rise to the top of a featured list, and generally have more flexibility with how content is listed and searched. This is now a knowledge hub for current and future members to easily find helpful information.

Personalizing the Community with Mentoring

Personalizing was really key throughout the community, but connecting community members via a mentoring program proved to be one of the most successful components of the CXPA community. Members had been asking for a mentoring program for years, but the idea of managing it seemed daunting. When we found out our partner actually had a program for connecting mentoring to the community, it alleviated our concerns.

Since customer experience as a field is relatively new, there aren’t many options for continuing education and professional development. And the professionals who do have the experience don’t alway a way to share that experience easily. Our mentoring module made it easy for those offering and seeking peer support.

But how do we know these tools were the right ones to choose? The numbers speak for themselves:

  • 11,500 logins in the first year
  • Nearly 100 discussions in the first month and over 1,000 total in the first year
  • Added over 1,200 new members in the last six months

Members new and old are more engaged and enthusiastic about the community and new website – the majority are logging in regularly to update information and participate. Of course at the end of the day, we developed this platform and tracked its success so that our member customer service experience professionals could take those best practices back to their own jobs.

Lesley Lykins
Lesley Lykins is the director of Member Engagement at the Customer Experience Professionals Association, hired to deliver world-class service and value to its members by engaging them in networking and steering the development of the association's products and opportunities. CXPA is rapidly growing as the discipline develops and Lesley is tasked with ensuring members can easily connect and find the resources they need to develop in this profession.


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