If your organization is like many forward-thinking, customer-centric businesses today, you already know that social networks can bolster the visibility of your company. You may even have taken it a step further by incorporating the inquiries and complaints posted on networks like Facebook and Twitter into your contact center’s channel mix.
Digital marketing experts say that it’s important to be in all the places where your customers are searching for information about your products and services. However, if your goal is to drive engagement and retention, cultivating your own branded community can offer more value for both customers and the business.
Online communities have been in use by the high-tech industry for decades—going as far back as 1980 with CompuServe’s CB Simulator online chat service. More recently, though, the desire to be closer to customers has sparked interest in online communities from organizations across sectors. But if your customers are already chatting, connecting and posting their questions on your company’s Facebook page, how does that differ from an online community?
“Social networks are predominantly relationship-oriented. Customers go there to connect with friends, family and work colleagues—people they have relationships with,” explains Rob Howard, vice president and general manager, Social Communities, Verint Enterprise Intelligence Solutions. “They’re used as a relational tool to find information and get recommendations from people who we share interests with and whom we trust.”
Online communities, on the other hand, are purpose-driven. They are created to meet specific objectives, such as providing customer support, or in the case of private communities, creating a safe place for members to come, ask questions, share their own knowledge and experiences, and network with other like-minded individuals and experts.
Over time, online communities that have been developed for purpose-driven experiences undergo a transformation and become more relationship-driven for many users, Howard adds. “Companies end up getting the same benefits as they have with Facebook or Twitter in that users who are experts in your products will frequent the community, become friends with one another and begin sharing experiences.”
Practical pointer: Customers who are searching online for answers to their questions can end up in a variety of places where they may not get verified solutions that your organization recognizes as the correct way to solve their problem. Howard recommends that companies use social media channels as the first point of engagement with customers, and then send them to the online community for more detailed information. “Try to draw them back into the online community to provide them with a deeper, more meaningful experience, conversation or information that the organization represents as being factually accurate,” he says.
Three Basic Principles for Long-term Success
The following are Howard’s recommendations for long-term success with your customer community.
- Authentic participation. “We encourage all of our customers to be authentic as they participate in the community—to be themselves,” Howard explains. “Do simple things like updating their profiles, because at the end of the day, we’re all striving to create the relationships around the story that we’re telling in these communities.”
- Create unique and valuable content. Online communities are a great place for customers to ask questions about products, services, problems and concerns, but it shouldn’t be limited to those types of discussions. “Think of it as a place where customers can post unique information that they may not share in other ways,” he says. For example, if the R&D team has an idea for a new product, the community offers a perfect opportunity to share that information and solicit their feedback, whether it’s with the entire community or a select set of customers.
- Recognize customer contributions. When a customer offers a suggestion, make sure that you complete the feedback loop with a response and recognition of the individual’s contribution. “Recognition is an incredibly important part of the success of a community,” Howard says. “It can come in the form of acknowledgment through a reply or through gamification, where customers have the ability to earn badges and earn recognition for sharing their expertise within the community.”
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