Online community? Connecting your customers? This might sound like a non sequitur or a solution that’s been around for years, but customer engagement in a branded community today is a refreshing and powerful approach to challenging, organizational-wide problems:
“Community programs are compelling because their outcomes can be connected to complex business objectives like innovation, culture change, and customer retention. These are some of the most tenacious challenges that organizations face today, making these findings particularly encouraging and exciting.”
The Community Roundtable, Communities Powering Change
Online communities, in the form of discussion boards or online networking sites, have been around for a 15+ years (remember when communities looked like this 2009 video from Microsoft?), but true customer communities today are much more than that: they are modern, powerful solutions for complex organizational problems, purpose-built for engagement across the customer lifecycle.
Branded Online Communities Solve Complex Organizational Problems
Business-to-business, or B2B, software as a service (SaaS) companies are rushing to dedicate resources and specific teams to improve the customer experience. In fact, 80% of customer success teams have grown in the last year.
The problem is, customer experience issues usually don’t lie just in one department, like sales, or product.
If you do a quick search on LinkedIn to find the titles of people involved in customer experience, you’ll find a range of departments and titles, speaking to this unique problem: CX teams have to address challenges that come from across the company, and it’s not often clear where to start.
Your team of customer success managers (CSMs) and support reps could be the hardest working, most personable people ever, and your customers may still be unhappy. The point is, it’s often a mixture of departments and processes that come together to create a poor or great customer experience.
With such complex challenges, it can be a painstaking task to try to create a plan of action or adopt new tools to support your customers better.
But one approach to solving this company-wide challenge is to connect your customers with each other and with you in a branded online community.
The Draw of An Online Community for Your Company and Your Customers
Future-focused companies invest in online communities because they know that communities will impact far more than just customer support or marketing.
Benefits from a branded customer community trickle down to increase satisfaction, revenue, and help grow entire businesses. They grow customer loyalty.
Companies can focus on and support their customers’ most urgent and pervasive problems, early. They’re differentiating themselves, forging strong relationships with customers, and recognizing potential losses much earlier.
B2B companies with online communities create a link between customers and real people at the company. Customers with questions can tag staff in a discussion, or post a question and expect a response from a customer support member in the community.
Concerned about the idea of getting negative posts in your community? Read our Guide to Community Moderation to learn how to manage negativity (and why it’s not always such a bad thing).
This introduces an element of transparency that’s hard to develop anywhere else and creates a relationship of personal accountability between customers and the company.
Plus, customers can share creative ways to resolve issues and innovative ways to use your product, improving the value for every customer reading the discussion.
CX teams have to address challenges that come from across the company, and these complex challenges require an innovative approach. Enter: customer engagement. A customer community that’s purpose-built for engagement across the customer lifecycle can help you solve complex organizational problems.
To learn more about how a branded customer community can impact your customer experience, download our eBook. We cover how communities can help you:
- Provide effective customer support
- Increase customer retention and revenue
- Scale customer success’s impact
- Turn users into champions
But don’t just take our word for it. Is a community a nice-to-have or a must-have?
The 9 Biggest Business Benefits of Starting a Branded Customer Community
Online communities benefit companies across almost every department from marketing and sales to customer support and success. Here are the top business benefits of building a customer community around your brand.
1. Communities Grow Customer Retention
Branded online communities help increase retention by engaging your customers and encouraging them to form stronger relationships with your business. Discussion forums, networking with peers, asking questions, submitting feedback, or perusing resources all contribute to increased connections between your brand and your customers. This increases the value they get from using your products and services, making it more likely they’ll stay with you in the future.
Michael Torok is Director of Knowledge and Community Management and leads community efforts at his SaaS business, Delphix, a data operations platform for the cloud. He joined us to share why they started a customer community in June of 2019, and the benefits they believe community will create for their customers and their organization.
Michael calls communities a way for companies to “listen at scale.” He explains more:
Imperva, a SaaS-based cybersecurity software and services company, also launched their branded customer community in 2019. Chris, their global community manager, shared their community goals, which include peer-to-peer networking, creating a knowledge base, and optimizing the product for clients, along with reducing their support case load and enabling customers to help them make better products.
Ultimately, though, Chris said: “The main problem we’re trying to solve with our customer community is around retention: How do we retain our customers at a higher rate? When customers engage in the community, and they reply, ‘like’ posts, or add questions, you’ll generally retain them, and retain them at a higher rate.” Hear what else he had to say:
2. Communities Improve the Digital Customer Experience
A branded customer community creates a central destination for your customers to find support, advice, best practices, and give feedback.
Chris shares that a vital part of a SaaS community strategy is creating a hub where customers can find everything they need so that their digital experience is streamlined and cohesive.
Prior to Higher Logic, Delphix used a community platform provider that lent itself more to a transactional environment where people come for an answer, find it, then leave. But now, they’re working to turn their community into a destination that people want to return to.
3. Communities Cut Support Costs (And Increase Satisfaction)
People who enjoy calling customer support are few and far between. It’s often more efficient and less frustrating to empower customers to find answers themselves through self-service: Enter, a customer community.
Companies launch branded online communities and customer service portals to help customers help themselves. They seed the community with product documentation, expert articles, and ask loyal customers to join. Struggling users can search those resources any time, asking questions in discussion forums, or finding answers in videos and blogs.
Jama Software can attribute much of a 28% decrease in support ticket volume to their community because their customers go to the community with questions before submitting support tickets.
Jama’s Manager of Technical Support, Kristina King, mentioned that many of the tickets the support team does receive begin with the words, “I searched in the community, but couldn’t find the answer.”
Kristina noted this implies “an untold number of tickets that are never submitted because customers are trained so well to search the community first.”
As customers ask questions and discuss with each other, they build a huge store of information and resources. Even when customers do create a formal ticket, 73% of Jama’s responding staff have found many inquiries can be solved easily by linking a customer directly to the best resource on the community.
A single helpful piece of online content can answer dozens of customers’ questions, reducing support calls to your company. This can cut costs and boost customer satisfaction.
4. Communities Build Your Brand
Michael touched on the benefits a software community can have for your brand as a whole. Delphix created the DataOps movement, and they’re using community to gather people behind not only Delphix, but behind the movement.
Imperva is building their brand through community too, but with a slightly different approach – organic search. Chris knows that as their user-generated discussions grow, their community will grow in search authority, content, and relevance, boosting leads, and brand awareness.
5. Communities Boost New Customer Acquisition
Building a B2B community for your business and customers can actually help you win new customers in three ways:
Be Discovered – Communities with public sections create tons of user-generated content through discussion forums, articles, and updates that are indexed by Google. When prospects search for solutions to their problems, your community will show up in results, increasing brand awareness.
Persuasive Content – Fill your prospect sections with answers to frequently asked questions, documentation on best practices, and product benefits to educate prospects on your solutions. Include customer-created content, such as testimonials, from your most successful customer advocates as well. This will typically become your most effective content since people tend to trust their peers’ experience with a product or service more than they trust what the company says.
Reduce Risk – Peer-to-peer support forums, easily-accessible documentation, help guides, and other support content reduce the risk of new purchases. Prospects can clearly see that you’ve set up an “always-on” destination to support them and ensure their success, regardless of whether problems happen during business hours or not.
6. Communities Increase Upsell, Cross-Sell, and Add-On Revenue
A branded online community can increase customer lifetime value by increasing upsells, cross-sells, and add-on purchases through a combination of awareness, engagement, and data-driven sales enablement.
Product Awareness – To increase awareness of your products, seed the community with documents on all current offers. Include the benefits of upgrading to a higher service tier or how an add-on product improves results. As customers find these documents, they’ll become more aware of your full array of offers and what additional products will increase the value they get from your company.
Customer Engagement – Empower your customers to engage in discussions about your products and services, including providing feedback and sharing unique ways they’re using your products to solve problems. They’ll become more and more likely to take you up on that cross-sell opportunity.
Data-Driven Sales – You can increase the impact of customer engagement on sales by collecting activity data from your customer community. Empower your sales team to review what pages customers are visiting, the files they’re downloading, and the discussions they’re participating in. When they find a customer who’s regularly viewing product pages, they can proactively reach out via phone or email to help your customer choose the best product for their needs.
7. Communities Nurture Customer Advocates
Customers who love your brand want to talk about it. They want to share their stories and pass on their knowledge, and a community gives them a place to do that.
Developing an online community ambassador program that nurtures your advocates and acknowledges the value they’re providing to your business. You can use gamification, ribbons, and badges to highlight each advocate’s contributions and make them feel special, for instance. You can also give them special access to advance information on business updates and product releases to keep them “in the know” and inspire them to continue advocating for your business.
Encourage your advocates to connect with their peers, other customers, and prospects in the community at large as well. They’re experts on your products, so they’re great at spurring discussions, answering questions, and helping people find the best solution to their problem – all of which helps your company grow your business and revenue.
8. Communities Drive Product Innovation
Branded online communities are designed to start conversations about your business and its offerings. Take full advantage of that by tracking the most common customer complaints, sources of confusion, and new feature ideas. All of these are areas where you can improve your product to make it more efficient and appealing to your market.
When you do make a change based on customer feedback, let the community know. People love when their suggestions (or frustrations) are taken seriously and spur action. You may even win more loyal customers because of it.
Pay special attention to product feedback and ideas from your customer advocates. They’re passionate about your products and use them often, so they’re excellent at drawing attention to key areas where you can make improvements.
9. Communities Benefit Multiple Departments
Online communities are as diverse as the companies that start them and can support multiple use cases. Even if you’ll use your community for supporting your SaaS business, it doesn’t mean you have to limit it to support. In fact, if you did, you’d be limiting the potential a branded customer community can have on loyalty and growth.
If you’re considering developing a branded online community, you should choose what critical business needs you want to solve, but remember that companies are rarely efficient when there are silos.
Choose a clear purpose for your community and communicate with all major stakeholders in your business. Explain how the community can help make their jobs easier and more efficient. Getting buy-in across departments can help you get the resources you need to make a branded online community a valuable business initiative.
Communities Drive Growth for Customers and for Your Business
Future-focused companies know that online communities will impact far more than just customer support – they grow your entire business.
Building a customer community can create a seamless customer experience, provide rich customer data for organizations that propels product and revenue growth, and builds your brand through search engine optimization (SEO) growth and thought leadership.
Is your business interested in learning how to develop a branded online community? Download this eBook for all the information you need on how to build an online community to support your customers and your brand.
Jenny is a Community Strategist at Higher Logic. She has a strong background in community management, working with customers to implement strategies that would ensure their community produced the most engaged users possible. Prior to Higher Logic, Jenny was ingrained in the nonprofit sector as a grant writer, marketing specialist and—you guessed it—a community manager.
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