By Andrew Field
In the age of mobile technology – where we’re always on, always connected – customers are much more than customers. They aren’t looking at your marketing message. They certainly aren’t interested in your sales pitch. But they are interested in you.
They want to talk about you and, if you deliver memorable experiences, they will. But why are you memorable? Did you engage with them through an omni-channel experience? Or did they have to wait on the phone for half an hour before they got through to a call center?
Tapping into the power of customer communities builds customer loyalty and naturally drives lifetime value. It also gives you amazing insights into their behavior so you can identify leads, find moments where you can offer a better solution, and inform your sales message.
Here’s how you can reach your customers by empowering their voice, harnessing their collective wisdom, and rewarding their efforts to build a better experience.
Build a Customer Community
At the center of your strategy to grow long-term engagement and loyalty must be a plan for creating a customer community. A customer community is more than a forum, message board, or a few FAQ pages. It is a cohesive, measured, executable strategy elevating and empowering the people who choose to do business with you.
Your journey to a customer community begins with one person – a single customer. Build a portal where customers can search a database of answers, content, and tips. Make it easy to use; make it a pleasure to navigate. This builds a basic foundation for customer self-help, allowing a mobile customer to engage when they want, how they want. Self-service allows you to monitor your customers and get to know them. What are they interested in? What makes them unhappy with your solution? Where can you teach them – and sell them – on the right solution?
Next, populate your community with real people. Make it easy for them to share their stories and solve problems. For many of your customers, a well-populated, active community is their first and last line of customer support. If they can find an answer to their specific question or concern right away, you’ve created a usable community. Jumpstart participation by seeding the community with usable content, then – when customers have concerns – point them to the community as part of your customer care process. Soon, the community will begin to grow itself and you can promote community managers from the users on your site. These managers will be the backbone of your advocacy program, they serve as your voice within your own community.
Finally, close the loop with your community strategy by creating ways to bridge the chasm between self-service and directed (or assisted) service. This is where most companies fail. For example, imagine someone has been searching for answers in your portal, reaching out to other customers, but can’t find any answers. There should be a system in place that automatically routes their concern to a help desk while maintaining their research history so the rep who picks up the phone knows exactly where to start problem solving.
Reward Your Advocates
You have to offer a reward system for your customer advocates and community managers. Send them something they’ll actually use – branded swag, free trials of new products, or a chance to win a substantial prize like a getaway or special behind-the-scenes tour of your offices.
Sending a real, tangible reward drives home how important they are to your growth. Think of your managers as employees – and, in some cases, they may actually justify a job offer. Consider rewarding participation by other members as well: a low-cost send like clothing, a gift card attached to a postcard, or even special invites to online events. Keep the rewards flowing and your advocates will promote your brand with a fresh voice and authenticity you can’t match.
Customer Loyalty Means More Sales
Building a platform for customer community is really about exposing the details of your customer service, your customer experience, and your product details to the world. Make it public – let everyone see how deep your dedication goes.
As you draw more users to the site, invest in tools to capture and monitor their behavior. Build profiles that show when and how they’ll purchase next. Don’t be afraid to use your community as a lead-generation engine, and don’t be afraid to use it as a petri dish for use during testing and exposing new opportunities to challenge prospects and offer a solution.
If you’re exploring customer loyalty programs, want to grow lifetime value, or want to create customer advocates, building a customer community is a win-win. Customers can find the answers they need and get the service they demand – and you get a wealth of knowledge and insight into your customers. There are lots of great solutions to help you build your customer community – from stand-alone apps to tight integrations with your CRM platform.
Andrew Field is founder and president of Printing for Less (PFL), a marketing technology company providing printing, mailing, and fulfillment services, as well as software solutions that improve marketing effectiveness. Join him at the next Sales 2.0 Conference for his panel discussion, “Innovative Ways to Help Reps Reach Peak Performance Levels.”