Why Your Company Should Stop Fearing Customer Communities

Anthony Leaper

People, by nature, are skeptics. They bristle at the thought of change. They’re wary of trying something new.

I remember when I was a young boy, and my parents would take me to the neighborhood swimming pool. I was excited by the idea of learning how to swim, but I didn’t dare actually try it. In fact, I thought my parents were quite mad for encouraging me to get into that large tub of water.

When I finally took the plunge – or, more accurately, when my parents grew so frustrated they threw me in – I discovered the many joys of swimming. For one, it kept me cool on unbearably hot summer days, and besides that, it was loads of fun.

Today, many businesses view the latest innovations with similar skepticism. Customer communities are one such technology that companies are frightened to embrace – mainly because they may not totally understand it quite yet.

But if your organization would just dip its proverbial toe in the water, I’m certain it would quickly realize why making an investment in an online social community is well worth it.

The keys to conquering your customer community fears

Facebook is the largest, most successful social community on the planet. It’s an invaluable tool that enables users to share their thoughts, post photos of their families, and stay in touch with friends.

Facebook has a fundamental purpose, and that’s precisely what your organization’s customer community needs in order to be successful.

Many businesses make the mistake of thinking that their social communities are competing with Facebook. That’s not the case at all.

Like Facebook, though, your company has to define the purpose of its community, whether it’s to educate customers, drive sales, or provide customer service support. Perhaps it does all of the above.

The important thing is that your organization has identified the intention of its community, and it has clearly communicated this to its customers. Then, once you’ve informed your buyers about what type of value you’re going to provide through your community, make sure you deliver on it every minute, every hour, every day.

To achieve this, you need to instruct your employees on how to deliver this value to the community. Your staff must be prepared to address customer concerns at a moment’s notice. Buyers today are seeking fast responses, and your employees need to know how to handle your buyers’ issues, whatever they may be.

It’s also critical that you empower your staff to make the right decisions. The employees responsible for communicating with your customers need to understand the enormity of the power they wield and the influence they possess.

A few years ago, I bought a TV that broke soon after the warranty expired. I posted about this on Amazon’s customer community, and a short while later, a customer service rep from Amazon contacted me and offered me a $325 credit on the next TV I purchased.

Amazon didn’t have to do this, but by empowering its employees to serve its customers the best way they see fit, the company instantly made me a loyal customer for life, and I proceeded to purchase my replacement TV.

Four ways to generate value from customer communities

Once organizations define the purpose of their customer communities and empower their employees, they can begin reaping the countless benefits of online social communities. These include:

  1. Connecting with your customers. You can use online social communities to regularly engage with your buyers. By educating your customers, keeping them informed about your company’s latest services and offerings, you can create a better connection with them, building favorable customer sentiment and earning brand loyalty. Connect your communities directly to your commerce sites, and you make it easy for your customer journey to flow from interest to desire to purchase.
  1. Linking loyal brand advocates with prospective customers. Sixty-seven percent of customers say they most trust product recommendations from their peers – compared to 55% who most trust company experts, according to a recent Forrester Research survey. By bringing existing and prospective buyers together on your customer community site, you can have loyal followers of your brand advocate on your company’s behalf, influencing decision making and driving sales. A happy customer will always be the best salesperson you can have.
  1. Resolving customer issues. Customer communities provide your business with yet another channel to assist your buyers. In addition to driving sales, you can increase post-purchasing satisfaction and reduce the volume of buyer complaints by answering questions directly or providing useful product information. Don’t forget to empower and value your existing customers that help out one another. An experienced customer is often the ideal person to show other customers how to get the best from your products or solutions.
  1. Generating new ideas. Staying plugged in to how your customers feel about your company, products, and services is a surefire way to improve your business. By viewing customer feedback on your community portal, you can better gauge what your customers want, and, based on this input, you can modify certain operations, innovate new products, or roll out new services you believe would benefit your customers. The best companies constantly listen, constantly innovate and refine, and constantly exceed customers’ expectations.

How to ensure your customer community succeeds

Many companies fear that if they create customer communities, they simply won’t be active. Or maybe they’ll be active for a short period of time, only to quickly go stale.

To ensure you build an online social community that’s primed for success, you need to attract a dedicated audience and inspire lively, ongoing customer conversations that deliver true value to your buyers.

The question is: How can you achieve that?

Come back next week for the second part of this blog, and I’ll lay out some tips for how your company can build a customer community that’s brimming with active participants and useful information.

In the meantime, download this free Forrester Research white paper to learn how your organization can begin harnessing the power of customer communities to deliver a better online experience.

About Anthony Leaper

Anthony Leaper is senior vice president of the Enterprise Social Software Business Unit at SAP. He is responsible for worldwide business development of SAP Jam social software. Anthony is focused on developing market opportunities for social collaboration platforms that enables SAP customers to connect more with their customers, partners, and employees through digital, socially inspired, interaction models.