Using Communities To Play By The New Rules Of Customer Engagement

Volker Hildebrand

Disruptor. It’s a digital-era buzzword that usually applies to companies leveraging new technology and introducing new business models that are leaving incumbents in the dust.

But armed with the power of the Internet in their pockets, today’s true disruptors aren’t companies, but people. They’re your customers, and they’re singlehandedly rewriting the rules of customer engagement, demanding instant and convenient access to relevant information and services, the moment it matters, regardless of channel or where they are in the buying journey.

In other words, meeting customer expectations with regard to convenience, relevance, and instant gratification will define the fate of your organization.

I recently presented at CRM Evolution on the future of customer relationship management (CRM), and how organizations need to think beyond traditional CRM and focus on real-life customer perspectives rather than siloed systems for sales, marketing, service, and commerce.

Imagine a customer who is shopping for a product online. Before she hits the buy button, she has a question she needs answered. If you cannot help her in that very moment, you’ll likely lose this customer. Recent research suggests that 53% of consumers will abandon an online purchase if they’re unable to find quick answers to their questions.

In order to achieve this, you need to embed customer service into your e-commerce website. One way to do this is by offering a live chat option, so a customer service rep can provide answers.

Another approach organizations can take involves leveraging the knowledge and expertise of other customers in the form of an online community. Chances are, that very same question has already been asked and answered. If not, there are other customers within your community who can provide an answer.

A different approach to online communities and customer service

Brought about by the social media revolution, online communities have existed for years, and many companies currently maintain online communities, allowing customers to share their experiences and provide support for other customers. These online support communities can contain a wealth of information that can easily exceed the insight offered by a single customer service rep.

One problem with these online communities, however, is they’re usually separated from a company’s e-commerce shop and primarily focused on after-sales support. So there is a disconnect between the purchasing journey, the product catalog, and other buying-relevant content. This also represents a paradigm shift for your entire customer service department, which traditionally provided only post-sales support, but now must service prospects and/or customers before, during, and after the buying process.

The key is to embed the community into the e-commerce Web site and make all that “crowd-sourced” content available to customers within the online shopping experience. This approach of “community-powered commerce” essentially provides a one-stop shop where consumers can not only make a purchase, but share feedback and post reviews, consume product and brand information, ask questions and get answers, and engage with your company and other customers – in real time.

Aside from all of this, a vibrant online community can act as a searchable resource center for potential customers, educating them about your products and offerings – all without navigating away from your brand’s online site or product catalog.

But the best part? Because these communities are chock-full of information, they not only benefit your customer and help increase your sales, they can create valuable insights for your business.

Delivering more than just “feel-good” analytics

Unlike other social media analytics that can tell you a great deal about customer sentiment and what’s trending up or down, you can tie the data from your online community directly to key metrics such as conversion rates, product sales, customer lifecycle value, and revenue.

Using the real-time information collected in an online community can help you enhance your analytics game, shifting the focus from ambiguous formulas to real-life customers and enabling you to use buyer input to drive better business outcomes.

With the help of a vibrant customer community, you can:

  • Gain insights into customer activity and predict future behavior
  • Improve customer engagement throughout the entire customer journey
  • Improve conversion rates and drive revenue
  • Accelerate customer problem resolution while deflecting service calls
  • Spark product innovation

In essence, embedded communities allow your business to maximize the value of one of its most important resources: data.

The result: new and improved predictive analytics that go beyond the superficial, “feel-good” insights of the past and benefit both your customers and your business.

Don’t just take my word for it. Hear what industry analysts and experts have to say about customer communities in this video series.