By March Guest Blogger, purchase Luc Vezina, CEO of Vanilla Forums
When you think about a customer community you might think that it’s just a way for your company to try to cut customer support costs. You might also be worried about how an open forum can expose too much.
When done right, a customer community can be much more than that. It is a valuable asset that benefits your entire company and creates a stronger bond between you and your customers. Yes, it can help reduce support costs, but it can do a lot more. Your customer are already on social media talking about you, why not harness that activity in a way that benefits you and your customers.
What exactly is a customer community?
The community is a virtual space where customers can have customer-to-customer and brand-to-customer discussions in an open forum. The community interacts in your customer forum, in your blog comments, on social media and at live events like webinars and conferences. Communities are equally useful to B2B and B2C companies. Though people might not get as passionate in the B2B context, they will show a lot of enthusiasm for anything that helps them do their job better.
What about the risk of customers using this open forum to vent or make negative comments?
Traditionally, customer problems have been locked up in your ticketing system. Doing things in the open means that customers can post complaints on your website but this is happening anyway on Facebook and Twitter. By responding in the open to complaints, you are showing the world that you are well intentioned and fair. It’s telling that companies like airlines and telcos with less than stellar NPS scores are launching customer communities.
Do customer communities develop organically or do they exist by design?
If your customers are extremely passionate about your product the community can develop spontaneously. You’ll see small groups emerging on LinkedIn, Facebook and people tweeting with your product name included as a hashtag. Realistically, getting your community to a critical level of activity will require some effort. You will have to provide the platforms where people can interact (forums, Facebook pages, etc.) and you will need to assign at least one resource to own the initiative, the common job title is ‘community manager’.
Should I build my community on my own website or on social networks?
Networks like Facebook are great for finding your customers and it’s very easy to get something started. On the other hand, by focusing the community on your own website, you will exert more control, you will own the data and you can ensure that everything is consistent with your brand both in terms of how things look and in terms of the kind of content that is being created. Boat Manufacturer, Rinker, launched a community on its website after they found that customer were having converstaions in various different places and this dilution was making it hard for customers to develop a sense of community. Further, social media platforms aren’t designed for customer communities. In the screenshot below we can see a response to a promo that Costco posted to Facebook. The next day a customer asks an off-topic question. There is no clear way for this user to ask such a question on a Facebook page and it takes two days for a Costco representative to answer. If Costco had a customer community on its website, you can bet another customer would have chimed in within minutes.
About our Guest Blogger, Luc Vezina:
Luc Vezina is the CEO of Vanilla Forums. Vanilla has reinvented forum software to deliver a better user experience resulting in higher levels of participation and engagement. Vanilla provides its modern community platform to thousands of companies worldwide as software-as-a-service and as open source software.