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Benefits of online and/or social communities for organizations

Image ShutterStock
Image ShutterStock

You can benefit from online communities in many ways. They provide insights in customers’ preferences and needs, can increase customer retention and loyalty, improve reputation and thought leadership, decrease support costs, and allow more collaborative ways of working, including crowdsourcing.

Many of the below mentioned goals and benefits are fit for both personal and more structured communities. And a few also apply for internal and hybrid communities, a topic that is treated separately.

Customer support and social customer service

Online communities can get filled with members who are eager to help others. When customers post questions about products or services, there is a good chance that another member of the community will answer the question, and that answer will be there for anyone else who thinks up the same question.  This doesn’t mean a community for customer support should only be run by customers themselves.

Self-supporting customer support communities require a high degree of community maturation. You need to offer other ways of support as well and actively participate, certainly in the early stages.  Articles and forums help to educate customers as well, leading to fewer issues. There is a strong link between online communities, social business and information management. This, way an online community can lower support costs. Furthermore, it’s not just about lowering costs. Probably even more important is growing customer loyalty by being supportive. The first rule of community engagement is listening. When done in a customer support, this is even more important.

Not responding via social channels such as communities can lead up to a 15 percent increase in churn rate for existing customers according to Gartner. It’s probably the strongest reason why we can’t ignore social customer service anymore. If customers expect response, and they don’t get it the result will be a loss of business. Nothing is worth more than a satisfied customer. Unfortunately, the importance of customer satisfaction and customer service is still overlooked in social media marketing but also in virtually all marketing tactics and approaches.

Online customer communities are a great way to increase customer retention. We wrote it before: “Social networks are not the holy grail of customer acquisition, retention and loyalty. Online communities are.“.

Social collaboration

When people are brought together in a community to discuss new ideas or address problems, unexpected solutions are often the result. This is one of the main reasons why internal communities become more popular. However, public communities can also be used for collaboration if they are properly designed for it and enable you to identify and involve the members in a mutually relevant way. This can be used for co-creation or crowdsourcing efforts whereby members are involved to strive towards a common goal with you and thus feel involved.

An online community creates a space available around the clock for customers, suppliers, employees, and partners to share ideas and collaborate. Online communities are not only available more in terms of time, but also accommodate more people, leading to jumps in innovation that meetings in person could never hope to match. Your personal communities can be great ways to invite people to collaborate as well, especially if you have a strong, engaged and focused community. It’s another reason why looking after your personal community is important. Content marketing plays an important role here too.

Reputation

Another great thing about online customer and branded communities is that the community members freely discuss the pros and cons of what we do, have to offer and share. If members of the community are happy with what we do, it’s likely that they will share their praises with the rest of the community and beyond. This reputation will spread outside the community as well.

When participating in communities, being transparent and letting your audience know about you is important. Typically, it’s easier to establish credibility when you show the face behind your profile and activities instead of being elusive.

Providing solutions and being a trusted advisor

When customers have questions or concerns about services, they tend to search for the answers on the Internet. Keywords from online customer communities or topic- and content-related communities will show up in search results. For this reason, online communities can serve as great places for customers to find answers to their research questions.

When we join relevant communities and actively participate, prospective customers can find us. Members who appreciate the content and answers we provide will discover our solutions and also start seeing us as trusted advisors. When we participate in our own branded and online communities, this will strengthen reputation and retention. Trusted advisorship and reputation also are called thought leadership and in a social media context increasingly “influencership”. But there’s a difference.

Saving costs

In good customer communities, customers interact with one another and questions get answered by other community members. Customer communities can lead to cheaper costs in support but also in up-selling, generating new contacts, etc.

Gartner states that if organizations integrate communities into their customer support, it can lead to cost reductions of up to 50 percent. An average of 75 percent of all customer interactions threaten to undermine the customer’s attraction to specific brands in 2012, making it critical for customer service organizations to figure out a way to come together and compose new customer service processes. The cost savings will come through by the amount of calls to the community; the cost will be less than 5 percent of the cost of a technical support agent. By 2014, organizations integrating communities into customer services will realize the cost reduction, and the reduction will range from 10 to 50 percent.

Attention: it’s important to prioritize and respond in due time. There is a cost in being too late, in an offline world as well.

Customer loyalty

The most powerful sales increases come from communities where customer retention/loyalty is the goal and helping existing customers to succeed better the focus. The other way around, as said, failing to use community efforts for essential yet crucial business functions such as customer support, can lead to diminished loyalty.

According to Gartner, customer fallout will drive down customer satisfaction into 70 percent of organizations if they fail to integrate communities into support. With that said, there will also be unsuccessful community deployments. Unsuccessful deployments happen when an organization believes that if it creates community self -help sites, customers will flock to it. It is also believed that these deployments can operate purely by peer to peer communities with no administration. This perception is incorrect, companies should provide moderation.

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