The 2010 CRM Service Awards: Rising Stars -- Communispace (The Dance Partner)

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Most observers would likely consider Diane Hessan, the president and chief executive officer of online-community provider Communispace, a “people person.” Hessan, who helped found the company in 1999, was once named by Fortune Small Business one of the best bosses to work for. The accolades, however, aren’t only for Hessan; Watertown, Mass.–based Communispace has plenty of awards of its own. In fact, its work with clients such as Mattel, Scholastic, and CDW convinced Forrester Research to bestow a handful of Groundswell awards and drove Gartner Research to name the firm one of its Cool Vendors in CRM Sales and Customer Service and Support. 

Despite the recent proliferation of social computing, Communispace has been able to maintain its brand and extend its philosophy of building and managing private communities, according to Denis Pombriant, founder and managing principal at CRM consultancy Beagle Research Group. What differentiates the company, he says, is its methodology. 

Communispace offers private communities—providing to its clients a pool of ready and relevant customers, often for market-research purposes—but doesn’t stop there. Communispace emphasizes the discovery process, helping clients glean information from customers, whether that information comes from a customer’s own admission or is in response to a client’s purposeful question. This discovery process is often what gets lost when groups of people are thrown into an online community, Pombriant says. “Rather than simple feedback, discovery is all about trying to nail down an idea that will resonate with the customer,” he explains. Communispace, he adds, excels at discovery. 

To tap into conversations—and find the valuable nuggets of information—Communispace focuses on maintaining participant engagement. CDW, a provider of technology products and services for business, government, and education, has been a Communispace customer for more than three years, a partnership deemed impressive enough to warrant a Groundswell award for the vendor’s ability to relate to the CDW brand. 

“Communispace is almost like a dance partner,” says Mark Gambill, CDW’s vice president and chief marketing officer. “They know what our next move is. They have that intuitive dynamic and they really understand our business.” Customers participating in the brand’s Communispace forums are not only providing feedback, Gambill says, but are also spending more money—in fact, those customers have increased their annual spending by 17 percent. 

Pombriant notes that Communispace was an early mover in the community-platform space, but also points to the importance of a team, filled with a number of Ph.D.s and anthropology researchers, that “understands the social dynamic.” He goes on, “They don’t leave community-building to chance.” 

The company is now actively facilitating more than 100 online communities, and clients are expanding existing programs by implementing additional communities focused on new consumer segments. Communispace has a 90 percent client-retention rate, further demonstrating the company’s understanding of the social customer. 

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