Take Your Company’s Customer Experience Efforts to the Community
Customer experience (CX) is the new marketing battlefront. That’s according to Gartner, based on its 2017 Customer Experience in Marketing Survey, which found that more than two-thirds of marketers say their employers compete on the basis of CX, and that this is expected to quickly rise to 81 percent.
That means marketers must keep a constant pulse on CX throughout the journey with a brand. Falling short on this sets marketing up for a tougher battle. Connecting with the customer at all points puts you in the enviable position to exceed expectations and exceed satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.
The trick is to plan the journey from start to finish. In a very simplified format, four plot points are essential to winning in CX management. Forgoing one or a combination of any can put you and your brand in a compromised position. And at all four points, your CX management efforts can be greatly aided by your brand’s community, comprised of your customers, fans, and even employees outside the marketing department.
This is the first leg of the journey, where your brand is introduced to the customer. This might be the result of a marketing piece, a recommendation from a friend or colleague, a tangential mention on social media, or a Google search result. But the numbers show that community is emerging as the most effective way to connect:
The picture these numbers paint is clear: Potential customers would much rather hear from their peers than they would from you. When the discovery process begins with a warm introduction in the context of a trusted community, you’ve already set the stage for better CX.
The second plot point is the tour. This entails reviewing your marketing, poking around a branded website, and perhaps even giving you a call or ping on social media. They’re getting to know you.
Again, your brand’s community can play a pivotal role in a smooth, and effective, ride. More than anywhere else, this community steers your customer journey. How you manage this community will have a profound effect, not only on the way customers experience your brand, but on how well you can leverage that experience for further growth.
Time and time again, we witness online communities fostering a sense of belonging that will bear serious fruit when it comes time to convert. A well-managed and vibrant community not only makes engagement a whole lot easier, but on its own can actively cultivate leads.
That’s not to say you can take your hand completely off the wheel. A community manager is essential for steering the conversation in the right direction. Even so, a highly engaged community will regularly share and discuss the kinds of information (product features, benefits, use cases, etc.) that your sales team and landing page would communicate. In the context of community, that kind of information exchange feels like a helpful conversation. As part of a sales pitch, on the other hand, it may not be so readily received.
This is the moment of truth—whether or not you’re going to continue the journey together. If it’s right, you win over that person you’ve been cultivating for days, weeks, or months; they decide to become a paying customer.
Within the context of community, conversion looks less like a hard sale and more like the next natural step in a long-unfolding sequence of events. The customer doesn’t take that step under the pressure of a slick salesman but with the comfort and assurance of trusted peers who’ve already been there. In other words, they’re socialized into your brand. That means their experience will be all the better because it feels more like joining a community than being yielding to one of your salesman’s sermons.
The final stage in the journey covers everything that comes after the sale: their product experience, your customer support, further upselling/cross-selling efforts undertaken on your part, and customer advocacy. Thanks to your community, customers have a built-in reason to stay connected to your brand apart from merely using your product. For one thing, it means they’ll use it in public, engaging with fellow customers and searching for the best ways to put your goods to use.
Another win in this type of relationship is how the community supports customer service. Answers to questions can be found by connecting users. This not only eases the burden on your customer service staff, but it enhances their overall satisfaction with the product.
Most importantly, however, community strengthens the brand-customer relationship by unleashing the power of customer advocacy. Advocates are super-users who love your product enough to support you in every way possible—whether that’s generating content, helping with moderation, or simply telling your brand’s story. Advocates are five times more valuable than one-time customers—they are two to three times more likely to persuade others to buy.
When plotting the customer journey, keep two things in mind. Always reference the community. While it is quite possible to design a map that perfectly describes an individual’s journey without considering the context, you can’t accurately describe a customer’s journey without taking stock of the people who influence them along the way.
Also, never let your guard down at the point of discovery. It is the relationship over time that will bring the greatest rewards. By paying close attention to the journey each customer takes in, with, and through your brand, you can ensure they enjoy the smoothest and most rewarding journey possible.
Adrian Speyer is Vanilla Forums' head of community. With more than 15 years of experience in building communities, online marketing, e-commerce, and product marketing, Speyer is full of great insights on best practices and how to create successful communities for the best brands in the world using Vanilla Forums. Follow Speyer on Twitter @adrianspeyer or download his e-book on the 5 Biggest Mistakes Made With Online Communities & How to Avoid Them.