As Forbes proclaimed in 2015: “Customer engagement is everything in business.” Customers are the lifeblood of your business and their support—or lack of—is the difference between success and failure for your venture. Engaging with them helps foster their loyalty, which is vital to keep them coming back to use your product or service and guarantee you sales.
However, businesses often struggle to keep up a high degree of customer engagement, especially as they grow. Whilst smaller businesses may find it easy to connect with customers on a personal level, larger companies can find it more difficult to do so. But this does not have to be the case.
Many businesses are now realizing that engaging with customers is simpler than ever thanks to online communities. By using social media along with dedicated online company forums and message boards, businesses of every shape and size are now finding it easy to regularly interact with customers. Encouraging this enhanced level of communication can be truly transformative to the fortunes of your own business. Here’s why.
Increase customer engagement and retention
As touched upon already, an online community can be an essential part of your business’ efforts to engage with—and as a result retain—customers. Online communities allow companies to directly address general questions, concerns, and their customers’ ideas at any time, in turn helping to secure their long term loyalty. This is backed by businesses themselves, with 85% of companies in a 2016 survey feeling that an online community increases the trust between a brand and their customers.
One example of a business that has created a successful online community is powdered food company Huel. Inclusively referring to those that use the product as Huelers, the brand’s online forum enables customers to discuss an array of pertinent topics, such as the nutritional values of Huel and how best to use it. With company members like founder Julian Hearn taking up an active role and regularly commenting on posts by fellow Huelers, the forum undoubtedly succeeds in encouraging engagement between both Huel’s customers and the company, as well as between the customers themselves.
The company has seen stunning success in the last few years; they made £14 million alone in 2017, and have sold over 15 million meals since launching in 2014. Their savvy use of an online community has been a crucial factor in this success. By creating such a close knit environment it is much easier for Huel to build brand loyalty and developing a similar environment for your own business could really improve its fortunes.
Improving customer service
There are not many things worse in life than phoning up a company’s support team, being put on hold and twiddling your thumbs for what seems like an eternity before you get through to someone. In fact, 33% of those surveyed in 2015 said they’d rather clean a toilet than interact with customer service.
Online communities are different. Customers can instead swiftly access pre-existing solutions to problems outlined in forums online or directly talk to company members or other customers who may have more knowledge. This not only cuts the time they might spend waiting for answers, but improves their experience overall by empowering them to find answers themselves. For example, digital banking company Monzo’s own online community—aptly dubbed Monzo Community—does just this. Their online forum is filled with various queries relating to their service, with both fellow customers and members of the Monzo team on hand to provide near immediate answers.
The aforementioned Huel also thrive in this area, with members of staff able to use the brand’s forums to discuss potential issues, new product lines and even product details such as how to prepare Huel with customers in a speedy interaction that just wouldn’t be possible via traditional channels usually reserved for customer service.
An online community can drive innovation and slash your research spending
Another advantage of an online community is that it can be a great way for your business to drive innovation. By encouraging conversations around your products or services, you can determine common customer complaints, sources of confusion, as well as any new ideas, and use them to improve your offerings.
One company that does this to great effect is Lego. As well as their standard message boards, the company also has a creative online community for enthusiasts called Lego Ideas. This allows fans to find and submit ideas for new designs, before the community vote and offer feedback on these suggestions. If a design receives 10,000 votes, the company will consider producing the design as one of their official sets and will give the creator a percentage of the final sales.
This arrangement is ideal for Lego; their online community not only improves customer interaction but provides them with free ideas from those who know and love their products the most. This type of online community can result in some serious savings for businesses; for example, professional power tool company DEWALT state that they have saved nearly $6 million in research costs since launching their insight community.
Building an online community for customers can have a wide range of benefits for your business, such as improved customer satisfaction, product innovation, and a hugely positive impact on your bottom line. It is for these reasons that an online community should be at the heart of your business if you want to give it the best chance of succeeding.