A couple of days ago I published a diagram by Dion Hinchcliffe. In it, he lists several ways to reinvent the customer relationship to drive growth - (1) customer communities; (2) customer self-service; (3) Marketing 2.0 (I'd be curious to read how he defines it).
We talked about customer self-service in last week's post at Fast Company. Many online tools we have become accustomed to using are free to us, yet when things go wrong, we need support. That comes mostly from other tools in the online ecosystem, often with the endorsement of other users - our peers.
Social media played a role in pointing out the problems in the current system - phone routing hell; bad customer service examples; long waits; mismatches in the problem/solution realm, etc. It would be more than appropriate if it also took on a key role in helping move to a pro-active and positive stance.
Customer service is not the only area where we're looking for what's next. Social media tools have been embraced to help in an emergency - when an earthquake rumbles; the fortuitous landing of a plane in a river; a series of strikes against global citizens; and many other natural disasters are now documented via Twitter by both citizens and the media. That was yesterday, when our hair was on fire all the time.
Today it's our responsibility to start rebuilding and refocusing, not just to do more with less, but to really get a sense of exactly what makes a difference. Making meaning with our customers is one way to growth. Part of it depends on our product and services - are they innovative, do they keep up with the needs/wants, do they help customers in substantial ways?
Part of it is contingent upon a proactive conversation. This does not necessarily mean that it is the company to the customers or the customers to the company. It goes in all directions for communities, self-service, and Marketing (or PR) 2.0. How would a 360 customer experience work? We explore that question today at Fast Company expert blog.
- You may not need to create a community for your product, service or brand as it may already exist - go find it and join it as listener and participant. We discussed here that nobody owns the customers, they own themselves. That is even truer today.
- If you do create a community, even when you let it grow organically, you need to have someone who will be facilitating the conversation. Who makes sure that members know they are being heard? Who helps flesh out the good content and discussions from the group? Finally, who makes it easier to be civil and respectful? The Fast Company network I helped create in Philadelphia gave me a lot of insights as to the challenges and rewards of community curator.
- The action in community can be marketing, just of a different nature altogether. I've often written that employees are a company's first community. Because aligning what employees need with what customers want is a must, there is a certain reciprocity in how conversation can flow back and forth to make things happen.
- It is really not about putting a group up on Facebook, opening a Twitter account, and creating a LinkedIn group. Ning, Drupal, and all sorts of other platforms are nice, but they are mere tools. You really need to figure out what motivates and energizes your customers and employees, how they prefer to communicate (the user experience comes to play here) and what they expect from you.
- The value you give to a community depends on completely new ways to measure outcomes. It is all too easy to begin taking a community for granted after you've solved product problem, or helped move the needle in sales. Direct marketers will measure in terms of size and traffic (page views, clicks, etc.). There are numerous qualitative considerations that need to be taken into account. Many of which may help drive the growth of your business.
We are social beings and we naturally gravitate towards others who we perceive to be like us - like-minded or like-interests. The exchange that results, when enriched by thoughtful conversation and facilitation, makes communities thrive. It should not be a surprise that we would prefer the opinions of peers to any form of marketing. The value and values, connection and meaning, are more and more part of the same conversation.
Do you participate in any community? Does your company have a community or does it participate in one? Have you been in the role (official or unofficial) of community manager? What have you learned? What would you do differently?