Are you limiting your customer experience to your website interface, tweaking your sales funnel, or focusing strictly on customer service? Your business could be missing out on a powerful way to create a better customer experience and impact your bottom line. Strong communities are an extremely effective way to fuel the customer experience, from providing high levels of engagement, to better shaping your product offerings.
There are also plenty of intangible benefits that come from a strong community to go along with increased profits. For example, the Harvard Business Review reports that strong communities provide customers with a sense of connection that can impact their overall experience with your business. That sense of connection could ultimately lead to those customers becoming more loyal, participating in focus groups and surveys, taking on a role as a brand advocate, or providing word-of-mouth referrals.
Small and big businesses alike are already tapping into the connection between community and customer experience, and realizing success. Need inspiration? Here’s a look at how a strong community creates a better customer experience – from five brands who are doing it right.
It Creates a More Engaging Experience for Customers
Startup Grind doesn’t just have one strong community – they serve entrepreneurs in 170 cities worldwide each month. Their global, distributed events feature startup experts sharing business insights and ultimately help engage and support the local community of entrepreneurs. The inspiration behind the events came when Startup Grind’s CEO felt isolated during the entrepreneurial process, and decided to take a Meetup group public. Soon, hosts from around the world were asking to help and hold events in their own cities.
Startup Grind advises its team of local hosts to start charging customers for that engaged community experience, right from the beginning. The founding team started charging a nominal fee after a free event solicited a passerby who loaded up on ten slices of pizza and immediately left.
Instead, Startup Grind suggests charging a small fee, such as $5, to help separate devoted community members from freeloaders. This tactic helped foster a high level of commitment in the community and attracted a stronger and more engaged following.
Startup Grind also attracts big guest speakers, not by offering them a premium for their time, but by leveraging their engaged community. The guest speakers accept invitations to speak in order to get in front of a responsive audience, raise their public profile, and expand their network. The combination of engaged community members paying for the opportunity to come to events and seeing big name speakers creates a rewarding customer experience.
When it comes to events, charging a small fee for guests is more likely to keep them involved and provide a more dynamic experience for everyone. Meanwhile, focusing on speakers who truly care about your audience can foster a high-quality experience.
It Gives Customers an Opportunity to Have Their Voice Heard
As the leading manufacturer of high-quality power tools, DEWALT stays on top of rapidly-evolving technology and stiff competition by tapping into their Insights Panel community of over 10,000 end users. DEWALT keeps an eye on what their community is discussing and what they want in power tools, and gets feedback on their products.
The company uses surveys and online discussion forums to collect product-related feedback, such as how much customers would be willing to pay for an item. DEWALT can also dig deeper to figure out which features are the most important, to help them build better products.
DEWALT also uses an invention submission system for professional tradesmen, community members and customers alike to submit ideas for new product lines. The system keeps DEWALT innovative and responsive to their customers, and gives the community a voice to change the face of the power tool industry.
DEWALT knows that giving their customers a voice in the products they want or need most can help drive community engagement. But using that voice in tandem with their invention submission process, they keep innovation high with an ability to compete. “Competition is fierce,” says Ward Smith, the group product manager at DEWALT. “Everyone’s trying to launch more tools, faster. You need a fast and accurate assessment tool to be more reactive in the marketplace.”
It Gives Customers Trust in Your Product or Service
When your clients are parents leaving their children in the hands of your babysitters and nannies, your business needs to borrow trust from any source it can find. UrbanSitter harnessed the power of Facebook Connect and social media to build trust with their clients.
Lynn Perkins, Founder and CEO of UrbanSitter says, “When it comes to trusting a babysitter, friend and family recommendations carry the most weight. If they have used a sitter and been happy with them, you’re very likely to trust that person. On that second tier might be co-workers, or parents who have children at the same school. Social proof at this scale is hugely influential.”
Here’s how they do it. When parents search for a sitter, they are shown available sitters, response times and prices; and the sitters are stack ranked via Facebook Connect so parents will see their friends’ sitters first. This gives parents the ability to reach out to their connections to ask about their experience and do a little validating of their own. UrbanSitter also adds certifications like CPR to the sitter’s profile, as well as any local groups they belong to, to give them even more credibility.
UrbanSitter also asks the parents for detailed information at sign up, including what kinds of parenting groups, sports leagues, and PTAs they belong to, and which nearby attractions they frequent to get a sense of their interests and affiliations. They can then use that information to help parents find sitters that align with their networks and interests.
UrbanSitter turns their clients into ambassadors by enabling parents to refer UrbanSitter in exchange for free babysitting credits. At the end of the day, the company knows that getting customers to share their experience with UrbanSitter with friends and family is the ultimate sign of trust.
UrbanSitter takes an old-fashioned approach to running a babysitting service and gives it a digital touch. The company knows parents are more likely to trust and book a sitter that someone they know has used. Instead of strictly relying on offline word-of-mouth, UrbanSitter shows parents which babysitters have been booked by their social media contacts and networks. That ultimately creates instant trust and credibility with parents looking for that word-of-mouth referral.
It Creates the Authentic Brand Recognition Your Customers Are Looking For
The wildly-popular dog-sitting app, Rover, experienced off-the-charts growth in 2015 with a 3,500% user increase over a single year. Today, they’ve gone on to acquire rival app PetVacay And their dog-loving community is incredibly loyal with a cult-like following. Ninety percent of Rover’s dog sitters who have received a booking are still active and taking bookings on the site, and 10,000 new members join the app weekly. Rover’s community engagement and satisfaction is incredibly high, with a professional group of dog sitters that continues to evolve on its own.
Ultimately, that fiercely loyal community of dog lovers is what helped build the authenticity of Rover’s brand. When a customer visits Rover, it’s abundantly clear that the community is completely in love with dogs. Customer see photos of dog sitters and their furry friends, get plenty of details about sitters’ strengths – whether that’s working with difficult breeds, or administering medication – and connect with dog enthusiasts ready to care for their dogs.
In part, Rover creates a passionate and highly-engaged community by taking a relatively hands-off approach and primarily focusing on leadership. So how did Rover end up with such a loyal network?
By being selective, for one thing. Rover makes it difficult to join the community by only approving 20% of applications received from dog sitters. Those who have repeat business and are actively engaged in the community are also favored in the search engine results. These barriers automatically weed out the time-wasters and bad sitters from the bunch, and only let in valuable players.
Those valuable players create a high-quality product and experience for customers. Of course, there’s more work to be done in building a community like this one, but the application process and algorithm give them a solid foundation to start. Rover also listened to their community to continue providing ways to grow their revenue, and in turn, create more services that customers want.
Tina Roth Eisenberg of Creative Mornings advises listening to what your community wants, even if they want you to grow way outside of your comfort zone. That can help fuel better products and services for your customers and enhance their overall experience.
Rover focused on building a loyal team of dog sitters first as a means of creating a high-quality customer experience. Customers come to the site to access a highly-engaged community of dog lovers who were eager to please. And because Rover gave their community of sitters plenty of ways to grow their income, customers can pick and choose services they need that go beyond just dog sitting.
It Fuels New Innovation and Products Your Customers Want
Foster passion and innovation in your community by empowering your members to help shape product decisions. Starbucks created the My Starbucks Idea as an old-fashioned suggestion box modernized for the digital age. According to Linkdex, suggestions from the Starbucks community have led to nearly 300 innovations, including digital tipping and free WiFi.
However, customers’ ideas are not recorded in a vacuum. Instead, the coffee juggernaut created a site for My Starbucks Idea where its community can share their ideas, discuss other people’s submissions, and start a conversation. Their “Most Recent Ideas” section actually shows up-to-the-hour lists of ideas, including everything from more gluten-free products, to creating customizable “You Are Here” mugs.
Elizabeth Milch, the Deputy Director of Content and former Senior Community Manager of Genius, advises that communities need clear missions that get people excited to contribute in the first place. Starbucks understands this philosophy and motivates customers with the power to directly shape their own customer experience. Now Starbucks customers can see which ideas actually came to fruition with their “Ideas in Action” section.
The next time these customers walk into a Starbucks, they can see the shelves stocked with products they helped create, as their suggestions come to life and offer a better overall experience for other customers. Starbucks customers are literally fueling company innovation. Without that digital suggestion box, customers could be missing out on things like free WiFi, amazing drinks and new products lining the shelves.
Empower your loyal fans to actually help make decisions in your business and give them more ownership and interest in what your brand is doing. Tapping into the potential of your target market can help fuel new innovations that you otherwise may never have thought possible.
Strong communities aren’t built overnight, but they also aren’t left to themselves to figure out the path on their own. Give your community members the guidance they need to engage the way they want to, and then get out of their way so they can find the connection they’re looking for. You may find that connection transforms your business from a mere product into a community platform of the world’s most passionate customers.