09.12.2017

When Susan Reed became Director of Customer Success at Fluxx Labs, the company had identified a major gap in their customer journey.

Their customers – successful charitable foundations all over the world – would be launched into their complex grants management software after an intensive, months-long implementation period. So their customers went from high-touch contact with the company to none at all. As a result, product usage and adoption of new features waned after the sale, threatening retention rates long-term. SaaS (software as a service) businesses must constantly work to retain their customers year after year, and Fluxx Labs could not ignore this issue.

In 2016, Susan was brought on to lead the improvement of this post-purchase customer experience and keep retention high, and community has been a key tool in her toolbelt to do just that.

Susan herself is no stranger to community building, having worked for WELL Engaged, an early community software platform created by the WELL, which was built in 1985. But applying this to the philanthropic space has been a new and exciting challenge.

Fluxx Labs is one of the most successful grants management software companies of the last decade. They’ve been honored on Forbes’ Most Promising Companies List and today count The Knight Foundation, Blue Shield of California Foundation, the IKEA Foundation and many other world-class philanthropic initiatives among their client list.

And community isn’t new to Fluxx. Since their start in 2011, Fluxx’s CEO Jason Ricci has always kept community and the customer at the core of the company: that’s part of what has made Fluxx the successful “new kid on the block” next to older, cumbersome grants management solutions.

But in order to stay at the top, they’ve invested wholeheartedly in not only sales, implementation, and great product; they have also invested in a private customer community hosted on Higher Logic.

Today, we speak with Susan about how Fluxx’s community and customer experience team has used their community to:

  • Keep customer retention at nearly 100%
  • Organize beta testing groups that harness invaluable feedback to the product team
  • Increase clients’ feature usage and adoption of the platform
  • Offer 24/7 support for their existing customers
  • Expand into and deepen influence in new markets, from South Africa to New Zealand and beyond

“I don’t even know how we would be able to handle the scale of our growth if we didn’t have a community,” says Susan of the work she does today. How do you achieve these same results? Susan shares a seven-prong approach to building business value through community with us today.

1. Focus on Customer Retention

Fluxx knows how important it is to retain their customers. Fortunately, they were smart enough to address retention before it became a problem.

“We’ve had a very, very low churn rate historically, about 1%,” says Susan. But though the product is strong, “We recognize that part of our low churn is because once you get all the way through implementation, you’re not going to stop using it.”

But that’s not a good enough reason to stop there; that’s how competitors catch up. So they launched an online community in response to requests from their customers at their first-ever user conference.

“At a startup, you’re just wearing so many hats and you’re running around trying to do so much with so few resources, but creating this online community for peer-to-peer learning has been a scalable solution for support.”

Takeaway: Community can be an invaluable tool for retaining your happy customers. But is it the right tool? Ask your customers first. Gather them offline or run surveys online to validate that an online community is right for them.

2. Increase usage through community programming

As part of their community development process, Fluxx has been organizing offline User Groups through the Higher Logic platform, which have deepened the usage of solutions that their customers didn’t even know they needed.

“At these events, I have seen a few customers struggling, and the relationships built in face-to-face User Groups allows them to see a light at the end of the tunnel. They see that it’s worth the effort and the time and the focus to try and use the product to its fullest, whether through configuration or training,” explains Susan of the benefits of these gatherings.

“The other customers were willing to help them with that transition, help schedule the next meeting, and such. That’s been critical to their usage numbers increasing and our ability to use them as a reference-able client.”

Takeaway: Having trouble with adoption of new features? Find a stand-out client and raise their profile by asking them to give a talk at a local meetup or company-sponsored User Group meeting.

3. It’s not always about going global; it’s about deepening local.

Fluxx doesn’t stop their community work at User Groups. From the early days, even before the online community launched, gathering in person has been critical to Fluxx’s success.

“We have our annual conference, which allows people to connect, and then they want to meet more on a local basis. [In this industry], it’s mostly about regulations and local networks and who you know, so connecting on a local basis is very valuable to our client base.”

While this might not be true of every company (for some, international growth is key), but these local events allow the company not only to expand globally but also to go even deeper into local markets, capturing more market share in each location.

Takeaway: If User Groups aren’t the right solution for you, a conference once a year might do the trick to get people to more effectively use your product. Just make sure it isn’t all about you, but rather the successes and wins of your customers. In addition, think about not only the breadth of your customer base, but how community can expand the depth of it beyond your wildest imagination. Word of mouth spreads quickly!

4. Expand into Product Value: Give Customers Access to Special Product Features

At Fluxx, the community has a direct impact on the product team, which is beneficial for all involved: the product team who is always seeking innovative new ideas and the sales and marketing teams who are responsible for communicating the value of the product. “The product component is one of the biggest wins for us,” says Susan.

“You need to have a feedback loop from your customers in order to keep your product relevant to the marketplace, and the online community really helps us do that. Customers also want to engage with the product team. They want to know where the product is going, what they’re doing, and they want to have an impact. That’s their first desire.”

Beyond the feedback loops created in the community itself, they also use the community as a central point for gathering members into product testing groups.

“Having more customers engaged in our betas allows us to develop the product in a way that really meets the marketplace’s needs. That’s a real key win from the online community that happens in a scalable format.”

Takeaway: Not every company has customers who are desperate to speak to and influence the product. Find out if this incentive is motivating for your community members before opening up lines of communication. Otherwise, you’ll annoy your members and leave your product team out in the cold. If this is right for you, you’ve hit the community jackpot.

5. Bring In a Community Manager to Kick Things Off… at the Very Least

Surprisingly, Fluxx does not currently have a community manager. Instead, the responsibility for the community rests in Susan’s team’s hands and gets escalated to the right team when needed.

However, they did kick off their work with a dedicated community manager. Having a community manager to spark engagement when they first started was critical to future success, says Susan.

“I think the timing of when we had a community manager was really helpful because there’s a hurdle that you have to get through with the community. It’s just like adoption of a new product: the first 90 days are critical, so it’s the same thing with a new community. The adoption early on is indicative of the long-term success.”

“And maybe the ball isn’t rolling as fast now, but even with our limited resources, it’s rolling,” Susan explains. Looking at past data, “We can see the thumbprint that our community manager had. Engagement was higher. Startups are resource-constrained, and so you really have to make that business impact argument and be very strategic with every resource. It’s hard,” she says.

Takeaway: Many community professionals have felt the struggle to prove the value of the engagement that they foster. Sure, members are talking, but why should the company care? Answering that question is critical to success.

6. Gain Word of Mouth Marketing Value through Meetups You Don’t Own

One of the most successful efforts Fluxx has run to deepen their market share and increase usage in local areas is to nurture local meetup groups.

To get the ball rolling, “We start the introductions and hand-hold them a little bit so we don’t step on our customers’ toes too much and make sure this is something they want to do. They connect the different users in a location together and then create an online community on Higher Logic so that they can have that dialog on their own. The community platform provides oversight. It allows us to see the dialog that’s going on.”

“If you can identify those people and nurture their work, that makes it, again, scalable. Those people tend to reach out first and are strong contributors in the online community. And If they’ve been using the product for a year or two, that’s obviously a much stronger indicator that they’re going to be able to run with it because they’re going to have more to share.

“You’ve got to find those trailblazers that are willing to do the betas, that are willing to engage with the company and our product team and help provide feedback and really – it’s like anything in life: the more you engage, the more you get back.”

Takeaway: To scale organic meetups, provide a central gathering space online and let your star customers do the organizing offline. This can be accomplished through technology or – to validate – manually allowing members to start their own Eventbrite, Facebook, or Meetup events.

7. Use Community to Expand Influence in New Markets – Even Far Away Ones

Fluxx’s community has also had an organic impact on deepening usage in places that they can’t reach on their own.

“Right now, we have DG Murray Trust in South Africa [as a customer]. They’re a really strong advocate for us, a great group of people doing phenomenal work on the ground. We have a member there, Sandra, who is really eager to have more of a local group there within South Africa or within Africa overall so that she could have more local peers.” So they’re leveraging that.

Similarly, “We have one new customer in New Zealand, our second one. They want to have some local organizations that are on the Fluxx platform so they can collaborate. We try and build that as much as possible. It’s hard, flying to New Zealand and flying to South Africa, somebody’s got to do it,” Susan jokes. “Then they start promoting the brand for you, which is the most effective way to do it.”

What’s Next?

As the company grows and we get more clients on the platform, there’s a lot of different directions we can go. I feel like we partially own the community, and our clients partially own it. It’ll be interesting to see, as we get newcomers in, where they take the platform now that we’re in our seventh year of business. We’ve got that tiering where we’ve got the mentors and we’ve got the newbies.”

On a tactical level, Susan explains, they’re going to invest in self-service support and harness their community’s knowledge in a knowledge base. “I think best practices is an area where we’re going to need to bubble that information up in a more structured format. We haven’t done that well to date, so that’s an area where I really want to grow our peer-to-peer learning.

And as for the community platform? “It’s the community that’s the webbing between all of your engagements with this single organization. There’s so much opportunity that you’re missing when you’re just connecting individually.” And as business leaders, “We all want deeper adoption, which leads towards renewals. Community is a relatively small investment of time and effort for large returns in terms of customer engagement, adoption, and renewals. From a conceptual angle, it’s a no-brainer.”

Editor’s Note: This interview was sponsored by Higher Logic software; however, we maintained full ownership and integrity of all content and the interview. None of this content has been edited by nor pre-approved by Higher Logic.

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Carrie Melissa Jones

Carrie Melissa Jones | @caremjo

Carrie is the COO and Founding Partner of CMX. She has built community at Chegg and Scribd and has consulted with community companies around the world. She lives in Seattle, WA with her pup, Bruce Wayne.