Communities: The Next Generation of Customer Engagement is Here to Stay

The marketing profession and expanded focus on customer experience have changed dramatically over the past decade. Never have end users had so much power and influence on the brands they interact with on a daily basis, a dynamic strengthened by the number of channels and amount of content available. Before the introduction of automation technology, customer experience was based on sharing information with users on the baseline data available and having some basic targeting and personalization capabilities. Eventually, we learned that by leveraging automation we could connect with individual audiences via one-to-one communication, increasing the likelihood that the right message gets to the right person at the right time. 

While the idea of individualized customer experience was a bit foreign 10 years ago, it proved to change the industry for the better. Think about it: Customer experience is now something to which every organization is paying attention. If this isn’t part of the overall marketing mix for a company, then it won’t be able to keep up with those who are embracing digital transformation and is therefore destined for failure. 

Today, it’s clear that the way businesses are communicating with customers is coming to another inflection point. Not only can end users opt out of messages from brands they don’t want to hear from, but they have become numb to the “spam” they receive on a daily basis. Now, new age technologies have opened up a plethora of avenues for organizations to push messages out to end users, and it begs the question, what can be done to find even more information about your audience? 

A new mode of engagement is needed to help supplement customer communication in the next generation, but how will this manifest? My money would be on community

What is an Online Community?

An online community is a place where organizations can build brand loyalty and engage their users in meaningful conversations. The communities that foster the most engagement make interactions easy, sensible, secure and intuitive. Similarly to your marketing programs, online communities require original, personalized experiences to drive engagement and make users want to come back time and time again.

The best part of communities are the people, a concept that makes most businesses apprehensive. Individuals within these groups can be unpredictable, creative, and diverse, but that is what makes communities so powerful. While organizations are used to owning the messaging, communities flip this notion on its head. They don’t become influential because of a product or sales feature, but rather an idea or action that allow members to interact and engage with others who find themselves in a similar situation. These interactions, while unscripted, are exactly what provides so much value, going beyond open rates and clicks for users’ unadulterated sentiment and insight.

Creating an environment where more intimate experiences can be nurtured and customers feel empowered to engage and learn from each other is the most powerful way to enable customer success. Your customers are important and unique, so giving them a tool that makes them feel that way will ensure they remain invested in your brand. 

Do I really need another technology application?

If you consider yourself an industry innovator who wants to stay ahead of the curve and bring your customers the next best thing, yes. In fact, recent research found that companies that earn $1 billion in revenue annually can expect to gain an additional $775 million on average over 3 years from investing in customer experience. It’s clear ROI and market opportunities are ripe for the taking.

Communities are an important next step in the evolution of how brands connect with customers. It’s not about promoting the latest product or feature – smart companies will use online communities to take their programs to the next level by showing customers there is something in it for them. This notion gives them a reason to not only open your emails, but actually become an active member of your community, where they feel empowered to create more touchpoints and become brand loyalists.

In the mid-2000s, organizations only dreamed of the impact that automation technology would have such a significant impact on their programs and interactions with customers. Today, online communities are facing the same opportunity early in the growth stage but offering potential for major industry disruption. Going beyond email blasts and allowing your customers to engage directly with you will be a major shake-up. Yes, the upfront work to build this powerful tool will require some effort, but if done right, the payoff will be tremendous.

At Higher Logic, Heather is focused on redefining the client success model, with community as the keystone alongside education, support, and client services. Prior to this current role, Heather was Director of Client Success, then Vice President of Engagement Strategy, where she built and expanded the Managed Services and Education teams. Previously, Heather launched and managed two successful communities in her roles as vice president of marketing, membership and strategic technologies at the American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordination, and senior manager of member engagement at the Medical Group Management Association. Heather earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from California State University, Fresno.

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