Customer communities fill different roles for different companies -- they act as a source of feedback and innovation for businesses; as training centers for onboarding new employees; as a form of customer service, giving customers an outlet to answer their own questions about a service or product. But how are these communities formed? And what can be done to ensure they thrive?
We spoke with Moxie Software's Megan Murray to answer these questions. With the official launch of Moxie's customer community last month, Megan has been in the thick of the planning, launch and continued engagement that goes behind the success of a new community.
Siobhan Fagan: What preparation should be done before the launch of a new customer community?
Megan Murray: The scope of preparation goes beyond the selection and configuration of tools. Despite loads of research and information to the contrary, an enduring misnomer is that communities can be switched on like the tools being used to support them.
Building the relationships needed to support a vibrant, relevant experience is important. It’s the process of that engagement that will reveal the most pressing needs of the targeted membership and provide the data and context needed to build a really relevant experience.
To me, that’s step one. Differently focused and sized communities will warrant similar, but different approaches -- for example, the goals and needs of a small company with a customer base in the hundreds, who are offering a support community will differ greatly from a large enterprise focused on marketing and sales, with a customer base in the thousands. Doing the work to balance the needs of the organization with those of the community, and the resources to deliver, up front, will keep everyone focused on the right issues to keep the community healthy.
SF: How do you let people know about a new community?
MM: Know your audience and purpose to answer this one well. The channels and approach will differ by audience and scope. For instance, some organizations will work to develop the environment slowly, through direct relationships and communication, maintaining relevance and support for members as it grows. A core group who find value and who will evangelize can enhance the story when it’s time to make more noise and launch broadly. On the other hand, a large launch to a broad community where simple features and low engagement are expected can be successful as well. Communication through a spectrum of channels -- ones where the targeted membership is already active -- will offer increased relevance and more impact.
SF: How can a company prepare to scale a customer community quickly while still providing value?
MM: There are a couple of ways to knock this out. Beginning with a specific solution for members, one that they are keen to have solved. Be targeted with that goal until you’ve nailed it, and then expand.
This targeted approach is often more cost effective than the go-big, offer-everything on day-one approach. Those with oodles of resources can certainly take the go-big approach and find success in it. As long as there are solutions in place for relevant experiences, engaging at scale, feedback, response, and all of the technology and process to support those efforts, you’re set up for success.
SF: What are the challenges in rapid expansion?
MM: Generally, running out of support, information, events, answers and resources will be the dark side of success. In the planning stages, I like to consider what wild success would look like. How much load would the team endure before the experience would suffer, where should we cap our efforts and manage expectations to avoid burn out -- a very real and common community manager danger.
SF: How do you measure the success of a new community and how often must you reassess strategies?
MM: Measuring the success of a community is measuring a) your ability to meet the goals set forth for the community and b) the sentiment of the community members. Reassessing strategy should be something that’s happening at regular intervals. What has your day, week, month or quarter looked like? Did you make enough progress; did you exceed your short-term goals? Did you discover new challenges or opportunities to solve an issue for the members? Were the assumptions made when the strategy was created correct? Daily measurement of tactical work and a trending of sentiment will tell you where to adapt tactic. The trending of that data can help with the larger strategy vision in less frequent intervals, say monthly or quarterly. Frequency will depend on what degree of agility an organization is able to demonstrate.
SF: How do you assess and meet the needs of a rapidly changing customer community?
MM: My number one answer for this question will always be to participate meaningfully. Surveys are great for scale and lousy for context. Gathering data and degrees of alignment to a scale of perception can show you some of the story. Communities need more in my opinion. Imagine making choices about your relationship with a client through survey data or a profile alone. You’ll never hit the mark unless you’ve been exposed to the relationship. That being said, I’m not advocating that every organization have a first name relationship with every customer. Leveraging customer advisory groups, champions, experts, etc., within the community, can give you the contextual sentiment story you need to substantiate the data you should also be collecting.
For example, are you spending all of your time answering the same questions? Perhaps your content needs to be improved, become more accessible, or the community needs to become more aware. Ask them. You may find that they ask because it’s just plain easy and they know they’ll get an answer. That’s data you need to make good strategic and tactical choices. Organizations can have great relationships at scale. It’s what communities are all about.
Title image courtesy of Angela Waye (Shutterstock)