a big crowd in front of a sign that says "community"
Editorial

Want to Build a Customer Community? Here's How to Get Started

6 minute read
Melissa Henley avatar
One way to engage customers, ensure customer satisfaction and get results is to build a customer community.

Organizations often focus on getting new leads, because that’s where they think the money is. In reality, current customers are equally as important when it comes to growing revenue. In fact, statistics show that a 5% improvement in customer retention can increase profits anywhere between 25%-95%.

One important way to engage customers, ensure customer satisfaction and get results is to build a customer community. Even for B2B brands, it’s one of the best ways to build a direct, two-way line of communication between the company and end users. Are the solutions your company offers really solving customer problems? Are your customers using your products or services the way you expect them to — or are they coming up with new, innovative ways of leveraging your offerings?

With a customer community, you gain insight into your users’ challenges and new ideas, while users share solutions and often inspire each other. At the same time, customers who are part of a community feel more connection to your brand, feel valued by your organization and become your brand’s champions at their organizations. If you’re looking to build a customer community, here are three steps to get started.

Step 1: Meet Your Customers Where They Are

Your customer community can be a customer portal, message board or hosted on a social media platform such as LinkedIn Groups. Think about where your customers congregate and meet them where they are. You want to create a place where customers can ask questions, share tips and provide feedback — and most importantly, engage with each other. You want to let current customers do the talking whenever possible.

Salesforce, with its Trailblazer Community, is a great example of a company focused on its customer community. It’s the ideal of a B2B community: filled with enthusiastic users and packed with interesting information, all packaged in an immersive, well-branded environment. During Salesforce’s annual conference, Dreamforce, the company shows success stories from customers who have achieved more thanks to the Trailblazer Community, inspiring others to get involved, share information and continue growing the community.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Trailblazer Community is its branding. Previously, Salesforce had a small technical learning resource called Salesforce University. After rebranding it as Trailhead (including gamification, mascots and an outdoorsy theme), customers began to embrace it. So what did Salesforce do? It expanded Trailhead outside of education. Now “Trailblazers” are customers and employees, and anyone in the Salesforce community who demonstrates the values of diversity, equality, ongoing learning, community support, philanthropy and innovation.

The lesson? If you listen to your customers and let them lead, ultimately you’ll achieve more than you ever could have alone. 

Related Article: Online Communities and the Campfire Principle

Step 2: Ask Your Customers What They Think, and Listen to the Answers

To build a customer community, first define your business objectives for doing so. Asking why allows you to measure whether your community building strategies are working, and to adjust accordingly. Organizations that use multiple channels to build a customer community are usually the most successful. You’ll want to consider opportunities for customers to gather both in-person and online, in addition to building sub-groups within your customer community such as industry-specific cohorts who will make your customers feel even more connected and more comfortable sharing their unique concerns or ideas.

Learning Opportunities

MM LaFleur, a clothing retailer focusing on easy-to-wear clothing for women in executive roles, is a great example of a brand with a strong customer community. The brand recently launched an initiative to support women running for office with complimentary clothing loans. Once candidates are finished with the pieces, they will be donated to Bottomless Closet, an organization that helps disadvantaged women in New York City find jobs. In an email sent out to customers, CEO Sarah LaFleur wrote that the idea was initiated after asking the MM community how the brand could support them after the 2016 presidential election. “Within 48 hours, we had received over 1,100 replies from all sides of the political spectrum — poignant, thoughtful replies that gave us hope for the future,” LaFleur wrote.

That type of engaged community is what all brands hope for — a community that goes beyond spreading the word about a product they enjoy, but also brings ideas back to you to help you grow your business. Your best customers are engaged with your brand and care about how to help you succeed. It’s up to you to listen to them.

Related Article: Community Managers: Prove Your Community's Value

Step 3: Engage Your Customers with Content They Care About

Once you've established your channels, engage your customers with content they care about, and ensure that you’re constantly and consistently providing value to them. That may mean bringing in technical support representatives, product managers or developers to directly engage in conversation with customers; providing community-exclusive perks; or offering specific content to answer customer questions. This can involve a significant investment of time and effort, however, keeping customers engaged is key to the community’s success. Again, think about your objectives for building a customer community and make sure your strategies align with those goals.  

Don’t forget to ask for feedback. This doesn’t have to be a complicated survey. Just start a thread talking about product updates and asking for opinions or offer an area where customers can submit and upvote feature requests. But don’t let feedback die unacknowledged: regularly check back in to show where changes were made due to customer feedback, to encourage customers to keep sharing their opinions. When you transparently communicate with customers, you won’t just encourage them to share more, you’ll also improve their trust in your brand. This relationship builds trust and loyalty — extremely important in subscription-based revenue models that are driven by annual renewals.

At Laserfiche, our customers support each other through times good and bad, encourage each other to achieve more, celebrate their successes and share their ideas with us to drive our product and community forward. The more you favor relationships more and transactions less, the more engaged your community will be — and that’s a key element of success for the long term.

About the author

Melissa Henley

Melissa Henley is Senior Director of Customer Experience at KeyShot, the global leader of product design rendering software. Customers are at the heart of all Melissa does, and her passion is around connecting people to content that can have a genuine positive impact on their lives.