Community: It’s not just for Christmas…

So lets imagine for a minute that you are a business that cares about it’s customers (and employees hopefully!) and you are thinking of running a large scale event for your customers to get feedback on how you are doing.  You might have already run a customer survey and want to bring a representative group together to dive deeper into the initial feedback.  If you are ambitious you might want to get around 100 customers there, representing all the services you offer, which means in terms of logistics, this will be no small undertaking.  To make such an event go smoothly, there are a number important things you will no doubt be considering:

  • Venue – you need quite a venue for 100 customers + reps from your company.  If you are getting direct feedback, you will probably need discrete break out rooms too
  • Location – the best and most central location for convenience of the customer base is important to ensure a good cross service line representation
  • Agenda and input – you might want to consider asking the customers ahead of time for their input so the day is relevant
  • Participation – from key members of staff in the discussions and to organise the event.  Clearly, with such an important gathering the executive team should be well represented, including the CEO.

A significant investment in time, energy and resources I think you will agree.  Now, consider doing that exercise every day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  You wouldn’t?  Well think again.  If you are one of the growing number of businesses that are considering using online “community” for customer engagement then that’s exactly the commitment you will be making.  Technology might make some of the process easier, but the logistics and (more importantly) the responsibilities of engaging this way are no less onerous than they would be if you were holding the event on a face to face basis.  In fact, they can be more so.

With a face to face event, there is a subliminal understanding that the event will end.  Not so in a virtual customer community.  Also, participation from the executive team and other core employees is just as critical in my view in this emerging ‘online engagement’ environment.  I speak to many organisations about this trend and the number of CXO’s who assume that it will allow them to push customer interaction down to the lowest common denominator is quite shocking.

But it is not all bad news.  Engaging through community with your customers is a very powerful initiative which can deliver enormous benefits including significantly reduced support costs and increased levels feedback on how you are doing.  If you are open minded, are prepared to take feedback on the ‘virtual chin’ and enter into a true dialogue with your customer base, you will find that they can become a significant and valuable extension to your product and service development teams too.  Innovation from collaboration – it doesn’t come any better than that.

Onne further thing; don’t assume you can engage in this way with your customers and not do the same internally with your employees.  An open, socially interactive and collaborative based customer engagement strategy will fail without a similarly based employee engagement strategy too.

Remember: With great community comes great responsibility…

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