Want to take your customer forum to the next level? Follow these tips to turn your forum into a customer community platform.
As a community manager, you work hard to maintain a well-oiled customer forum. But are you utilizing your forum to its full capabilities by transforming it into a customer community? Today it seems like everyone has 3 or 4 social media accounts and dozens of other logins across the internet. Persuading customers to sign up for your forum might not be difficult because after all, what’s one more account?
Signing people up and having them use the forum in a community-minded way, though, is much different.
Customer forum vs customer community – what’s the difference?
A forum is just the avenue with which your customers can come together, meeting as one in the virtual town square. Once they start working together with a common purpose in mind, you’ll realize the benefits of an online community. Key characteristics of an online community include:
- Shared purpose
- Meaningful conversations
To recognize your customer forum as something bigger, as a community, you need to recognize the time, effort, and care that goes into such an endeavor. This is a process that doesn’t happen overnight, and you’ll also be competing for attention with your customers’ other accounts.
Here is how you can get the most out of your forum while transforming it into the community you’ve been visualizing.
Create an idea machine
Hiring outside consultants can be costly, and while valuable in some situations, they are no replacement for direct contact with your own customers. With the right community building program in place, a customer community can have a tremendous impact on your business.
According to the State of Community Management 2018 Report: “A large majority, 80%, of community programs report an increase in asking and answering behaviors, which are critical to capturing implicit knowledge and making it transparent and accessible…Nearly 30% of community programs saw individuals taking on more leadership tasks, including helping individuals proactively address problems, which is key to unlocking hidden potential.”
Polls are a great way to get instant and honest feedback on new ideas that you have brewing, and your customers will love feeling like they have a hand in things, especially if they get to interact directly with you and other community managers. Of course, there is always the chance that the project you’ve been working on isn’t a hit. Instead of treating the whole process as a failure, consider the feedback you received – it’s an inside look at their needs and wants. Take that information and roll it into a new strategy. You’ll also need to do a considerable amount of reading between the lines to utilize the potential of your customers as consultants. Pay attention to conversations in your community to stay ahead of up and coming trends, and don’t be shy!
Successful community managers take the time to engage these types of conversations, which can yield even better results.
Foster customer loyalty
More than ever before, businesses have global reach and make a point of offering competitive pricing and services. What’s to stop someone from jumping ship and going elsewhere for their needs? Offering incentives to those who use your business’ forum is key to building a loyal relationship based on mutual benefits. What does an incentive look like for your business? Consider whether this means a special promotional rate, exclusive services, or the opportunity to test new products. Incentives alone may not be enough to create the sense of customer loyalty you’re hoping for. Many consumers seek out the opportunity for real, personal interactions. If your forum lacks this type of communication, it might be ineffective in the long term.
You may choose to implement a gamification strategy as a way to personalize and encourage participation in your community. Not only should you and others on your team make regular, meaningful contact with users, but you should also be facilitating opportunities for customers to interact with one another. Making this type of contact a priority will help your customer feel as if they have a concrete spot in your company “home.”
Make customer service personal
No one likes waiting on hold for half an hour or typing into a one-ended chat, so your forum isn’t complete until customers have a streamlined way to contact you. Depending on your setup this could take the form of a direct message, a post on a designated customer service thread, or even a generic form. Customer complaints are never fun, but they are essential to your company and your online community. The information you receive through complaints can highlight a serious need that you’ve missed and may open avenues for more meaningful connections. Best of all, your customers will notice that you listened. Still, be sure that the action you take is not only meaningful but also timely.
A grand gesture doesn’t mean much when it comes a year too late. Having an action plan will cut down on your response times for serious customer complaints and will let your community know that you value their time and feedback.
Problems you’ll have to overcome
No customer community is perfect, and yours will likely face its fair share of hurdles to overcome. Angry customers can derail months or even years of work through endless postings, tirades, and harassing language. Reaching out to these users won’t always help, either. In some cases, trying to work with them to find a solution may make them angrier and lead to even more erratic behavior. Your other customers probably won’t stick around to keep engaging in a community in which they face constant online harassment, so make sure you have a protocol to handle these situations. Banning users might feel counterintuitive to your end goal, but it will ultimately be what protects your community from this kind of behavior. If there is one thing that success guarantees, freeloaders just might be it.
They may pose problems as your users try to engage with the community but instead find an onslaught of virtual billboards for other products and services. Unlike a spurned customer, you’ll want to use your community manager powers and ban unwanted spammers quickly. Avoid accusations of wrongfully banning users with a carefully worded user agreement. Include steps that outline what will happen if a user’s behavior is aggressive or if he or she engages in spamming.
Each of these components on its own won’t take your forum to the next level, so it’s time to get to work. As a community manager, you can’t be a silent bystander. Get engaged with your community and stay on top of their needs and requests to keep them coming back. Take your forum to the next level by creating an online customer community in which users can engage, build lasting relationships, and come together as one will prop up your business for the long-term.