Activating Customer Engagement and Advocacy: The Community Effect

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1 State of the Profession Series Case studies from the world s top customer advocacy and engagement programs, showing how to grow the business in today s buyer-empowered world. Activating Customer Engagement and Advocacy: The Community Effect By Wendy Lea, Executive Chairman, Get Satisfaction

2 The rise of social has changed customer expectations of how they want to interact with companies and brands across the buyer's journey. To date, much emphasis has been placed on the customer relationship (social support) and customer acquisition (social marketing). But Wendy, one of the most highly respected thought leader on the future of customer relationships who coined the term, "Community Effect," will show how that can activate powerful customer advocacy. She'll provide practical examples from customer-centric companies, such as Intuit, Citrix Online, and Extreme Networks who are uncovering major opportunities to create communities of customers and prospects regardless of their stage in the buy cycle and actually "operationalize" advocacy. The key to success is to create engaging customer experiences that are hosted by the company and happen where the customer can get maximum benefit on their own website, in the product, in a community platform, or even in the purchase flow itself while exposing prospects to the questions, thoughts, ideas, and passions of existing customers in context. The impact is two-fold: not only can companies truly operationalize the power of their advocates, but they also will become more customer-centric in the process. 1

3 Activating Customer Engagement and Advocacy: The Community Effect I m going to talk about how you can activate your customers to cultivate what I call The Community Effect. It goes beyond engaging customers to be your references to imbuing them with a feeling of being part of something bigger. At the heart of all this is the immutable fact that your customers now have all the power. Back in 2000, I read the Cluetrain Manifesto. And one of the things that stuck with me was this quote: Companies that don t realize their markets are now: " Networked person-to-person, Getting smarter as a result, and Deeply joined in conversation, are missing their best opportunity. " I would highly encourage you to read this fourteen-year old book because it describes what is happening right now. And I believe that the author could help bring a high level perspective to the way you approach your job. To me, the gist of the Manifesto is that at the end-of-the-day, it is only the companies that aren t afraid to engage with their customers that can reap the full rewards from that relationship. Now many of you have great brands behind you, from Cisco to Salesforce.com. Fine. But we have to remember that those brands are only as good as what their customers are saying about them online and to each other. I emphasis this because it s critical to your success as a reference practitioner that you accept that reality. And that reality has ramifications for our trade. For example, one thing I know for sure is that the customer s journey is very fundamental to what we re all doing today. And the explosion of digital everything has disrupted that journey. Put Facebook and Twitter aside for moment. Those are tools. What I m talking about is thinking about your customer s digital footprint; their whole existence online. Customer engagement in the digital age Traditionally, we as brand holders by virtue of the fact that we sit in the middle, think that we control the customer journey, (see Figure 1 on the next page) 2

4 I love this product and here s why! Reference Customers Word-of- Mouth Why are all my friends talking about Brand X? Discover Ads & Branding Potential Customers What s the difference between Brand X and Brand Y Here s the best way to set up the product. Advocate Loyalty Programs The Brand Evaluate Promotions Where can I buy it? Which version? Existing Customers Bond Service Support Help Content Buy I wish the product had more features. Experience Figure 1: The customer journey in the digital age. Of course we don t. Customers and prospects come in the digital front door that would be Google without even knocking. So when we talk about the Discover phase at the top of the figure, we re really talking about your customers search. Most people when they have a question, or a problem, they don t usually start at your Website. This is why content and stories are so important. What this means, is that in reality, your digital homepage is Google. Your customer s discovery phase is as a consumer doing research, not as a prospect engaging your brand. From there, prospects enter the valuation stage where they re looking for others like them (same demographics, problems etc.) who are talking about you. And then they go on from there. What s important here is that this process has changed dramatically over the last three to five years. And that s why your job is so critical. And it s why you re in the catbird seat. Because, like never before, you have an incredible opportunity to interact with customers throughout their lifecycle and to harness their engagement. And that includes the chance to engage with them long before they re ready to be your reference, which is toward the end of the process. So, as a highly regarded executive in your customer marketing organization, one way that you can bring thought leadership is to ensure that you are included in all the activities that are being woven through your website one of the first places potential customers will visit while doing research. 3

5 Understanding your customers conversations and how to harness them If you look at the outside dialogue boxes in Figure 1 above, you ll see typical questions that customers ask. Why are all my friends talking about Brand X? That s where they re Discovering. When they re Evaluating, they ask What s the difference between Brand X and Brand Y? And so on. So that s what consumers are asking and talking about and they re dodging in and out of various online sites. And they re doing it on all manner of devices from mobile phones to ipads to PCs. They re trying to feel their way to solving a problem by interacting with people in ways that are very organic and natural and transparent. This helps them to sort out different solution sets and vendors. Our primary job as marketers, therefore, is to understand how these conversations are happening along with how best to harness them at different stages of the sales process. So that you can move prospects throughout the cycle and cultivate their loyalty to your company and products. Social isn t enough, your customers and prospects want your brand to join the conversation One of the things that I have been fascinated with is the role that social has played in this new engagement paradigm. One of the conclusions I ve come to is that most of us should be thinking of this as an outside-in flow versus an inside-out flow. What I mean by that is that traditional CRM marketing reached out from within the enterprise. That mindset doesn t take into account that consumers now come from the outside in to find out more. 1 When customers and prospects do finally come to you, they want your Website to be interactive, full of the information they need and easy to use. And it needs to be integrated with social, and look seamless with it, as well. 58% of consumers have joined internet community based on a friend s Facebook post Websites, not social networks, are the primary Remember that one of the main pathways to your Website will be through social place consumers go to make purchase decisions channels. So you don t want visitors to be jerked from those networks over to your site only to discover an old, tattered, web asset 81% that s not digitally appealing. 81% of customers use company website 1 The statistics in the following three graphs come from primary research conducted by the Incyte Group for Get to research products Satisfaction in Social Media is merely a door into a Brand s Customer Community 58% 4

6 58% of consumers have joined internet community based on a friend s Facebook post Websites, not social networks, are the primary place consumers go to make purchase decisions 81% of customers use company website to research products 81% That would be a jarring experience for them after cruising social networks all day long. Next, let s explore online communities. I make a distinction between them and forums. Communities are very outcome-oriented, easy to navigate and provide content on demand in the right way. Forums by contrast are messy and very hard to find anything. Now, why would customers want to go to a community? In my opinion, they have three primary reasons for visiting such sites. First they want to get information quickly. Consequently, we need to make sure that the information we provide is digitally appealing. Videos are very helpful in this regard. Second, your customers want answers/information from consumers like themselves. They want to know that some of the community content is unbiased, meaning it s created by real customers. So you need to promote the creation of such content and communities are an excellent tool to accomplish that. The third reason that consumers participate in a branded customer community is to get accurate information. Often they have specific questions and they want to network with folks who can give them correct answers. As you can see, customers who spend time with online communities are hungry for relevant content. But ultimately, we re here to drive advocacy. And that means activating passionate customers to talk about us. Customers show a strong preference for Branded Customer Communities 50% 50% of participants for relevant content vetted by other consumers. I mentioned earlier that a strong brand doesn t control the customer lifecycle and that s true. But it s also true that your brand is extremely important in helping to activate the Community Effect. 5

7 We have research that shows that people will advocate for companies without being rewarded. People don t have to be gamified. You don t have to do these things to get them to spread the word about you. They ll do it naturally because they have an affinity with your brand. They will have increased affinity for your brand because you ve delivered a positive customer experience and because you ve provided a platform in the form of a community where they can share that experience with like-minded people. That s the key to creating the Community Effect. You want your customers to share their knowledge and experience with each other. So the communities you create serve to aggregate your customers together in one place so they can talk to each other first. Then, after they re comfortable advocating and sharing among themselves, they re ready to go out into the world and do the same with peers that they don t know. The Community Effect The context for this concept is that we re in charge of engaging our customers wherever they are. If we engage them consistently, and compellingly, especially with each other, in each of the sales stages, then we will certainly trigger and drive strong advocacy. A Community facilitates conversations that: Create engagement that builds trust. Provide mutual value for customers and the company. Give your customers a voice that unites your company. That in turn drives loyalty to our brand. The more active customer conversations are, the more Google s on fire, the more content and buzz others who need our services will come across. All those conversations between individuals about your brand, your products and services they breed trust. So the essence of all this online activity is to generate inbound trust. Now, you want to make sure that there s mutual value being exchanged in your communities. Our job is to provide valuable products and services backed by a trusted brand. For their part, customers provide value of their own. They re sharing ideas to help others understand, implement and use your products to their best advantage. When mutual value is being exchanged like this, then your customers are connecting with their peers as much as they are with your brand. And that s very, very important. At this point, I m usually asked, So where does community really fit in? I tell people to think of it like an umbrella that covers all the stages of the customer lifecycle. It s not just a tab on your website that says Community. It s an always-on conversation that takes place under a big, beautiful digital tent. 6

8 And I m really excited about the Community Effect being the new CRM. Because in the old days we said that CRM is like a front-office application, which is so boring, I don t want to be in the front office of anything, right? And now we re replacing that with a social-centric Website. Your new front office is your community and prospects and customers can access your site through different networks. A new customer experience imperative Engagement is good, but what we really want to do in the marketplace is to differentiate ourselves based on our customers experience. So what does that mean? Well, it doesn t mean that customers unwrap your product, have Accenture fly in to install it, and then you ask them how you did. That s a company-centric process and it s outdated because conversations are taking place outside that channel. Customers have an experience with you in the digital space, and it gets amplified. And it happens in real time. A customer-centric approach What all of this means is that you have to be listening to your customers conversations and interact with them at the same time. This is a customercentric approach to the buyer s experience. In practice, enterprises incorporate this mindset into their processes as illustrated in Figure 2 below. Company-Centric Process Push Marketing Seles Influenced by Expert Content One-to-One Support $ Content Marketing Company-Centric Process Seles Influenced by Social Proof Many-toMany Support Figure 2: Customer-centric processes foster a positive customer experience. 7

9 I came from a world where company-centric processes were the norm. We did push-marketing campaigns. We provided experts to customers. And these people were salespeople, consultants, and SE s. Then I joined Get Satisfaction and everything was customer centric. I learned that content marketing is very different from push marketing. Sales are influenced by social proof. Social proof is nothing more than your customers talking about an experience they had with your product and company and saying, That was awesome, I would buy that again and I recommend that you do the same. That s why it s important to be active on Twitter, Facebook, and other social channels. Because they are excellent platforms for those conversations to take place. Customers may not buy from you through these channels but they re likely to be introduced to your product or service there. Conversations as a customer experience driver Figure 3 below shows the infrastructure necessary to drive your customer conversations in a positive direction. Customer Conversations Community People Content Online Customer Experience Customer Acquisition Content Marketing Sales/ ecommerce Service/ Support Website Social Listening Complements Advertising/PR Word-of-Mouth Business Processes CRM MAP KM BI Figure 3: Drive customer conversations and you ll drive a positive customer experience. On the bottom right, you have some traditional business processes and systems. You have CRM on the sales side and MAP on the service and support side. And this whole bucket is the technology ecosystem. 8

10 To the left of that is a list of complementary activities. As a marketer, I want to know who owns each area. And I ve got to understand where the listening to our customers is taking place. I find that listening is fragmented all over an organization from PR to service and support. And I want to know where all the listening content is going, and how I can harness it. There are dozens of tools for listening. So, moving to the Online Customer Experience box, you can see that it spans four key areas. All these things directly impact your customers experience. And what reference practitioners are trying to do is to bring people (next box up) and their content into that customer experience. But when I think of people, your prospects and customers, I don t think of them as stand-alone addresses. I think of them as people who have content associated with them. Things like their affinities for your competitors products and services. We need to look at their online communications about those other products as well as our own. So our job is to get that content and use it to bring those potential customers as close to our company as possible. And I think that is where communities play a role. This is a key place where customer conversations serve as a growth engine for your company. Key takeaways I d like to leave you with some core concepts to think about as you go about activating a Community Effect among your advocates. 1. Your customers are talking about you outside of your control. Be open. Set aside your fears and join them to create a dialog. 2. The conversations your customers have with each other, and with you, promote trust. And that trust represents the building block for mutually beneficial business relationships. 3. Look for opportunities to give to your customers and communities. That will motivate them to reciprocate. 4. Customer advocacy is the natural outcome of speaking truth and developing trust. 9

11 Bill Lee, Founder Turtle Creek Blvd, Suite 1801 Dallas TX CONSULTING We help firms create rock star (aka "marquee, " "champion," "MVP," etc) customer advocates and influencers who attract new buyers daily and dramatically increase growth. When it comes to developing high-impact customer relationships, all roads lead to Bill Lee. His energy, passion and excitement for the subject were evident from the first. His consulting was Jackie Breiter superb. Vice President, Customer Success & Flagship Program CA Technologies SUMMIT ON CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT World s largest and most respected conference for professionals who run customer advocacy and engagement programs There s really nothing I ve seen like [Bill s] Summit in the Lisa Arthur country. Chief Marketing Officer Teradata Applications The Summit is a do not miss event" for you and your Rhett Livengood, team. Director Director, B2B Customer Engagement Intel SPEAKING Includes keynotes, executive workshops, implementation workshops, private webinars, etc. Content was excellent. I learned a lot, validated some things and also got some great ideas Highly recommended. Asim Zaheer Senior Vice President, Worldwide Marketing Hitachi Data Systems

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