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Buyers Guide To Evaluating Customer Community Platforms


Published on, If you’re in the process of evaluating community platforms, then congratulations! Your organization is clearly moving toward creating a more customer centric business. In today’s increasingly connected world, the most admired companies are starting to have one thing in common: they are becoming customer-centric organizations that deliberately invest in a comprehensive customer experience strategy. This strategy must address the new ways that today’s “social,” tech-savvy customers expect to interact with brands. The goal is to provide the best possible experience at every touch point that customers have with your company, whether they are in stores, reading marketing materials, talking with your sales people, visiting your website, or calling your support center. The customer experience even extends to your brand’s presences on social networks and the organic results they see in Google and Bing.

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Buyers Guide To Evaluating Customer Community Platforms

  1. 1. Evaluating CustomerCommunity PlatformsA buyers guideTable of Contents¢¢ Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1¢¢ Customer Communities Are at the Heart of Customer-Centric Businesses. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1¢¢ What to Look for in a Customer Community Platform. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2#1: A Simple, Easy-to-Use Interface that Invites Customers to Engage. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2#2: Multi-Channel Access to Engage Customers Wherever They Are. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2#3: Tools for Building a Dynamic Community Knowledge Base. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3#4: A Quick and Affordable Implementation Process. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4#5: Analytics for Deeper Buyer Insights. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4#6: Tools to Cultivate and Expose Customer-Generated Content. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5#7: Easy Integration with Other Business Systems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5¢¢ Community Checklist . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6¢¢ Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5Are You Ready for a Customer Community? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5Learn More. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
  2. 2. 1¢¢ Putting Customers at theCenter of Your BusinessIf you’re in the process of evaluating communityplatforms, then congratulations! Your organizationis clearly moving toward creating a more customer-centric business. In today’s increasingly connectedworld, the most admired companies are startingto have one thing in common: they are becomingcustomer-centric organizations that deliberatelyinvest in a comprehensive customer experiencestrategy. This strategy must address the new waysthat today’s “social,” tech-savvy customers expectto interact with brands. The goal is to provide thebest possible experience at every touch point thatcustomers have with your company, whether theyare in stores, reading marketing materials, talkingwith your sales people, visiting your website, or call-ing your support center. The customer experienceeven extends to your brand’s presences on socialnetworks and the organic results they see in Googleand Bing.As noted by Michael Fauscette, Group Vice Presi-dent of Software Business Solutions at IDC, a keypart of any customer experience strategy is provid-ing a branded customer community – a safe, brand-driven online space where customers can share andinteract with your brand and each other whereverthey are. People should be able to find and accessyour community from your website, social networkswhere you have a presence, search engines, andtheir mobile device. As noted by Fauscette, com-panies are using branded communities to “provideinformation about products and services, facilitatepeer-to-peer interaction and support, nurture influ-encers to encourage word-of-mouth marketing, andeven get feedback about the kinds of products andservices that customers are really looking for.”¢¢ Customer CommunitiesAre at the Heart of Customer-Centric BusinessesCustomer communities are the evolution of onlineforums made popular in the 90’s. They are interac-tive, open spaces where people come to haveconversations about the products and services theycare about. Unlike traditional customer-companytouch points like chat or email, customer com-munities are always on, connecting people to oneanother, your company, and the answers they’relooking for. Today, customer communities evenmore valuable when they are also:• Proactively managed by companies andcustomized to match a brand’s look and feel.• Tightly integrated with the company’s websiteso shoppers can connect with others withoutleaving the purchase flow.• Written in the natural language yourcustomers use every day. This makesconversations more findable by a widervariety of users through search and browse.• Strongly linked to social networks, so peoplecan easily access the community and yourcompany through any channel.• Full of relevant, accurate content that hasbeen created by people like them, vetted foraccuracy by the brand, and easily accessedso that it’s relevant to members’ changingcontext (in other words, when they area shopper, a new user seeking technicalassistance, or other context).Many customer-centric companies have alreadydiscovered the wisdom of using customer com-munities to bring the voice of their customers to themiddle of product discussions, marketing messag-es, and sales strategies. And they’ve been reapingthe benefits by building products that their cus-tomers actually want to buy, using messages thatresonate, and leveraging brand advocates to createmore effective support and marketing content.Leading companies like Kellogg’s, Netflix, andProcter & Gamble have already achieved this kind ofcustomer experience nirvana – and they are reapingthe benefits of strong customer relationships andbrand loyalty, as well as higher sales and marketshare.
  3. 3. 2What to Look for in a CustomerCommunity PlatformAs a business seeking to realize these benefits ofa customer community, the question is, how doyou choose the best community platform for yourbusiness? What features and functions are essentialto attracting customers and facilitating their activeparticipation in the community – and simultaneouslydelivering value to your business in the form oflower service costs, increased sales, deeper cus-tomer insight, and more?In the following sections, we’ll share the key fea-tures and characteristics that have proven essentialto the success of customer communities.#1: A Simple, Easy-to-Use Interface thatInvites Customers to EngageFirst and foremost, a community platform musthave a simple, intelligent design that’s so intuitiveand easy to use that little training is needed. Theuser interface should embed features that enticecustomers to start using it immediately becausethey align with what they want to find and do most.For example, it should be designed to facilitatesimple, intuitive interactions that make it easy forcustomers and prospects to get their needs met,whether they want to get support, provide feed-back, make suggestions, or share their experiences.Here’s a checklist of UI features that create anamazing user experience that will invite your cus-tomers and prospects to engage and return, timeafter time:• Widgets that extend the community to anypage of a website or into social media siteslike Facebook – so customers can access andleverage the community wherever they are.• Search-optimized pages so they can findexactly what they need, right away.• Intercept search to get customers to the rightconversations.• Threaded conversations that make it easy tosee the natural dialogue between customersand the brand.• Official answers, provided by an employeeor Champion, as well as the “best” answersfrom the community. These answers shouldbe clearly marked and show the user that it isa valid and trustworthy response.• Content categories and tags, so businessescan support different products, services, orany type of content that needs segmenting.Categories make it easy to organize and findspecific and relevant information that thecustomer is looking for.• A “frictionless” login, so customers can loginto Facebook, Twitter, Google, and accessthe community simultaneously via a singlesign-on capability.Collectively, these interactions result in massive vol-umes of brand-vetted, user-generated content – thegame changer that only a customer community canprovide. This is key because user-generated con-tent is what ultimately attracts customers to yourcommunity and keeps them coming back. Equallyimportant, it’s a literal gold mine of customer insightwhen you have the right tools to analyze it. Forexample, you can identify hot topics, see patterns ofexpertise, and identify who to court to become newadvocates.#2: Multi-Channel Access to EngageCustomers Wherever They AreA generation ago, a call center was the most es-sential channel for delivering a cutting-edge cus-tomer experience. Now, picking up the phone is thechannel of last resort for most consumers. Today’scustomers are on the go, dropping off their kidsat soccer practice, sending emails, ordering teamsnacks to be delivered – all while scheduling hair ap-pointments and trying to get your product to work.If your community content (for example, supportinformation) isn’t flexible and easy for customersto access wherever they are, on whatever platformthey’re using, they will fail to engage, fail to gener-ate new content, and potentially turn to a competitorthat’s willing to interact with them on their terms.You should choose a community platform that com-plements a multi-channel strategy. In fact, the valueand effectiveness of your community will increaseexponentially as more people begin participating init. So you want to have as many channels and entrypoints as you can reasonably maintain — on mobile
  4. 4. 3devices and tablets, on social network sites, and inrelevant places on your website (not just stuck in asupport ghetto on one isolated page).At a bare minimum, a community platform shouldbe accessible in the following channels:• Your website – through embedded widgetsthat display relevant conversations on anywebpage or web experience, not just ageneral support portal or help center.• Your digital product – inside your software ormobile app.• Mobile browsers – so that the community isoptimized for all mobile devices.• A Facebook brand page – so your customerscan clearly see that they can participate in thecommunity through Facebook via a supporttile, for example.Equally important, choose a platform that boostssearch engine optimization (SEO). Today, when acustomer has a question or issue, their first instinctis to “just ask Google.” User-generated contentwithin communities is ranked highly by searchengines, so it is quickly found by customers andprospects who want fast answers to questions.For this reason, any customer community shouldbe structured to help its communities rank well insearch.For example, in a Get Satisfaction community, theURL of each community topic has the companyname in it, as well as the topic title phrased in thewords of the person who asked the question. Thatmeans that each link is highly optimized for thecompany name and the natural, organic languagethat customers are using to ask questions andreport problems. (Differences between typical“customer” language and “technical” or formal lan-guage used by companies, for example, can makeit difficult for customers to find the answers to theirquestions in traditional FAQs and knowledge reposi-tories generated by internal experts.) The structureof community topic URLs should directly combatthat issue since customers are likely to ask, answer,and search about questions and issues using similarlanguage.#3: Tools for Building a Dynamic Commu-nity Knowledge BaseYour company may already have a traditional knowl-edge base (KB), even if it’s just a list of “FrequentlyAsked Questions” on your website. But if you don’thave a community-driven social KB, you’re missingout on the opportunity to leverage the value yourcustomers can bring you and one other. Whentrying to scale support and keep up with the fast-paced speed of business brought around by theadoption of “social everything,” only a social KB canhelp you tap into the knowledge and experiences ofyour customers to deliver a comprehensive KB ex-perience in real time. Why? Because your custom-ers are constantly updating it with their questions,solutions, and stories.This doesn’t just have implications for the way youaddress issues, but how you spot them as well. Asocial KB can help you to identify and provide solu-tions or work-arounds for issues that might not evenbe on your radar if you didn’t have a dynamic, socialplace for your customers to report them. By lever-aging your customers as an integral piece of yourproduct testing and first-response support strategy,you’re adapting to the ways social has changed busi-ness and using it in a way that is truly proactive andcollaborative.As massive volumes of customer-generated con-tent are created, people need a way to find whatthey need instantly (something traditional forumshave always done poorly). Look for a platform withfederated search that allows customers to type ina question or topic and instantly surface relevantinformation from multiple repositories. It shouldpull information from places like your traditional KB,FAQs, customer communities, product directories,and more, and bring the best of all traditional andsocial channels together in one unified place. Thisgives your customers access to the maximumamount of information, both social and non-social,so they can easily find the type of information that’sright for them.To summarize, look for a platform with tools to helpyou and your customers build and share knowledge.
  5. 5. 4For example, you’ll want:• Mechanisms that allow customers to saywhat content is the best through starring orvoting.• Support for “Living” conversations thatallow customers to comment on or reply toknowledge base articles.• Federated search capabilities that allowcustomers to search the knowledge basefrom the community (and vice versa).• Topic titles and conversations that are writtenby customers in their natural language.• Support for real-time (or dynamic)conversations around specific topic types,such as ideas.• +1/Like feature that allows users to vote upideas and show the company that they, too,have the same request or question as theposter of the topic (which in turn gives you asense of what your customers want).#4: A Quick and Affordable Implementa-tion ProcessAs you compare community platforms, find out howlong each one typically takes to implement, as wellas the amount of time and effort required by yourstaff. You’ll find that some require a few days toset up, and others require several months to get upand running, which significantly pushes out time-to-value and limits your business agility. Consider thefact that you might want to have multiple customercommunities – for example, one per product cat-egory, or even one per new product launch so youcan capture early feedback from limited releasesand address issues swiftly.Look for a platform that is fast and easy to imple-ment – and doesn’t require IT resources or time – soyou can respond swiftly to new business needs andrealize value in weeks, not months. Look for imple-mentation features such as:• A SaaS, cloud-based solution that doesn’trequire software configuration or installationand will work in any environment.• A template-driven framework that makes iteasy to customize and configure the layout ofyour community to suit your needs.• Pre-configured widgets so that you can easilyembed community experiences on any pageof your website.• Easy integrations, which allows third partiesto provide plug-in modules that can beincorporated into the user experience.• Self-serve implementation options thatcomplement professional service offeringsthat are easy to buy.• Implementation services, “getting started”guides, and step-by-step “wizards” that helpensure fast, early success.#5: Analytics for Deeper Buyer InsightsIf you count all customer touch points from supportinteractions and in-person conversations to adver-tisements, the average company has millions, if notbillions, of customer interactions a year across paid,earned, and owned channels. For your business,each channel touch point represents an opportunityfor greater insight. A branded customer communityconnects your customers to each other and youremployees as they talk about your products andservices. The insight you can gain from analyzingthe conversations happening in your community areincredibly valuable because they help you under-stand your customers more deeply. For instance,wouldn’t you like to know what motivates them tobuy more or choose to become brand advocates?It’s critical that your customer community platforminclude analytics that provide insight into key sup-port metrics and community activity. Look for toolsto help you gather statistics for measuring andreporting via a variety of resources. For example:• To understand how effectively and efficientlyyour community is meeting customer needs,focus analytics on customer support issues.These data points help you understand theself-sufficiency of community members,consumer trends, hot topics, and real-timecommunity trends.• Consumer segmentation analytics help youlearn a great deal about who is participatingin your community and why — informationthat can be used by marketing and supportorganizations to better understand consumersegments and their needs.
  6. 6. 5• You also need a way to analyze theeffectiveness of your community content atmeeting customer needs. For example, withthe right analytics, you can answer questionssuch as:• What content is attracting newcustomers?• What content drives repeat visits?• What products are people interestedin?• Who’s looking at which content?• What content moves prospects alongthe life cycle?• Are we moving each customer orprospect along the life cycle? Howlong is it taking, and where arepeople getting stuck?• What topics are the most effective atgetting people to join the community,click over to the webpage to learnmore, and click over to the webpageto make a purchase?#6: Tools to Cultivate and Expose Cus-tomer-Generated ContentCustomer communities have the potential to gener-ate customer-developed content that you can use tosupport core business priorities, such as customerservice and support, search engine optimization toboost web traffic, and lead generation via word-of-mouth marketing. So be sure that the platform youchoose includes topic moderation tools so you can,for instance, move SPAM, merge duplicate content,archive topics that don’t have lasting value to oth-ers, close topics that don’t need additional replies,edit topic titles so they’re clear and descriptive, setthe status on topics so community members knowwhere you’re at with them, and promote relevantemployee replies as the “official response.” You’llalso want functionality to help you keep topics orga-nized by making sure they’re categorized properlywith relevant tags and product associations.These types of actions help to organize customer-generated content so that it’s easier for customersto find, consume, and gain value from when andwhere they need it most. For example, it makes iteasier for customers to find specific content de-scribing the resolution of issues, which is critical toenabling self-service via content in your community.It also helps you optimize SEO, which drives moreleads to your website and community.#7: Easy Integration with Other BusinessSystemsCustomer communities are by their very nature notintended to be islands. They are designed to bringpeople and processes together in breakthroughways. So to realize the full value of a communityfor your business, you need a way to integrate itwith your current business applications. Look for asolution that is easily extended via an applicationprogramming interface (API) so it’s easy and afford-able to integrate with business software.For example, integrating with your CRM systemenables you to merge the content created bycustomers in your community with your CRM datafor a true, 360-degree customer view. Integratingwith your help desk system will enable you to bringcases into your support ticketing system. By inte-grating with marketing automation software, youcan link campaign management, lead scoring, leadcapture processes, and more. Imagine being ableto bring in community participants to your marketingautomation software to score desired behaviors anduse this information to target these customers withmore personalized communications and campaigns.And by integrating with your product developmentmanagement software, you can capture customers’product ideas (generated at no cost on your com-munity), reduce market research costs (becausecustomers will freely share their thoughts aboutproducts in communities), and get real-time feed-back from beta testers of your products sharing theirexperiences in your community.¢¢ Are You Ready for aCustomer Community?Before you actually implement a community plat-form for your business, be sure that you are organi-zationally ready for it. Here are some signs that yourorganization is ready for a customer community:
  7. 7. 6• Your customer base is growing and you wantto continue to deliver an excellent customerexperience.• Your support team is overwhelmed withtickets and requests, so you want to providea customer-friendly place where they canself-serve and help each other find answers toquestions.• You have great content, but your customersaren’t finding it.• Your customers are passionate, specialized, orboth and want to connect with others aroundyour brand.• You have a desire to break down silosbetween Marketing and Support to align yourcompany around the voice of customer.• Competitive dynamics are favoring creation ofa more differentiated customer experience onyour website.• You have access to stakeholders responsiblefor effectiveness of customer self-service,web experiences, and customer satisfactionand sentiment.If your organization is not ready at this time, start aninternal dialogue with the right people to socializethe idea. Help decision makers understand the ben-efits that your brand might miss out on – benefitsthat many companies have already incorporated intotheir customer-experience strategies. For example,these companies are:• Creating a seamless, branded customer-support experience throughout socialnetworks, their websites, and other placeswhere their customer are.• Gaining deep customer insight to improvetheir products or build new ones that theyknow their customers want.• Taking advantage of high SEO rankings tobecome a more discoverable brand.• Becoming a customer-centric company thatlistens to their customers and improvestheir business while keeping their customershappy.¢¢ Community Checklist Summary#1: A Simple, Easy-to-Use Interface that Invites Customers to Engage• Easy topic search, browsing, and posting• Threaded conversations• Content quality (official and best answers)• Content categories and tags• Multiple login options (SSO, social login, etc.)#2: Multi-Channel to Reach Customers Wherever They Are• Embed community in your website (withwidgets)• In your digital product or mobile apps• In mobile/tablet browsers on all devices• In social networks (Facebook and Twitter)• In organic search (SEO)#3: Tools for Building a Dynamic Community Knowledge Base• Content ratings (stars, likes, me-too’s)• Federated search• Real customer-generated content (particularlytopic titles)• Real-time conversational content that’s“always on”
  8. 8. 7#4: A Quick and Affordable Implementation Process• A SaaS, cloud-based solution• Pre-configured widgets• Easy integrations with social and CRMtechnology• Self-serve or low-cost implementationoptions, such as “getting started” guides• Comprehensive implementation serviceoptions#5: Analytics for Deeper Buyer Insights• Dashboards to understand community healthmetrics (customer satisfaction, hot topics,trends, etc.)• Customer insight analytics (such as sentimentand segmentation)• Content analytics: most popular, most views,most searched, etc.#6: Tools to Cultivate and Expose Customer-Generated Content• Moderation capabilities (merge, edit, delete,archive)• Ability to set topic status and mark officialanswers• Content categorization and tagging• Sub-communities• User access controls and private communities• User management controls (such as banningand promoting to champion status)#7: Easy Integration with Other Business Systems• Social networks• CRM• Knowledge baseLearn MoreInterested in taking the next step to make your customer service more social? Want to deliver exceptional,differentiating customer experiences with a community platform while also saving costs, enhancing produc-tivity, and increasing revenue? Get Satisfaction enables you to create engaging customer experiences byfostering online conversations about your products and services at every stage of the lifecycle. Companiesof all sizes such as Intuit, Kellogg’s, and Sonos rely on the Get Satisfaction community platform to acquirenew customers, provide better service and build better products. We power 70,000 active customer com-munities hosting more than 35 million consumers each month.Contact us at 877-339-3997 or for a customized demonstration.To learn more about this study or how Get Satisfaction can help your business,