Marketing has long been a divided camp when it comes to advocating the most effective strategies to increase revenue. One camp advocates customer acquisition (bringing in new business), while the other advocates customer retention (reducing churn). Statistically, reducing churn makes a strong case.1
A low churn rate means your customers are so invested in your product and company that they could not imagine starting a relationship with any other product or company. To retain your customers for the long haul, your customers have to become your product experts and ultimately your brand advocates. To turn your customer base from one-off customers into long-term brand promoters, implement a community engagement strategy to leverage your community platform to educate, engage and advocate.
Signs of an effective community engagement strategy
The implementation of a community engagement strategy as outlined below, should:
- Reduce churn by creating long-term brand adopters and advocates.
- Increase acquisition through loyal customer base referrals.
- Control brand messaging by keeping customers engaged with your authoritative content.
- Inform marketing strategies by capturing valuable insights into acquisition and retention tactics.
Implement a community engagement strategy
The key element to a successful community engagement strategy is to make product documentation visible and accessible to community members. This section outlines how to roadmap and implement a community engagement strategy.
Step 1: Analyze your churn
Find out how many and which of your customers are cutting their ties with your company:
- Calculate your churn. Find out the rate by which customers are leaving your company. This is your base churn rate and the number to decrease.
- Identify your "runaway" customers. In your customer relationship management (CRM) system, identify these customers:
- Customers who have severed contractual relationships with your company.
- Customers who have not purchased from your company in a significant amount of time (may vary from industry to industry and product to product).
- Analyze your runaway customer base. From the runaway customers identified in your CRM system, determine your profitable runaways through either customer profitability (CP) or customer lifetime value (CLV) calculations.
- Survey why customers stopped doing business with you. Surveying your profitable customer base, collect the following:
- Direct customer feedback: ask customers why they are leaving or why they have left. Ask what you as a company could have done better.
- CRM data: investigate what issues customers were trying to overcome and especially note those that required repeated support interactions.
Step 2: Assemble a community engagement strategy team
Since community postings can broach various subjects in relation to your product, include (or at least consult) internal subject matter experts such as members from support, product development, marketing, engineering and sales departments.
Step 3: Survey your online community platform
Ask the following questions to gain an understanding of the current state of your community platform:
- How do community members reach your community? Via a web browser search? From your main company website? Through another web property?
- How active is your community? How often are questions and answers posted? Are users engaging on a regular basis? Can you identify high-frequency responders?
- What are customers posting? Are customers asking general questions about the product or are they mostly commenting on their experiences with your product?
- How are questions answered? Via explanations? Links to documents? Links to third-party websites?
Step 4: Identify common issues
Identify the most sought-after information and most frequently expressed sentiment (i.e. dissatisfaction or frustration) on a given topic in the community forum. Focus on issues that echo the issues profitable customers cited as reasons for leaving, as identified in step 1.
Step 5: Survey your response flow
Survey your response flow. Identify who responds to postings and how community members are able to connect with your authoritative content:
- Can community members self-serve, i.e access product documentation from the community page?
- Who responds to posts? Other community members? Support agents?
- Who monitors community postings? Do you have a company agent (or preferably several agents from various departments) available to respond to questions, validate answers and guide community members to additional product content?
- Can existing documentation address the community member’s issues? If so, where does documentation live and how accessible is it?
- How is documentation offered to the community member? As an in-line attachment? Via a personal message from a company agent?
Step 6: Implement your community strategy
With the help of your community engagement team, implement your strategy to engage your community members and to start creating and supporting product experts and brand promoters:
- If no central repository for your customer-facing documentation exists, leverage a customer engagement content platform such as MindTouch to house your documentation.
- Make your community platform more visible to your customer base. For example, link to your community from any of your web properties or applications via a MindTouch Touchpoint to encourage community engagement.
- Connect your community members to your support website to leverage the value of your product documentation right from within your community page. Embed a search tool such as a MindTouch search Touchpoint and let community members look for relevant product documentation directly from your community page.
- Create relevant content. Armed with the intelligence from surveying the most common issues that concern your community members, create documentation you know is missing or lacking to address issues. Remember: Relevant and available content turns questioning customers into product experts and brand promoters.
- Proactively address issues. For example, allow community members who have general technical questions to engage with a product page via a Mindtouch contextual help Touchpoint from your community page. Or, if you identified a “hot” issue community members are trying to solve, create a “Hot” button (with the MindTouch contextual help button Touchpoint) to connect directly to a detailed how-to in your content platform.
- Engage your brand promoters. Reward those community members who consistently respond to other community members and stand out as product experts. Ideally, establish a certification program to identify these community members as “Experts.” At a minimum, put a reward program in place to reach out to your loyal product adopters and to strengthen your relationship.
Step 7: Audit your community engagement strategy
To audit your community engagement strategy, continuously monitor your community platform and activity:
- Periodically assemble your community engagement team to review churn rates and the effectiveness of your community engagement strategy.
- Monitor your community platform. Assign a community monitor to monitor activity and, if necessary, assign subject matter experts to address issues.
- Continue to monitor for “hot” issues and create and adjust content as necessary.
- Consider other connection points to any of your other web properties or applications.
Step 8: Reap the rewards of your community engagement strategy
The reward of a community engagement strategy is twofold: (1) reducing churn and (2) bringing in new business. Customers who have become valuable brand promoters, become your word-of-mouth referrers and inspire others to purchase and to become equally invested in your product, thereby strengthening both your retention and acquisition strategies.
1 In a customer-centric business model, marketers may be tempted to appeal to every customer, but your company is best served by focusing on your value-conscious, long-term customer base that purchases from you over and over again. Price-conscious customers, on the other hand, tend to be one-off customers who will leave your company in a heartbeat for a better deal.