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At first glance, it might seem as if community managers and support teams don’t have that much to talk about.

Sujan Patel

The people in community management are scrolling through Twitter feeds and Slack channels, while customer support teams are in the trenches handling customer conversations.

While social media interactions can tell you something about your customers’ experiences, why would you need a community in order to better your customer service?

Brand communities offer unique insights into customer needs, expectations and desires , and they can help you vastly improve your approach to customer support. More than ever, major brands are leveraging their communities to supercharge their customer service. Here’s what they know.

Why customer service matters

We’re all here because we believe that customers deserve the best — a top-notch product, and excellent service when they need help.

More than ever, customers are starting to prioritize service over products.

That’s right — you could offer a life-changing product or service, but if your customer support is subpar, you can kiss return business goodbye.

According to Get Feedback, 78 percent of customers have canceled a transaction due to poor customer service, while 59 percent would switch to a new company if it meant they received better service there.

That means customer service is not only crucial for retaining customers — it’s crucial to the survival of your company.

Why communities are good for customer service

Last year, Help Scout interviewed Sarah Judd Welch, founder of Loyal and community manager guru, about how community management and customer support can work hand in hand to provide a support system for brand users.

According to Welch, the function of managing any brand community should be “advocating on behalf of customers, driving customer satisfaction, retention, and connecting community members to each other.”

Related: 75 Customer Service Facts, Quotes & Statistics

While these outcomes stretch across areas of responsibility, including support, sales and social, they all work together to improve your customers’ experience with your brand.

Plenty of data supports Welch’s observations about how community drives customer support and satisfaction, too:

How to build a customer service-oriented community

Understanding that building a community can provide these important customer support and satisfaction benefits is one thing. But how do you actually build a community that facilitates these positive results? The steps below will help you get started.

1. Consider the needs of your customers

Before you choose a community platform or assign responsibilities to a community manager, you’ll need to address how your community will support the needs of your customers.

Are your customers looking for specific kinds of content? Do they want to meet other customers who have the same kinds of businesses? Are they looking for ways to interact with your company and provide feedback?

Without doing this research and understanding how it relates to your demographic, you’ll have a difficult time creating a community of value.

Once you identify your customers’ needs, it’s time to find a community platform that meets customers where they are. If you have a brilliant app with a great UI, you might have difficulty pushing customers onto yet another web platform, for example. Or, if you have a ton of social media followers, it may be worth using a Facebook Group to capture your existing audience. Customizable platforms like Sprinklr provide great tools for customer-to-customer and social support.

Check out the communication platforms you can integrate with your favorite help desk!

Whatever decision you make, your customers’ needs — and the kind of technology they value — should come first.

2. Turn support into conversation

When you have customers who value your existing online forums or Facebook Groups, capture that conversation and turn it into a support lifeline.

Ultimately, these conversations can provide you with major insight into your business — and your best customers. Tapping these customers as brand advocates can also help fuel the customer referrals and user-generated content customers trust most.

Remember: Solving a customer’s problem is only half the battle. Providing them with a platform to engage with other customers — and provide you with feedback — will create a lasting relationship that transforms your business.

3. Set and track your metrics

Remember Step 1? Match up each of your customer needs with a concrete support goal.

Give your support team tangible ways to measure how their efforts are supporting customers and meeting the needs of your team, from conversations closed to customer engagement metrics.

Need examples of how to build and evaluate customer support metrics for your new community? Check out CMX Hub’s guide to building a successful community metrics strategy.

3 great examples of brand communities

Community-driven customer support is one of the most exciting ways to gain insights into your customers.

It’s no surprise that brands that have tapped into community to supercharge their customer service models are seeing great returns. Here are three brands doing great work.

1. Polyvore

Polyvore

What they do: Polyvore is a user-based style and fashion community that provides users with tools for creating personalized collections of the brands they love most.

Their community model: Polyvore is one of the best community-oriented brands out there. Not only do they incorporate user feedback into their products and services, routinely inviting customers to collaborate on product research, but they regularly spotlight and thank top users. From rolling out customer surveys to sending thoughtful apologies when their UI bugs out, Polyvore thinks about their customers’ needs first. This allows the company to incorporate customer voices into everything they do.

The takeaway: If your company is just turning to community now, Polyvore’s approach may feel overwhelming. But it’s easy to pick one element of their strategy — say, launching a customer survey on a new or proposed product feature — and roll it out to your community for feedback.


2. SAP Community Network

Sap

What they do: SAP is a massive software company that’s driving machine learning, data management and analytics.

Their community model: Like Polyvore, the SAP Community Network uses community to drive the software company’s products and services. Community members create content, support one another by sharing knowledge around specific products, offer mentorships, moderate forums, and more. The SAP Community Network has more than 2.5 million engaged users from all over the world, including users from top companies like Disney and Bose.

The takeaway: One of the challenges community managers face is tracking customer data, so SAP’s solution was to create a thriving community within their own website. Wide-ranging forums and user-generated content allow customers to connect and help one another, while SAP can track and acknowledge community member needs from a support and sales perspective. It’s like SAP has their very own focus group — and it’s constantly in session.


3. Made Unboxed

Made + Unboxed

What they do: Made is a UK-based furniture retailer with only three showrooms — in London, Liverpool, and West Yorkshire.

Their community model: Made Unboxed allows undecided customers to connect with users who are currently happy with their furniture purchases from Made. Not only can customers help one another with common questions, but seeing furniture in someone else’s home can help a potential buyer get over the anxiety of not being able to visit a showroom prior to their purchase.

The takeaway: While more products than ever are purchased online, online retailers still need to find innovative ways to turn potential customers into satisfied return customers. Easing customer anxiety through community is a great way to address this specific customer need.

Engaged customers = healthy businesses

Community is a customer service mindset. No matter what your team’s priorities might be, building a community can help you meet company goals across the board.

When customers engage with brand communities, it’s because they feel valued and supported — which can translate into big business for your company. Engaged customers spend more, but they’ll also give you the insights you need to be faster, more competitive — and more helpful — than ever.

Does your brand already have a community, or are you building one? How do you envision using it to improve and supercharge your customer service? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!

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For small to medium-sized businesses, the trick is to win over one customer at a time. How to Build a Brand that Wins Over Customers’ Hearts and Wallets.

Sujan Patel

About the author: Sujan is the co-founder of Web Profits, a growth marketing agency helping companies leverage the latest and greatest marketing strategies to fuel their businesses.