As the age of connectivity has progressed in the modern world, the customer journey has ironically become more and more distanced from the companies themselves.
Online review platforms have become a hub for disgruntled consumers to voice their distaste at everything from an auto mechanic to a room-temperature potato salad at a distance of some length.
What if there was a way to better engage customers and bridge their journey from search to advocacy? Taking things one step further, what about creating a collaborative ecosystem for new and loyal customers alike, where they not only learn more about the company and its products, but can also play an active role in shaping future products and improve important details of their own customer experience?
The key lies in building a trustworthy and reputable customer community, in which the brand can co-create solutions with its customers - no matter where these consumers are in their journey.
Nowadays there are some simple formulas to create the ideal corporate-consumer relationship, including design thinking to inform product innovation, or community moderation tools to further nurture trust and active participation.
Here are some helpful tips:
Track 'Em Down
The first step to creating a successful relationship with customers is discovering trending topics of like and dislike within the company.
Mapping out the customer journey gives an idea of the best way to go about outreach. This is where customers realize that the company anticipates their needs. It's also the first step to getting them to develop a deeper sense of brand loyalty.
Obviously, tracking down word of mouth referral isn't possible, but what if the company could approach it from another angle?
Creating an environment where peer to peer relationships means more incoming business, as opposed to just mutual complaints, begins with creating a community catalyst.
Knowing a Guy who Knows a Guy
Lyft, a relatively well-known rideshare service in major metro areas came out swinging with their referral program. They offer free rides and discounts to customers for having their friends order a car using one of their unique referral codes.
This created immense growth, not only in size of client base but also consistent customer loyalty.
That is most certainly an impressive show of how creating a simple rewards system for referral is effective in creating a self-containing community of loyal customers.
Once customers realize that their friends and family around them also use the companies' services, it becomes an area of ease, comfort and convenience for them within the company.
The company must reinforce ease, comfort and convenience with positive feedback and experiences, of course.
On the customer journey, there are several key steps to creating not only trust but rapport in which a dialogue can be consistently open and honest.
Once the customer is aware of the brands' existence and reputation, be it from a friend or the internet at large, the company's direct engagement and response to the customer must increase and become active, consistent, and personal.
Building a Base
As a customer base begins to get mapped out and the brand has a better view of what they are working with, they can begin to create the world within the community.
The place of selling, the person doing the selling, the actual product that is being sold- these are all things the customer buys within the span of an actual transaction.
The first priority in building a base for the loyal customer is creating a management team structure that works together to engage the customer on every step of their journey.
The customer journey doesn't end once their card is approved at the register or online checkout- in fact, it has just begun.
The follow-up is the important part. In fact, it is vital.
Return customers are not only semi-reliable income. They are a catalyst, a micro-base of their own, from which they can refer friends and family. The way the company treats them after they have completed the sale is what leaves the lasting impression.
Think of it as a thank-you note after an interview. It helps the company stick out in their mind, because not only was their initial experience good, they were followed up on. The company cared to see how they were doing and wanted to invite them back with open arms.
And it's more than just a follow-up customer satisfaction survey. While short surveys and open text boxes can be great for collecting both quantitative and qualitative insights, it's not enough in this day and age.
In the age of digital, the always-connected customer has come to expect that their voice will not only be heard, but that their ideas for continuous improvement can also be implemented. A co-creative community, where customers collaborate with brand/product reps as well as community managers and moderators is a crucial, yet often overlooked, step in the post-purchase customer journey.
This is also the hook- the part where the brand lingers in their brain like an obsession. The type of obsession that becomes an outlet for customer passion and creativity.
Whether it be how to make a great product even better, or more environmentally sustainable, to leveraging authentic customer stories for a new marketing campaign - a co-creative community is paramount to building the level of customer participation needed to sustain loyalty, repeat purchases and fuel further innovation across the enterprise.
As Forbes recently noted in its article, The Co-creative Imperative, "The power of co-creation has been established by many leading consumer brands, among them Apple, Google, Ikea, Nike and Starbucks. These companies have successfully embraced this new paradigm to revolutionize how they relate to their customers, engaging them continuously in the process of ideating, producing, and marketing products. Airbnb or Uber have shot to the top out of nowhere by using co-creative platform technologies to turn passive consumers into active providers of goods and services."
The article, which features the Chaordix-powered LEGO Ideas community, goes on to say that co-creation inside a collaborative community shifts aways from the traditional company-centric model that views the consumer as a passive outsider with whom the company only transacts primarily at the point of purchase.
Participation is the Real King
Another key piece of maintaining and growing a community is creating compelling content consistently and things for members to do. What with the invention of social media, it seems every company has a Facebook page or some form of a social outreach effort to their customer base. It isn't all just emails anymore.
However, just creating a page on a social media site and broadcasting content isn't actively engaging the consumer. The goal is to have them feel as though you are not only there to guide them through the customer journey, but to also make them feel part of the brands they adore.
This is where customer participation and co-creation come into play.
Having an insights community or customer advisory panel is commonplace today. We run online market research surveys or digitalize the concept of a "focus group" for a core group of active users of a product.
Yet, establishing a real sense of community is more than surveying a common group of people who have purchased and/or "liked" the same brand of paper towel. It's more than collecting feedback on their shopping experience or how well the paper towel absorbed a wet mess.
And its a lot more than publishing a few blog articles and fun photos every now and then.
A real community, one in which value is jointly produced between customers and employees, requires a wide variety of programming to keep participants engaged. It should be more than looking back at past behavior and collecting opinions.
A co-creative community should be integral to any ongoing customer journey where customers, both new and loyal, work together to build a better future.
This includes leveraging design thinking and creative problem solving through a interactive platform, which includes idea contests or innovation challenges where community members can support their favourite customer-generated ideas. The community then supports and filters the best customer-generated ideas of the bunch, easing the workload of employees and community managers.
Co-creation may also include open or closed discussions as well as storytelling activities where two-way, continuous conversations can be nurtured among the brand and its most engaged customers. Keeping people engaged and coming back to participate in easy to complete activities is also important. This is where shorter surveys, polls, quizzes and quick questions can be leveraged.
Through the power of community, the customer journey should never end abruptly. It becomes an ongoing social collaboration where both brand and customer roll up their sleeves and put their best ideas and most valuable insights to work.
What About the Disgruntled Consumer?
When discussing co-creative communities with our new clients, we often hear concerns about disgruntled customers overshadowing the more meaningful insights and brilliant ideas generated by engaged customers.
The great thing about co-creative communities, when compared to social media or other customer service platforms, is that the customers who join are genuinely there to further activate their passion, creativity and love for the brand.
With advanced moderation tools, it's also easy to filter out and manage discussions and members by flagged keywords. Not to mention the fact that these types of co-creative communities are designed for actual customers, not just friends of customers or those who "like" and then comment (or complain) on everything in sight.
With a growing community of 'superconsumers', the community itself also does a great job of policing the community of trolls, and keeping members focused on the core objectives of the community - be it product innovation and/or brand engagement.
Better yet, you can always manage a private, invite-only community by whitelisting specific customers based on their purchase habits, including frequency, price and type of product.
Now, a word about those dislikes on the customer journey map mentioned earlier: contrary to the belief of some, the customer is not always right.
What a twist.
The old idiom of "the customer is always right" has plagued both upper-level corporates on the fiscal end, and the lower-level employees who are actually in the trenches.
Although this may sound counter-productive to the customer utopia the company is trying to build, it actually works in the favor of both the company and the client base at large, for three key reasons:
- It creates an Employee Vs. the World environment.
- It eats away at limited resources, both in time and finances.
- It's a distraction from the bigger picture of that the company plans to become.
In short, the amount of time spent trying to placate repeat problem-customers exhausts employees and community managers, who are the immediate face of the brand. A happy employee treats the customer with the utmost care, whereas an exasperated employee is more likely to neglect the more intimate details of customer care.
This leaves the customer with an incomplete or unsatisfactory experience with the brand.
Another thing to note is that money is not everything. When trying to build a long-term relationship with the brand's demographic, too much time spent trying to salvage one customer relationship is too much time spent away from the bigger picture.
What's one frustrated customer compared to 3 million loyal, happy ones? Here's a hint: not very much at all.
This isn't to say that customer service isn't important. In fact, doing the utmost to help every customer who has an issue in your community is absolutely important.
It's only when they become inconsolable that it is a wash. At that point, it is most probably best to call it a day. Let them know that although the company is terribly sorry, there isn't very much that the company can do at all.
This leaves more time and effort to further hone the co-creative community built on loyal consumers.
Keeping the Customer Journey on Track
As the community base flourishes, there are little touches to add in here and there to keep the movement going. Whether it be leveraging Instagram to share top submissions from customer co-creators or sending personalized notes to first-time contributors. There is so much room to get creative with positive reinforcement.
The customer journey speaks for itself. So long as the company has ensured that they have had an overwhelmingly positive experience from beginning to end.
That's the key, though- the positive experience shouldn't end.
The clever use of social, email and other community communications tools, combined with a personalized experience at the point of sale creates a rapport between customer and company. That is essential to becoming a lasting image in the consumer's eye.
Obviously, as the customer base grows, the company does as well. Once the company establishes a healthy brand reputation, and one customer journey template turns into an empire of customer co-creativity and community engagement, there will be many more things to focus on.
Overseeing all aspects of customer-driven innovation, marketing and customer-relations will be difficult without a great partner doing the heavy lifting.
Maintaining the Magic
A thriving consumer community made up of thousands, or even millions of individual customer journeys is the end goal. Maintaining it so that stays that way can be difficult on the shoulders of the company alone.
This is where a digital platform for co-creativity equipped with powerful insights, reporting and ideas scoring is crucial. Not to mention the added research and social community expertise needed to plan and manage your community's ongoing programming.
With the right technology/software and expertise, the customer journey will be in the most experienced and capable hands. That leaves the company and its customers free to co-create even more.
For more information, check out how we help leading brands with customer co-creativity and improving the customer journey together.