What do customers think? What do potential purchaser groups expect of certain products? To answer such questions, many companies conduct surveys by conventional or electronic mail. But what happens when customers fail to send back the questionnaires? Did they not have the time, or are they simply not interested in the product in question? In order to learn more about what customers really think and want, companies need to maintain a presence in the channels their clients use. This is where social communities, forums, and partner Web sites come into play.
It’s a cat’s life
“The customer is a cat,” says Franziska Weißbach, head of relationship management consulting at the consultancy Ogilvy Brains. Weißbach believes it is not enough to simply throw the customer a bone, as one would do to a dog. Customers are curious and strong-willed; they are exploring options; and they are deciding independently when and what they want to communicate and, finally, when and what they want to buy. They obtain information on the Internet and browse forums to read about the experiences others have had with products. This places new demands on customer relationship management departments: No longer static, CRM has become a round-the-clock activity.
Online communities are not only helping marketing employees learn more about what customers think and want; they are making communication with clients faster and more direct than is possible by e-mail.
Online brand communities
Brand communities – which focus solely on brands and products – are a key instrument that should not be confused with social communities like Xing, Facebook, or Flickr.
The SAP Community Network (SCN) is an example of a brand community. SAP users, computer scientists, economists, and CIOs use it to share information on new SAP products, variant configurations, updates, and more.
Supporting corporate communities
Consultancy Ogilvy Brains compiled a catalog that evaluates online brand communities based on 120 indicators – including networking, topic focus, and group diversity – and presented its results at the CRM Expo in Nuremberg, Germany. According to the consultancy, the online brand communities of eBay, Tchibo, Fressnapf, and Veltins demonstrate good customer retention. Tchibo has even implemented suggestions made in its forum, such as a knife rack with a drip tray. Failed community projects, meanwhile, included that of Vattenfall and Deutsche Telekom’s T-Community.
Ogilvy Brains recommends that companies seeking to strengthen their customer ties through an online brand community encourage interaction among community members. For example, this might involve assigning a community manager to moderate discussion forums and kick off new topics. The consultancy also considers it important for companies to cede control and be open to criticism, as this is the only way for them to remain credible and authentic.
Salesforce for Twitter
Since users can tweet anytime from their cell phones, Twitter gives companies the chance to respond to customer queries even more quickly and directly than in other communities. The business software provider Salesforce.com has developed an application that enables marketing employees to use Twitter and process tweets even faster. Salesforce for Twitter uses graphics to show which topics users have discussed. The software’s interface also makes it easy to forward helpful user responses directly into a company’s knowledge base, to call-center employees, or for immediate publishing on a company’s Web site.