Upping your "relationship status" with your customer
We all know the most obvious benefits of an online research community are quick-turn research and fast insights thanks to a waiting pool of engaged customers. But have you ever considered the impact a research community can have on your relationship with each and every one of those customers? Many companies forget that, aside from the research benefits, communities offer the benefit of elevating their “relationship status” with a customer to the next level, increasing and diversifying that customer’s engagement with the brand and maximizing their lifetime value.
We’ve seen first-hand five key ways being part of an online research community alters how a customer interacts with a brand. Working with dozens of brands and communities over the last decade, we've collected these amazing examples of how our clients have upped their relationship status with their consumers — from “customer” to “brand advocate.”
1. Research communities impact how they feel toward you
Regardless of how fun or engaging your online community is, the mere fact that your company has decided to reach out to customers for their opinions has a huge impression on them. It establishes you in their minds as a company that cares and listens to what they have to say. It’s no surprise that those positive feelings carry over to important measures like NPS and CSAT trackers.
We have been fielding a quarterly customer satisfaction tracker for a particular utility client since 2010. The tracker goes to a randomized portion of their customer base, and it includes an important open-end question: “Why are you satisfied?”
Around 2015, the answers to that question started to change. Why? Because in 2015, our client recruited 3,000+ of their customers to join an ongoing community. No longer were respondents to the tracker attributing their satisfaction solely to reliable electricity or customer service — instead, they raved about their experience in the community. These responses remind us of the power of community membership, and how it can impact brand satisfaction in measurable ways.
2. Online research communities influence how they think about you
In addition to gaining insights and building trust, online communities are a very productive vehicle for marketing. When customers participate in your online community, they are reminded of your brand, products, and services each time they log on or take a survey. Due to this more frequent and meaningful interaction, your brand is top-of-mind for these customers in a way that is far more real to them than traditional advertising.
Our team recently saw this in action during live chats with shoppers of a major grocery store brand. The topic of conversation was our client’s bakery department. Toward the end of the 30-minute group chat, it became apparent that some of our participants had developed quite a sweet tooth. And more importantly, it was our client’s bakery department they were craving! The following quote was one of many: “I'm going to [client store] after this. I’m definitely grabbing some of those pumpkin spice cookies from the bakery.”
Download the guide to learn more about evaluating a potential partner's approach to building and managing an online research community.
3. Research communities motivate how they talk about you
Do you ever find yourself telling your friends and family members about the cool projects you’re working on? We want to share the things we’re proud of with others. Interestingly, that’s exactly what happens to your customer when they see you implement their feedback. “Did you see that car commercial? I helped with that!” By participating in a community, your customers feel like an extension of your team — and we tend to brag on our teams. So, you’ve effectively created thousands of brand champions, proudly telling their friends and family about the contributions they are making to your company and to a brand they’re invested in.
One of Bellomy’s first communities — many years ago — was for an outdoor apparel and footwear brand. Members were incredibly enthusiastic about getting outside, especially while using the brand’s products. Their custom site allowed members to share stories openly and organically as well as share reports of their adventures. Many of these posts included stories of their brand evangelism outside of the community and some members even used their rewards to purchase gifts for their friends and family. When it came time to close the community, this group was not immediately disbanded, rather they were “graduated” into a word-of-mouth effort called Trailblazers and continued to spread their brand knowledge and love throughout their communities.
4. Research communities affect how they talk for you
Informal brand champions can become formal brand ambassadors and provide official testimonials. Is your marketing department looking to feature real customers in an upcoming TV spot? Imagine having thousands of on-tap, enthusiastic customers to choose from. Your marketing department will love you.
A major financial services brand was planning for a prominent commercial spot during the Olympics. Instead of hiring actors, they sourced real consumers to be the face of their brand in the commercial. We were able to help by asking members to submit videos of their experiences with the sponsoring company and the best and brightest were selected to launch their acting career as stars in a very visible commercial.
5. Research communities shape they way they talk to you
Even though an online community isn’t necessarily designed to field customer service issues, any problems the panelists have encountered are bound to come up. In the eyes of your customer, you’re offering them an additional channel to connect with you. And, depending on the design of your community, it might become a place for them to ask product questions and voice service issues. Imagine the possible customer support savings, which can also be measured over time.
We built and manage a B2B community for a major automotive manufacturer to collect insights from their dealers — all across the country. The community is extremely active with dealers posting their own discussions and exchanging best practices almost daily. So, it made perfect sense for our client to incorporate a FAQ tool into the community site so dealers could submit questions and concerns. Not only did dealers appreciate the convenience, but they viewed the tool as an exclusive opportunity to get their questions answered more quickly.
Limitless benefits of research communities
The value of online research communities doesn’t stop at research and consumer insights. Maintaining a branded community can promote goodwill and higher satisfaction among your customers, as well as supplement your traditional marketing efforts. Just think of how an investment into 5,000 community members could benefit your brand and significantly alter the course of each customer’s lifetime value!
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