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Relationship Intelligence Business Development

Why Online Communities Are The New B2B Superpower

By Rebecca Hinds

Online communities have infiltrated our personal and professional lives. Today, much of our engagement with others transpires on online communities like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. These online communities forge connectivity and fuel relationships.

The self-evident power of these online communities has spurred many B2B businesses to create their own renditions for their customers. Companies such as Cisco, SAP, LexisNexis, and EMC have built thriving online communities for their customers to interact with. These companies have realized tremendous gains as a result of fostering these online communities. According to Marketo’s The State of Engagement survey, online communities are the third most common digital engagement channel for post-purchase customer feedback or support (after email and website)—online communities rank higher than even social media, chat, and mobile apps.

Online B2B customer communities afford both customers and B2B organizations three key benefits:

1. Increasing customer engagement

We are living in the so-called “engagement economy.” Consumers are demanding more and more from businesses. They want to feel a persistent sense of engagement. Online communities fulfill this desire well.

Consider, for example, the Bank of America's Small Business Online Community, a platform for small business owners to seek expert advice, network with other customers, and share experiences. One notable component of the platform is the “stories" section that encourages users to share personal experiences with other customers. Tim Eisenhauer, co-founder of Axero Solutions and author of "Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement", explains,“This section is actively updated by the members of the community themselves, which makes it feel like their own platform to openly share stories and views….Another smart add-on is the Featured Member Story' on the front page. It features a contribution from a member and adds a great touch to the site.”

Online communities offer many complementary advantageous. They fulfill customers' desire for 24/7 engagement. They also don’t entail constant involvement from employees. Finally and, perhaps most importantly, they increase customers' levels of engagement after the initial purchase, an especially challenging feat for B2B organizations.

2. Delivering post-purchase support

Online communities are particularly well suited for resolving customer issues and providing post-purchase support. According to a 2016 report by Lithium, firms with online communities resolve 37% of customer issues without needing to escalate the conversation to an agent. Online B2B customer empower customers to help each other resolve issues. According to Forrester's 2016 study, Supporting the Buyer Journey with Customer Service, 49% of organizations struggle to make live support services available to customers. Online communities enable B2B businesses to leverage their customers' brainpower to enhance overall customer satisfaction.

3. Stepping into the shoes of customers

Online customer communities should be closely monitored. Keeping tabs on online community interactions allows staff to respond to issues. It also allows staff to gain a better understanding of customers.

A 2016 PwC report cautions that technology companies, in particular, do not take sufficient measures to obtain customer feedback, obtaining it “far too infrequently.” A mere 21% collect “voice of the customer” (VoC) information on a monthly basis, while only 31% collect it on a quarterly basis. When companies do collect VoC information, they reap rewards. 68% use VoC information to identify quality issues, 53% use it to respond to customer issues, 51% use it to improve the digital experience and 48% use it to inform product planning. Online communities fuel B2B businesses to become more in-tune with their customers.

There are many channels that B2B companies can exploit to serve customers—email, phone, chat, social media, etc. According to PwC, “the [method] with the most potential in terms of one-to-many communications is the one at the bottom of the list in terms of usage: online communities. Only 27% [of technology companies] have some form of online community, even though these are less expensive and potentially stickier than other methods...Why are communities so beneficial to both companies and customers? Because they lower costs and increase engagement. Technology companies may have super-users who understand technology better than anyone else."

Relationships are a businesses' most powerful asset. Don't overlook the importance of fueling relationships with your customers. Use Affinity as a jumping off point to identify the customers who your team has the strongest relationships with and recruit these individuals as initial champions to your online community. Building an online community is one of the most effective ways of propelling your organizations to new heights.

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Relationship Intelligence Business Development