Skip to content

8 Ways Online Communities Improve the Customer Experience + Retention

Learn how to increase customer retention and grow your business with an online community. Branded online communities are improving the customer experience.

On the day you’re reading this, at least one of your customers is watching a webinar, downloading an eBook, or fielding a phone call from your competition.

But you know what? Big deal. When you focus more on becoming competitor-proof than on true customer success, you’re getting your priorities wrong. Why?

Making your customers successful is a long-term retention strategy. Your business rises and falls based on the customer. If they love you, they won’t leave you – no matter how many competitors come knocking on their door.

And one of the best ways to ensure your customers’ success and support them throughout their journey?

Create connection. It may seem basic, but it’s true – even in this digital age, customers care about being heard and maintaining relationships, with fellow customers and the organization whose product they love.

That’s why, when done correctly, creating an online community of your customers can have such a visible, positive impact on your organization’s retention goals.

Plus? Companies who use online community are generating revenue – and many of them tie that revenue to customer retention.

Check out these stats from Leader Networks:

  • 49% of communities generate revenue
  • 36% of all revenue-generating communities connect that revenue to customer retention
  • 57% of companies in the survey said that customer retention connected to community was their top digital competitive advantage

If you’re not convinced, we’ve got eight specific examples of how companies with online communities are improving the customer experience.

1. Online communities engage customers throughout the customer journey

When you first sign a customer, think of them as the new neighbor looking in from the back gate at the gaggle of strangers mingling over fruit salad. Instead of leaving them hanging, companies with an online community can immediately introduce the new customer to their community, show them relevant features and content, and introduce them to groups and individuals where they’re likely to engage.

These companies can use analytics from their customer community software to track each customer’s onboarding process. They create personalized workflows for customers across the customer journey, by segmenting their email communication to direct customers to relevant information and resources in the community.

For example, Code42 built a customer journey map to outline their typical customer’s journey and every strategic touchpoint they have across departments. Companies can use data like this to build a roadmap for taking the customer from “new to the community” to “unmovable advocate.”

2. They provide self-service tools for customer support

Companies with an online community provide a single location where customers can go to solve their own problems. They cut down on time and frustration for customers by making answers accessible. Plus, they’ll have customer support staff monitoring conversations, who can jump in on particularly tough questions to ensure customers get the support they need.

Online communities are filled with self-service tools including detailed product documentation in file libraries, FAQ pages, and help forums where customers can post questions for their peers to answer.

In an era where 61 percent have stopped doing business with a company due to poor customer service (Microsoft), this is extremely important for customer retention.

Read more: 8 Reasons Your Customer Support Improves with an Online Community

3. They create a network for customers

People don’t connect with corporations, they connect with other people. An online community helps customers build connections that help them be successful. Think of all the relationships that customers can build in the shared space: Thought-leaders for insight, other customers for support, partners for best practice options, employees for access to the company, and executives for potential future career moves.

Plus, customers can share creative ways to resolve issues and innovative ways to use your product (improving the value for every customer reading the discussion).

4. They give customers direct access to staff

Companies with online communities create a link between customers and real people at the company. Customers with questions can tag the CEO in a discussion or post a question and expect a response from a customer support member in the community. This introduces an element of transparency that’s hard to develop anywhere else, and creates a relationship of personal accountability between customers and the company. Plus, the company is giving customers a place to be heard.

5. They generate a personalized experience

Accenture Innovative found that almost all consumers (91 percent) are more likely to shop with brands who personalize their experience. With an online community, companies can not only provide the experience that customers expect, but they can go above and beyond.

That’s because online communities introduce a new data element to the traditional transaction and demographic data in your CRM. Online behavioral data will show you what discussions, files, topics, and products your customers are interested in, so you can provide a tailored, relevant experience for every customer.

Companies with this kind of 360-degree view can use it to ensure their customer experience and engagement tactics are aligned across every channel. When you can use community to go above and beyond the basic experience customers want, you’ll exceed your customers’ expectations, which may be the difference between a loyal customer and a higher attrition rate.

6. They build a better product

Companies with online communities are swimming in customer feedback about their product, solicited or not. Their customers alert them to bugs, give insight into the user experience, and suggest ways things could be done better. These companies have the chance to act on this feedback and show customers how they’re responding, creating customer buy-in and investment in the product.

These companies benefit in terms of market relevance and new customer acquisition as well. Customers know their products and what they need from them best, so their ideas help the company keep up with changes in the market and win new prospects with better solutions.

7. They promote exclusive resources

The community becomes part of a company’s exclusive value proposition. In it, customers have access to people, advice, product answers, and industry information they wouldn’t have any other way.

These companies provide useful resources that are only available to customers. And they use the segmentation and content management tools in the community make customers aware of highly relevant content.

Example: Jama Software has built a knowledge base in their online community that has over 250 articles (and that’s growing every day).

8. They identify when customers are struggling

Creating an online community allows companies to understand many customers’ wants and needs without asking directly. Sure, your customer success managers may be having one-on-one conversations with customers, but you shouldn’t stop there. Customers tend to give more honest feedback about their frustrations when they’re chatting with peers in the community, which gives you the opportunity to effectively pinpoint their concerns and chime in. The sooner you can identify a struggling customer, the sooner you can make the changes necessary to rectify their experience and keep them satisfied long term.

Online Communities Make Customers More Successful

Customer success-focused companies invest in online communities, because they know that customer retention will impact far more than just customer loyalty. Benefits from the community trickle down to increase satisfaction, revenue, and help grow entire businesses. They can focus on and support their customers’ most urgent and pervasive problems, early. They’re differentiating themselves, forging strong relationships with customers, and recognizing potential losses much earlier.

We’ll leave you with this food for thought from tech entrepreneur Mike McCue:

“Even in the face of massive competition, don’t think about the competition. Literally, don’t think about them. Every time you’re in a meeting and you’re tempted to talk about a competitor, replace that thought with one about user feedback or surveys. Just think about the customer.” 

Elizabeth Bell

Elizabeth Bell is the Content Marketing Manager at Higher Logic. She’s passionate about communities, tech, and communicating about both effectively. When she’s not writing, you’ll probably find her cooking, reading, gardening, or playing volleyball.