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In a recent study from Leader Networks and CMX Media, customer satisfaction and retention were cited as the most important drivers of community. (For more about the report, see “Keys to Community Readiness and Growth”.)

That’s a big shift from the oft-cited “reduce support costs” driver (which is still up there, at number three).

So how do you structure your online community so that you maximize the opportunities to satisfy customers and keep them coming back?

Listen to your customers

It’s notable that ideation is number two in the study. It's very important to have a community where you and your team are actually listening. Create a space for suggestions, and let opinions be voiced, good and bad.

Make sure that, on the back end, there is a process for dealing with customer input. Pull actionable ideas into your developer platform, or add them to your intranet for employee discussion, and don't forget to acknowledge the input. If/when you take action on the idea, go back to the original suggestion and let the member know that it was implemented.

Let your customers know they are important

You know that you value your customers, but do they know it? Think of the little things you can do to let them know they’re appreciated. Consider offering random thank you's or rewards based on the gamification structure in your community. Research the member profiles to find out what their interests are, and base your rewards on that, for a personal touch.

Automatic, progressive member titles are cool (especially if they are tied to the personality of your community), but how about a one-off special title for a customer who goes above and beyond?

Make it easy for customers to find you

Don't bury the link to your community. Make it easy to get in and start participating by offering social login or by tying into your existing customer portal with single sign-on. Promote your community with a link when you send out customer communications, like newsletters or even invoices!

Another way to make it easy is by publishing useful content that will get found by the search engines. Use your blog to share tips and information that make you a thought leader in your industry. This will get you noticed by customers as well as potential customers.

Be accessible to your customers

Yes, you probably have specific staff who are responsible for direct customer interface. But how accessible is your C-suite or the rest of the management team? Make the effort to include ideas and content from across your whole organization, so that your customers get a better picture of your corporate culture. The more relationships you can establish between your customers and your staff, the better.

Bonus points if you are sharing some corporate personality in the community as well! Do you allow dogs to come to the office? Do you have brown bag lunches? Does your CMO speak at conferences? Give your customers a window into what's going on behind the scenes with photos and videos.

Answer customer questions quickly

Give them a place to go with their problems, a place they can rely on getting a quick, honest answer. This has the added benefit of keeping them from sharing their problems elsewhere on the web, where you might not be able to see and respond.

Use your notifications and "stale question" alerts to make sure that no question goes unanswered for long. It also helps to set expectations up front; if you have specific hours when you're available to help, publish those on the main page.

Give your customers continuing education resources

Too many customer communities are focused on the initial questions and issues of a new member, and then offer nothing for the experienced customer. Think about your long-time members, and keep the discussion going forward.

Consider creating a space for "veterans" to share tips and tricks that are more advanced. Incorporate higher level information into your blog and your shared files, so that customers can grow with you over time.

Keep your customers up to date

Use the communication tools at your disposal to let your customers know about new offerings, updates to current services, and other customer success stories. An instant popup (we call it a News Flash) or a featured post can be a good way to ensure that members see news information.

Another idea is to offer a news center within the community. Set aside a series of clips/files for news releases, images, or videos for journalists or for customers who want to know the latest.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to customer satisfaction and retention; I know you have more great ideas...want to share?


Featured image via Flickr CC: James Case

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So many could learn from this. I've visited community's where the fun is all but gone, the rules make prison seem like a vacation, and interaction with the staff is prohibited. It's like why do they have a community?

Great info Rosemary, as always

Last edited by J.C.
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