Oct 20, 2023

Read Time 5 min

How to build a community to support a scaled customer success team


This is a guest post by Shauna McClemens, community strategist, Higher Logic Vanilla.

As a community strategist for a community platform, I’ve seen firsthand how a customer community can shore up a scaled customer success team and make a positive impact on their work and customer interactions.

I’ve been in customer experience, specifically in customer success, for the greater part of my career helping hundreds of companies build communities around their brand, products, industry, and shared customer interests.

As part of my role, I also consult on how to revive and re-launch existing communities, often with the goal of scaling customer success or fixing poor engagement.

At Higher Logic Vanilla, we recently shifted our customer success program from the traditional one-to-one CSM model to a scaled model using our own community platform.

After making changes to support this new approach, the community saw significant increases in postings, active users, and staff participation. Most importantly, it became the go-to resource and hub for our customer success efforts.

To learn from my experience, use this simple framework to increase engagement and traction in your community and turn it into a support system for your customer success team.

Four-step framework to build your community

1. Establish a clear end goal

First, determine what you want to achieve with your community. Set a specific goal. As with any project, if you don’t have clear-cut targets, you’re more likely to veer off track.

The goals you choose should align with the objectives of your organization, your customer success team, and the end users of your product.

Examples of community goals include:

  • Enhance customer success efficiency
  • Improve gross retention
  • Reduce support tickets
  • Gather more product feedback
  • Increase brand awareness
  • Increase revenue opportunities
  • Improve product adoption
  • Identify advocates

When setting goals, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Be selective. It’s better to excel in one area than to perform mediocrely across many targets. Consider your top priorities at this point in your community journey, and then commit to one or, at most, two goals at a time. You can begin to add and adjust goals as your community grows organically.
  • Stay curious. Talk to as many team members as you can. Use that insight to identify the community activities that will most benefit your internal departments, especially the customer experience team. Repeat this exercise with your users. Assess the existing gaps in your customer journey and think creatively about how the community can address them.
  • Consider the broader picture. What results will make your executive team see your community as a success? If those outcomes don’t align with the desires of your CX team and your customers, do some additional brainstorming. Think about how you can align their needs to build a community that supports your CX team in a way that will also prove ROI to your executives.

2. Define your community type

After establishing an understanding of your stakeholders’ needs, the next step is to determine the type of community you want to build in support of those requirements.

A few common community categories include:

  • Support: members ask questions, get help from their peers and your company, and access self-service tools for immediate help.
  • Product: people share feedback on products and ideas, which contributes to the creation of a more customer-centric product roadmap.
  • Customer enablement: customers talk about ways to get the most out of he product, access best practices, and share their learnings with others.
  • Advocacy: brand loyalists and super users engage with one another and participate in advocacy discussions and initiatives.
  • Community of peers: people come together over a shared interest (e.g., your product or an underlying interest surrounding your product).

Many communities, particularly in SaaS, launch with a focus on support, enablement, product, or some combination of all three. Over time, and with mindful cultivation, you can evolve these community types into more promoter-focused facets, such as advocacy and community of peers, that require you to have a steadfast and captivated user base.

When deciding which direction to go, see what type your customers respond to. Often, users will come to the community for support or product, and they’ll stay for enablement.

However, it’s important to recognize that your community cannot be everything to everyone. Be realistic about where you are and what gaps exist within your organization, and then adapt your community to meet your users’ needs.

3. Assess your community’s maturity

Most people think that age is the main indicator of a community’s maturity. However, there are several important factors to weigh when evaluating whether your community is ready to move on to other facets.

Consider the following questions to assess your community’s readiness to advance:

  • What areas of your community are popular? Does customer usage of the community align with your business goals?
  • How many departments are involved in the community regularly?
  • Is your community team reactive or proactive when engaging?
  • What kind of content do you see? Are posts mostly about questions and problems or do they trend toward thought leadership?
  • Is there persona-targeted content? For example, does content appeal to everyone or only a handful of users?
  • What other systems is it integrated with? Is the community treated as a hub or an isolated tool?
  • Do the community’s goals align with the goals of the wider organization or only the CX team?

The community journey is deeply intertwined with the user journey. At the beginning of your community journey, most members will be at the beginning of their journey as well. As they mature, so does your community. That growth is a good signal that your community is ready to grow into more advanced use cases.

4. Shift from reactive to proactive

Most communities I work with start out as support communities. Users visit to solve a particular problem and leave once they’ve found a solution. This setup inherently forces the internal teams that help facilitate the community to go on the defense.

One of the best ways to uplift your internal contributors and increase community engagement is to shift their approach from reactive problem-solving to proactive enablement.

Consider the type of content that helps users move from fixing a problem to exploring new use cases and strategies they might not have otherwise considered. If you want users to come back, content needs to extend beyond technical advice to encompass broader domain and industry topics.

To make this shift, you’ll need a plan to guide users through the change and get buy-in from your internal teams.

First, you’ll have to coach customers to use the community as their primary resource. As community interactions begin to evolve from transactions to relationships, users will be inspired to visit regularly instead of only when they have an immediate problem to solve.

Second, you’ll have to convince your team members to get involved. What types of resources will attract users and make your team feel confident directing their customers there?

While our community initially sustained itself on support questions and feature requests, the engagement really picked up once discussions included broader topics of interest and feature spotlights that focused on achieving customer goals rather than merely addressing their problems.

It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon

Building a new community brings excitement. Organizations put a lot of effort into the community’s initial launch and promotion. However, they often fall short of planning past those first few months.

As you embark on your community journey, consider how you can encourage team members to sustain their enthusiasm and commitment in the long term.

Be careful not to exhaust yourself or your resources early on. A community does not need to have a fully built-out library and all the bells and whistles to get off the ground. Although it will be tempting, don’t play all your cards.

Instead, create an idea bank to capture and save all the great suggestions your team comes up with. Tap into the bank each month to share something new that keeps your users coming back, and the magic alive.

For more strategies on how to build a community that lasts, watch my webinar, “Reviving a community to support your customer success team.” During the Q&A session, I cover tips for announcing a community’s launch, ways to bulk up community content when starting from scratch, and more. I also answer additional audience questions in this recap about the best community metrics to track, ways to use AI to enhance community management, and much more.


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