Apr 8, 2020

Read Time 4 min

How Online Communities Create Customer Advocacy and Retention


Online Communities for Customer Advocacy & Retention
This is a guest post by Danielle Juson is a Customer Success Community expert at inSided.

Isn’t it great when you have a customer that not only keeps using your product, but shouts about how great it is too? Your Customer Success team is delighted that your customers are happy, your product team loves that they are building a product worth talking about, and your Sales and Marketing department revels in the fact that your own customers are massively helping them with their day-to-day jobs!

What’s more, your other customers and prospects may even look to advocates for help, advice, and inspiration, increasing the likelihood of them sticking around too. After all, whether you like to admit it or not, customers tend to trust their peers much more than your brand. Given these evident benefits, it’s easy to see why customer advocacy is a hot topic in the SaaS industry at the moment.

Before we go any further, what exactly is customer advocacy?

Put simply, customer advocacy is about providing a product or service of such a high standard that your customers want to spread the word about it. Understandably, advocates are at the core of your customer base—not just those repeat buyers, but those who rave about your product day in, day out. They are the lifeblood of your brand. As the subscription economy grows and more and more products and services are relying on monthly or yearly subscriptions, customers can pick up or drop your product at any time. This places even more pressure on SaaS companies to retain their current customers and provide a product that delights users, and dramatically increases the need to build an army of customer advocates!

Not only is advocacy a boon for your overall retention rates, but as Marketing Insider Group puts it, it can also be your “secret marketing weapon.”

So how best do you go about developing customer advocacy in your organization?

Creating customer advocates starts with building a customer-centric product that is laser-focused on both the customers’ needs and the customer experience. Once you have this ingrained in your company culture, you are already on your way to creating customer advocates.

Of course, making sure that your customer is at the heart of everything you do in SaaS is much easier said than done. Here are a few of the most effective ways of increasing customer advocacy:

Nail onboarding

Make a great first impression from the start. When customers are able to easily get up-to-speed with your product and quickly have it become an integral part of their day-to-day workflow, you naturally create stickiness and an increasing reliance on the software. Consider building an onboarding journey in your Customer Success platform as well as incorporating an onboarding flow into a community-driven knowledge base.

Speak to your customers—regularly

This means face-to-face too, where possible. We strongly recommend that all teams get involved in customer communications, but of course it’s absolutely vital that your Customer Success team is proactively liaising with customers at all times, to identify potential areas that may cause issues with customer success, satisfaction, or happiness and therefore negatively impact advocacy.

Explain not only what you are doing, but why

When it comes to product development, weighing customer ideas and feature requests against your own vision and priorities on the roadmap is always a delicate balancing act. We’ve found that the key lies in ensuring transparency around your roadmap—communicating to your customers why you’re making certain decisions and focusing on particular areas (or not) helps them understand the bigger picture around the future of your product, and become more invested in it.

Community as an advocacy strategy

B2B buyers increasingly base their purchase decision on peer recommendations. Take review sites such as G2 and Capterra, for instance. These have become a non-negotiable step in the initial vendor consideration stage, because buyers want to understand the business value their peers are getting out of tools they may be considering—as well as, of course, more detailed insights around available features, ease of use, and pricing.

But having your own customer community—a space that’s managed by your business itself but predominantly populated by your users—you build a tight community of advocates, as well as transparency around your product experience.

The joy of utilizing an online community to help drive advocacy is that, unlike with a typical advocacy program, “value creation moves multi-directionally”. In English?! This means that unlike a one-way ask (brand/company derives value from advocates, with no real value returned), a community is truly about providing value to users—in fact, this is generally the main goal and outcome. That the company or brand in question then also derives values from this community of advocates is a natural, organic, and non-forced secondary result, and one that is much more authentic than the average pushy advocacy program.

An online community allows you to:

  • Stimulate multi-way communication between, and amongst, your company and your users
  • Explain and discuss product developments, releases, and decisions
  • Gather and prioritize product feedback all in one place
  • Create closed beta groups with select users for testing and feedback—fostering a sense of inclusion and significance.
  • Address customer concerns head on, offering transparency and the opportunity to build trust
  • Engage customers with rewards, badges, and gamification features

Communities also achieve amazing SEO results, which adds another string to your “using customer advocates as a marketing strategy” bow. Prospects doing their research are highly likely to come across your community if it’s active enough. Here’s a guide to help you make sure that’s the case.

Ultimately, if you’re looking to reduce churn and increase retention rates—and let’s face it, which SaaS company is not focused on these metrics?—developing customer advocacy is a must. When you’ve built a community of users that are invested in your product, you reduce churn and see better retention rates, you make overall Customer Success initiatives simpler and more streamlined, and you continue to build even more effective features and functionality for your product that will ensure your success well into the future. Who doesn’t want a piece of that?!

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