Tips for Jump-Starting Online Communities

Winning a software deal used to be considered the end of the funnel, according to the "won and done" approach for enterprises. That doesn't fly anymore. If you want your organization to experience the benefits of the high-speed growth necessary for success in today's world of enterprise tech, you have to invest in the teams and resources that are going to get you there. Otherwise, your customers have a wealth of options, allowing your competitors to gain from your fallout.

Alongside the explosion of B2B SaaS, many companies are placing a greater emphasis on the value customers extract from their products and services. Value doesn't come down to landing the most one-time revenue anymore, but rather working with customers to genuinely solve their business problems. While customer success (CS) has a foundation in customer support, it fundamentally must acknowledge the bigger picture of where the business is heading. In other words, companies need to pair the spotlight on CS with a laser focus on customer engagement, which entails genuine, personalized interactions between businesses and their end-users.

Why do companies need to marry CS and customer engagement? Because it breeds long-term customer loyalty and retention, which is exactly what we're all after. To get there, though, businesses must look outward to source the right customer-focused technology stack.

This is where artificial intelligence comes into play. Embracing more than the conversations, the technology empowers us to focus on complete context. We can derive patterns of how people discover information and how likely they are able to discover it. This creates an entirely new model where demand is met by prediction rather than by immediate preferences. The contextual framework unleashed by AI allows users to engage and support the broader community. An engaged community does more than support the CS experience, it defines it.

Engagement-focused software solutions, like online community and marketing automation platforms, can work together to effectively bolster CS strategy. Using these tools can help organizations connect with their customers in a meaningful way, unleashing the opportunity to provide an experience that goes beyond a product. I think of this as tech with purpose: giving organizations the tools they need to form genuine relationships with their users.

After all, you aren't just supposed to be there for your customers when they reach out with a concern for support, or when they start their experience with your organization. Anticipate their needs and point out how your solutions can meet them. Engagement tools empower organizations to extract valuable customer behavior data to help better understand their expectations and inform CS strategy decisions moving forward.

With a SaaS business model, you have to continuously earn your customers' dollars. Investing in these types of tools ensures that you can address their needs and problems as issues arise, in real time. This will help you refine your own strategy while maintaining their ultimate satisfaction.

Online communities drive success for your customers and your business.

Customer feedback is a powerful business driver in terms of your CS strategy. Don't be afraid to seek it! By providing a venue to address both positive and negative feedback in a controlled space where customers feel heard, you can demonstrate value and build relationships. An online community can improve customer loyalty, give a jolt to new business, minimize customer churn, and more.

So, check in with your customers. Listen to their needs. An online community is a great method for monitoring customer interactions and behaviors and bringing your customers together to network, problem-solve, and create the experiences they value.

The proliferation of B2B software companies has, along with it, given rise to the importance of customer engagement and success, and rightly so. Online communities can create huge in-roads for businesses to source product improvements, monitor genuine sentiment, and ultimately gauge the success of the company. Automation within these communities will be the turning point for business intelligence results.

James Willey is chief product officer at Higher Logic. He has more than 25 years of experience leading enterprise product portfolios. Previously, he was senior vice president of global product strategy at Ellucian and held product marketing and product management leadership roles at Infor, MAPICS, and Symix.