5 Benefits to Integrating CRM with Online Customer Communities

In today's world where we often communicate via text, Twitter, and other social media comments, miscommunication seems to be rampant. Be sure your caps lock isn't on, lest you seem angry, and pull out that magnifying glass to confirm your emoji has just the right expression before sending; otherwise, you might find yourself in the middle of a situation ripe with hurt feelings and other unintended consequences.

Fortunately, these unintended consequences with people can often be fixed with a quick phone call. But software systems don't have that option. Clear, direct communication is critical for software systems and for business. Unless your business technologies, including your online community platform and customer relationship management (CRM) system, are talking to one another directly, the information they collect won't reach its potential. Instead, they'll create data silos that fragment your view of customers, making it difficult to achieve maximum customer engagement and ultimately customer satisfaction.

There are serious consequences to these data silos. Integrated software, by contrast, communicates directly with other systems to provide clear, helpful data you can use to improve business results. But according to The Business Impact of Online Communities study, 37 percent of organizations still haven't integrated their online communities and CRM systems. Not only does that create more work for your team and your customers, but worse, it puts your organization at risk. Need convincing? Here are five reasons why you should consider integrating your online community and other systems.

1. Free up Staff Time to Work on Higher-Level Tasks

Manually setting permissions and giving community members access to different areas is labor- and time-intensive. With an integration, your CRM system can automatically set permissions based on purchase history. That will save your staff hours of time.

Automatic permissions also give your customers a smoother experience. They won't stumble around community spaces where they're not allowed to participate or browse discussion forums that aren't relevant to them. Instead, they'll instantly have access to the most valuable content and conversations for their needs.

2. Give the Sales Team a Complete Picture of Your Customers

An active online community includes a bounty of discussions about how customers use your products and services, and often includes discussions related to customer wants and needs. Community managers can also collect activity data on the community pages and resources, such as FAQs, manuals, and webinars, that customers access and download. Tracking can also be expanded to prospects who browse the public sections of your online community and end up moving through the buyers' journey, revealing how their activities and needs shift over time.

When all this information can be funneled into CRM systems, sales teams are in a better position to spot cross-sell and upsell opportunities and craft their sales pitches to prospects in a way that better meets their needs and expectations.

3. Better Prepare Support to Give Excellent Customer Service

In The Business Impacts of Online Community study, customer intimacy was the second most popular item identified as a competitive advantage. Businesses want comprehensive information about their audiences' problems, interests, and priorities from start to finish.

This information is particularly valuable to support teams. When the online community is integrated with CRM, agents on calls with customers can see the discussions in which each caller has participated and what resources they have or have not downloaded. This can help them craft their approaches to resolving tickets. For customers who haven't been active on the community, it's a great opportunity to inform them of the valuable resources available that might help them more quickly troubleshoot and resolve future issues.

4. Put Customers at the Center of Your Customer Strategy

By listening to your customers via your online communities, you can enable them to drive strategic initiatives. Think about aligning all of those discussions of wants and needs in the communities with the different customer segments or verticals in your CRM systems. This information can be a gold mine for product development, for example.

Consider new feature requests. If the discussion of a feature cuts across all customer segments, it's an easy call for a product manager. But if it's clear from the discussions that such a feature is of value only to a particular segment, then the product manager has the opportunity to figure out how to make the feature available to some customers without complicating the interface or adding confusion for other customers or to turn the feature into a valuable upsell opportunity.

5. Broaden and Refine Your Business Goals

As valuable as an online community integrated with CRM can be to sales, support, and product development, it can contribute even more to your organizations. You can track your success by tying community activity and engagement to business results using your integrated data. For example, the data can play a key role in customer success initiatives, providing information and opportunities to help you meet customer satisfaction and renewal rate targets.

You can also see how sales increase as customers participate in discussions and how renewals spike when you offer new webinars in your communities. And you can proactively reach out to customers who are expressing frustration in their discussion posts or who used to be active on the community but have gone silent to make sure you are addressing any problems.

Personalization and better customer service and support are around us every day thanks to data integration. Just think about that recent Amazon or Netflix recommendation. It's time to take steps to bring that kind of insight to your customers. It will free up staff time, increase customer satisfaction, and help you meet your business goals.

Hunter Montgomery is chief marketing officer at Higher Logic.