Building Customer Communities Requires Balance

Community_Management_Balance_COM

While recently reading a post entitled “Social Selling Beats the Collector Every Time”, I began thinking about a former position I held as a Credit Manager, and how the practices I employed then are very similar to those being used to build successful customer communities today.

The company I was employed by provided parts and repairs for multi-axle vehicles and heavy equipment via eight branches statewide. When I was brought on board as the Credit Manager, my main objective was to reduce their over 90 day delinquencies which at the time represented 30% of their outstanding receivables. They wanted the monies collected and terms tightened, while attempting to retain the customer’s future business whenever possible.

I knew that meeting these goals and objectives was going to require a balance of various strategies. A rigid, singular, “pay up or else” approach may have collected the receivables, but it would not have met the objective of customer retention and could have been potentially damaging to the company’s reputation in the marketplace.

Below are some of the practices that I feel not only enabled me to successfully reduce the over 90 day delinquencies by 20% in one year, but also were instrumental in preserving the loyalty of those accounts, even if it meant doing business on a C.O.D. only basis.

  • Emotional Intelligence & Curiosity - My customers were hard working people, trying to make a living & build a name for themselves. I respected that, and could relate on an emotional and business level. I listened to their suggestions, concerns and struggles so I could understand their businesses and individual situations.
  • Product KnowledgeI gained working knowledge of my company’s products & services, as well as the business climate for that industry.
  • ApproachabilityMy customers knew they could pick up the phone or come upstairs to my office anytime and talk to me about their accounts, their families, or the weather.
  • CreativityWith the knowledge and understanding of their business needs and obstacles, I was able to come up with creative ways to assist them with getting the services they needed from my company while reaching payment arrangements amicable to both parties.

My role at this company was a pivotal one, much like that of an online or offline community manager. My primary function was to “sell” the customer on the idea of paying their account on time or bringing it out of arrears. I frequently assumed the role of customer service agent, at times advocating on behalf of the company and other times on behalf of the customer depending on the issue. Taking the time to foster healthy relationships within the customer community helped to build trust. The company’s commitment to providing quality work and their concern over satisfaction and retention, earned them a loyal, repeat customer base.

Progressive companies understand that today’s technologies allow them to connect with consumers like never before. Zappos, Tom’s Shoes and Whole Foods, are excellent examples of retailers who listen, experiment, adapt, and successfully leverage the power of social media. They have found the “balance” needed to build large, loyal and influential customer communities. Spend some time observing them and you will see that their strategies include many of the practices I outlined above. They make community participation an inviting, informative, fun and enriching experience, and by doing so bring value to their brand and customers to their stores.


As always, I would love to hear from you. What other practices have you implemented in your role as community manager? What other companies can we watch who are masterfully building and managing customer communities?

Related post: Understanding Online Community Management


Quality vs. Quantity: Which is Better?

Quality_vs_Quantity

“Quality is more important than quantity. One home run is much better than two doubles.” ~Steve Jobs

If you are active in any of the social communities, even just casually, you have probably been bombarded with “suggestions” of ways to increase your twitter following or number of blog hits. While your first inclination may be to think that more is better, ask yourself just who exactly is making up these numbers.

Mass marketing is great if you are Coca-Cola or Skittles and your demographic is well, everyone. Considering that of the 6 million firms in the U.S. with employees, 90% of these employ 20 people or less, your advertising needs to be more targeted towards an audience that is receptive to what you have to offer.

If we examine the trends and educated forecasts, the face of customer interaction is changing forever, and leading the way is social media. Your customers are active in social communities and you need to be prepared to meet them where they’re at. Consumers want to be able to engage in conversation, and they want to know they are being heard. When posting to your business blog, focus on content, not frequency. Is the material relevant to the audience you are targeting? Will it educate or enlighten the reader? Does it forward the goals of you or your company?

Establishing yourself as a reputable brand requires patience and persistence. Listen to what your customers and would-be customers are saying and provide them with value. Consistent, targeted efforts will yield a manageable growth of people who are interested in your service or product. If you focus on the quality, the quantity will follow.

If time is a hindrance to your making this type of commitment, consider retaining the services of a social media manager who will embrace your objectives and interact responsibly on your behalf.

We are always interested in your thoughts and experiences. If you have a strategy that our readers could benefit from, we invite you to please contribute.

Bringing Traffic Back to Small Town America – Virtually

Downtown_Bangor_retail_district

Downtown_Bangor_retail_district

Growing up, the hub of shopping and social activity was the downtown section of the small city near where I live. This area suffered a major setback when the first mall was built, forcing many to either relocate to this new regional shopping area, or close their doors entirely. While we did see some rebounding, tough economic times have again befallen many main streets in small town America.

As national chains and an unstable economy threaten the livelihood of these smaller, independent establishments, how can they compete? The answer is social media – the digital equivalent of word-of-mouth advertising, and the very way many of these businesses were built to begin with.

So much coverage is given to large nationwide and worldwide companies and the creative ways they are using social media, that many small businesses don’t think it is something for them. In my opinion, social media marketing is a tailor made solution for the sole proprietor and small to mid-sized company. The very viral nature of it can literally bring virtual foot traffic to their doors. Let’s look at an example of how social media can increase brand awareness and your customer base.

A small inn on the coast of Maine sets up a blog wherein they provide interesting content about the ocean, its creatures, how to eat a lobster, recipes, wholesome family activities to be found nearby and breathtaking pictures of Acadia National Park. They then set up a twitter account and search for people who mention Maine, New England, lobster, hiking, summer vacation, etc., and they begin interacting with these people and listening to what it is they want. The innkeeper, from a place of sincerity, then provides potentially helpful solutions and resources. Suddenly, Maine is a definite for the family vacation spot this year, and what better place to stay then at the inn run by a newly found friend. The satisfied vacationers tweet and blog about the great place they just stayed, its owners and the area, and almost instantaneously this referral hits the desktops, laptops and mobile devices of millions of people worldwide.

I had another experience last weekend while perusing the artisan tents at a local festival. I began asking the vendors some general questions such as: How are you? Has this been a good show for you? How has your year been? The most common response among them was they had to travel to a lot more shows to sustain themselves in this economy. A particular vendor, one who makes exquisite hand blown glass pendants, told me that time not spent crafting was spent traveling. When I asked about a website, he replied “hope to have one by the end of the year”, which basically meant to me that if I wanted to show someone else his work, or buy something myself, I was going to have to find him at another show. I asked him if he had thought about setting up a business blog and promoting it through the various social media networks. His knowledge was vague, his interest high, and once again, time a real issue.

People like the innkeeper and the glass artist represent the heart and soul of the entrepreneurial spirit to me. They are the very reason I started Creative Options Media, and the demographic I feel can benefit the most from my services. I am one of them, and no matter where I go, my heart will always be with small town America.

If you can see yourself in either of the examples above, I would love to hear from you. Let’s discuss your vision and goals for your business and family, and customize a social media strategy that will help you meet them.

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Photo of Downtown Bangor, Maine Retail District by Kenton Williams


Social Media Popularity Outside The U.S.

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COM_European_social_media

We hear lots of buzz about what U.S. companies and marketers are doing through the various social networks. European brands, while not yet as active, are experimenting with social media in some very fun and creative ways.

Corporations such as Cadbury and Vodafone created interactive games and contests, where clues were delivered via Twitter, Facebook or YouTube. German automaker Volkswagen and Switzerland’s Nestlé are engaging consumers by asking questions through banner ads, and inviting them to reply via Twitter.

European companies are quickly recognizing the viral power of engaging customers through the various social media applications. It is proving to be an inexpensive way to build awareness for their brand and an effective form of advertising.

For more information about the fun online environments these companies are creating, please refer to the complete article by Kerry Capell, as posted on BusinessWeek.com.

You can find it here.

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Photo of Prague, Czech Republic provided courtesy of Robyn A. Marquis


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