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#5.18: The “Connect With Communities” Issue

Online communities are an easy-to-implement way to connect with customers, lower costs, and build loyalty.

1> Communities Save Support Costs
2> Cultivate Customer Heroes
3> Sell Tastefully
4> Start Today – It’s Easy

1> Communities Save Support Costs

Want to cut your support costs in half? Let your customers find answers to their problems on your message board. Every time they take care of themselves, you save the cost of a support call. To make this work, you need to make sure that there are real answers posted. Put all of your internal support documents on the message board. Encourage your staff to log in and provide answers to questions. Take the time to sort and edit posts so that answers to common questions can be easily found. Invest a little work and you’ll be building an asset that is a non-stop satisfaction machine.

The Lesson: What would it do to your bottom line if 1,000 people never called for tech support?

2> Cultivate Customer Heroes

The real energy of an active discussion comes from self-appointed customers who volunteer their time. True enthusiasts will answer other customers’ questions, maintain a civil conversation, and spend hours each week doing the work of your paid staff. You need to encourage and motivate these people. Don’t offer money — it usually backfires. True enthusiasts will be insulted. They are doing it for love of your product — and for the recognition. Reward them with status. Make them official moderators, put a special logo next to their name, and shower them with t-shirts and free samples. These people rise from occasional chatterers to become your best support staff.

The Lesson: Volunteers shine when you shower them with praise and recognition.

3> Sell Tastefully

To be clear: You’ll screw up your customer relationships if you sell aggressively in an online community. With that said, there are tasteful ways to connect your online discussion with your online store. You can create topics specifically about product lines, where discussion of the product is expected and accepted. You can tastefully post links to products that solve a problem being discussed. has discussion forums for guitar fans, which often discuss how a particular sound effect is created. Readers appreciate specific recommendations for necessary gear, and follow up on the links.

The Lesson: Context counts. You’ll drive sales if you can include links that make sense in a discussion.

4> Start Today – It’s Easy

Don’t let your I.T. department lie to you — setting up an online discussion forum is easy, fast, and often free. Dozens of high-quality, well-tested shareware programs can be downloaded for free. You can use a pre-existing community (like that will host your discussions — and give you a pre-existing network of users. Or you can use a low-cost, fully hosted service (like Invision Power Board). You’ll be surprised at how many big-name software companies are running their entire knowledge base off of a hosted $10/month service.

The Lesson: Just do it. It’s no big deal.

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