Read on to discover:

  • How communities can drive VoC within your organization
  • The impact potential of customer centricity in decision-making
  • Best practices to loop in stakeholders within your customer community

Online research communities are among the most popular and cost-effective ways for market researchers to capture real-time qualitative customer data. An online research community uses an internet platform to initiate, organize, and collect in-depth qualitative customer insights. Most communities are invite-only, composed of carefully recruited customers and a central community manager who questions and moderates comments.

Pre- and post-pandemic online communities have allowed brands to tap into the inner workings of their customers’ minds, collect feedback, peel back the layers of customer value, and discover micro trends and behavioral shifts that drive strategic business decisions. A recent FC Connect 2021 panel, “Communities for Customer-Centric Organizations,” brought business leaders Amy Brassel, Brand Research Manager at General Motors, Ben Jordan, Associate Director at Clorox, and Laura Muczynski, Account Strategist at Gongos together to discuss how customer-centric organizations can leverage online communities to bring value to customers. Polly Speros of Fuel Cycle moderated the lively discussion detailed below.

What Does Customer Centricity Mean To You?

Ben (Clorox) explains that Clorox has a human-centered mindset when creating products. Customers are the foundation for every business decision Clorox makes. As such, getting to the heart of emotional behaviors and what drives decision-making is crucial to their research and development efforts.

Amy (GM) has similar sentiments, describing how GM puts the customer at the center of everything they do. A significant component of her job is obtaining customer feedback, meeting their needs, pitching new ideas, and making the products better with input. Tapping into OnStar subscribers, Amy and her team talk to members about new ideas and get feedback on improving moving forward. Beyond surveys and other digital tools, GM recruits community members for in-person one-on-ones and focus groups to gain richer insights.

Laura, on the other hand, illustrates Gongo’s multi-dimensional approach to customer-centricity. She explains that Gongos segments online communities by customer groups, i.e. “shoppers,” “end-users,” and anyone else in the value chain that needs their hat in the ring.

How Do You Drive Customer Centric Engagement Within Communities?

During the height of the COVID pandemic, Ben (Clorox) and his team realized how important communities are during uncertain times. Using the latest market research technology like virtual focus groups, virtual one-on-ones, customer diaries, and surveys, Clorox connected with category and lifestyle users to decipher consumer attitudes, motivations, and product use.

Technology has dramatically expanded the ease and usefulness of customer communities, Laura (Gongos) divulges. With the advent of video and image tools within community platforms, members can share their stories without having to type everything out, and stakeholders can view video content, allowing them to feel as if they were in the room with the customers.

How Do You Leverage Customer Voice Within Communities To Tell A Story?

Amy (GM) provided a powerful example of how customer voice can change product development direction. Using Zoom video, Amy and her team had customers test out a new OnStar product in their vehicles and provide real-time feedback on their experiences. Using clips from the usability testing, the research team wove together a story of the frustrations and functionality issues that users experienced. As a direct result of the video story, GM executives changed course to improve the new product based on customer insights. Additionally, customer brainstorming and survey data are compiled to provide a complete picture of GM’s user feedback on specific initiatives, designs, and product features.

Lastly, Ben (Clorox) believes that images and videos are crucial to customer storytelling in the modern era. Customer photos and videos showcasing product problems are valuable to the development team; So valuable, in fact, that the Clorox offices are lined with large TV screens displaying real customer photos and videos.

What Are The Best Practices For Involving Stakeholders In Communities?

Stakeholder support for customer communities is essential, but as Laura (Gongos) explains, their involvement should be controlled productively. Laura’s team hosts “activation” sessions with stakeholders to summarize the insights garnered from their online communities and discuss how they can use the insights to move forward.

Amy echoes Laura’s statements, explaining that her team keeps stakeholders at a healthy distance from the communities to keep community members engaged and ensure that relevant questions are asked. For instance, if an engineer wants to ask a highly technical question, GM’s research team can take that question and tweak it so that the customer can understand and answer appropriately.

How Do You Incentivize Customers To Join Communities?

Although people are naturally reward-driven, Laura (Gongos) shares that most customers join communities for the satisfaction of helping a brand they care about, not monetary incentives. Members value the sense of community involvement they get from being part of a research group, so the relationship is far less transactional than it seems upon first glance.

In addition to community involvement, Ben (Clorox) states that the cachet that comes with being a secret shopper or getting your hands on a product that isn’t on store shelves yet motivates many of their members to engage in their communities.

Customers As Stakeholders

When GM asks customers for feedback on products or services they currently use, customers genuinely feel like stakeholders and thus take their responses very seriously. GM’s members want the brand to create a better product for them, and their feedback reflects that. Ben at Clorox reiterates that sentiment, explaining that long-standing members of Clorox communities frequently get to see their feedback in action, with product launches, further cementing their stakeholder identity. To prevent communities from turning into “one-way conversations,” Laura (Gongos) emphasizes the importance of sharing internal data with customers. Transparency in poll and survey data is an easy way for customers to feel loyal to the process and know where they stack up against other community members. Ultimately, a reciprocal relationship with “share backs” can drive the strength of online communities across all brands.

For more about customer centricity in online communities, listen to the complete FC Connect 2021 panel, “Communities for Customer-Centric Organizations“. If you’re looking to get more information on Voice-of Customer (VoC) programs, watch the webinar, “Untapped Potential: Listening Analytics & VoC in Corporate Strategy”.