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How online communities help improve your customer experience

Mario Bello
Mario Bello
September 9, 2022
Mario Bello
September 9, 2022

The competition in the app market has become more challenging than ever. Every brand needs to gain an edge over its competitors and, with 9 out of 10 businesses primarily competing on customer experience (CX), this is where the race is at its tightest.

The customers’ voices are clear: 74% report a higher chance of switching brands if the CX isn’t up to standard, and 86% report that they are willing to spend more on solutions that deliver a better experience. 

That’s the value of CX: it can make or break your growth strategy.

Following the pandemic, up to a third of companies that previously didn’t pay attention to customer satisfaction are planning to increase their spending on CX design. With the numbers signaling user experience to be a priority, it’s a crucial time to get started to stay ahead of the curve.

A company that capitalizes on trends by making the first move will always be at an advantage in competitive spaces—and we can say the same about CX. When a customer feels a brand cares about their experience with the offered products and services, they’re much more likely to remain loyal.

Humanized business: A sanctuary for customers

Automation, streamlining, and efficiency have been buzzwords integrated into business models since the mid-2010s. They may help to reduce the need for hands-on operations, but they came at a cost—loss of the human touch.

As companies increase productivity with technology, there’s a certain point where services start to suffer: when people can no longer connect with people. Think about it: how many times have you tried to get in touch with a support agent, only to sift through a seemingly endless chatbot menu?

Not many people walk away with a positive impression of impersonal businesses, especially when there are better alternatives available. Implementing a human touch in your business means putting your customers’ needs at the forefront of every decision made for your brand.

Customer psychology plays a fundamental role in the success of a company. It should be thoroughly considered when your product directly ties into the time and attention customers offer, such as an app. Despite its importance, customer psychology often isn’t given the consideration it’s due. Proper implementation can be an opportunity to growth-hack your way into a market that still lacks empathy toward customers.

What is customer experience?

In simple terms, CX is the customers’ perception of a company throughout the customer journey. Every part of your business—from marketing materials to customer service—plays a part in building perception. When you are able to deliver a great experience, customers associate positive memories and feelings with your brand.

The overall impressions customers have towards your business leave a lasting impact. Positive experiences lead to loyalty, which acts as a foundation for long-term growth. It’s important to note that the opposite is also true, as brands that leave a poor impression will struggle to get recurring purchases from customers.

Another thing to consider is that strong emotions generate word-of-mouth, both in good and bad ways. When customers are very satisfied with your business, they are likely to recommend it to their friends and family, which creates a cycle of free, high-conversion marketing. On the other hand, one bad review from a trusted friend could mean the loss of business from their entire social circle.

A strong community is at the heart of successful brands

As important as the app features and customer service training may be, one of the most powerful (and often underutilized) tools for improving CX is a vibrant brand community

Humans are social creatures, and we crave that sense of connection with other people for many reasons. A strong online community of users can satisfy this innate need, as people can come together and discuss their interests on a common topic.

CX is comprised of two main touch-points: people and products. An online community of loyal customers is the perfect place for these two things to naturally meet. These are the customers who know your products and have had first-hand experience with them. As a result, they’re where new customers come to learn about the product and engage with others who understand the context.

Online communities also provide a place for users to express themselves. They can review the app with one another, sharing ideas on how to improve the overall experience with the app. When properly implemented, branded communities can lead to major, steady growth with relatively little investment.

Social elements as the cornerstones for customer experience

We’ve established that a strong online community is crucial to customer experience. But how do you actually build this into a digital product?

Social features are the tools that enable conversation and community building. There are many different features that you can consider, from live chats and community blogs to user forums. 

Community-building features are key for any engagement-driven app, as they act as brand-customer points of contact. That said, building a strong community isn’t necessarily about integrating as many social features as possible. Rather, it’s about understanding what your users benefit from the most.

Real apps that spark growth through community

The very first step to sparking growth with social features is understanding what your user base needs in a community. You will need to conduct research into the pain points of your target audience to pinpoint what solutions you can offer.

Here are some examples of how online communities enhance the customer experience in real-life apps:

HelloTalk: Language learning

HelloTalk is a language learning app focused on conversations with native speakers. As a result, the community is built-in.

The most difficult part of learning a language is the sense of helplessness when your progress starts to plateau and self-practice seems to be getting you nowhere. Having real people to practice with makes it much more enjoyable. Learners also get quick feedback on mistakes and grow familiar with colloquial terms they may not learn in a textbook.

HelloTalk allows members to converse one-on-one and in groups. They can also share experiences and learning milestones in activity feeds, gaining knowledge and feedback from people at a higher level of fluency.

The gamification aspect of matching to find native speakers to talk to also increases stickiness and builds community through individual bonds.

Sephora: Online shopping

Sephora’s community is where beauty lovers come together to talk about makeup, recommend products, and just share experiences with each other. 

Community members can add friends and join groups based on their interests. Photo-sharing is a primary capability, since visual content is used to add context to posts. 

With over 5 million members, Sephora’s community is extremely active. Users can earn special ranking badges by engaging more frequently—publishing posts, reacting to user-generated content, and contributing photos and reviews. 

Incentivizing engagement is a major part of Sephora’s community building plan and has resulted in a vibrant Insider Community that supports and engages with each other.

Strava: Social running and cycling 

Strava is a household name among runners and cyclists. Like HelloTalk, the community is built into the product and users share their progress with their network. Members use the activity feed to give kudos and encourage one another along their journey. 

Beyond individual usage, Strava offers the ability to join Leaderboards, participate in discussion forums, and even host Club events. These enhance the social aspect of fitness and attract new members who want to run with their friends. 

Community features seem to take the stage, and integrations with a wide range of tracking devices make this app the go-to for athlete social networking. Since a big portion of the community is devoted to their sport, engagement is a natural byproduct. Strava users are passionate about fitness, and when on the app, they are surrounded by voices that are just as enthusiastic about the sport. 

Creating an exceptional customer experience helps expand its user base through word-of-mouth. This has likely been the driver of Strava’s growth, as fitness is a long-term investment and one of the best ways to bring people together.

Building success through community-led growth

A human touch doesn’t always have to mean having your customer service team talking to users all the time. It can stem from a UI design flow empathetic to customers’ concerns.

Creating a symbiotic relationship between businesses and users is the key to growth hacking. You have to provide something of value for the public for them to proactively engage. 

Providing a space for users where they are surrounded by like-minded people is key to community. Being around those to whom you relate builds a sense of belonging and fosters brand loyalty.

When people start to feel comfortable in a community space you’ve built for them, they are more likely to stick around. This means more brand engagement, higher conversions, sustainable growth, and increased revenue.

Community is an investment that feeds itself, as the larger the user base grows, the more people it attracts. This overall feedback loop is primarily the result of a well-executed CX strategy, and an online community is at the heart of it all!

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