I was digging through some old electronic files this morning and came across an article I wrote that was aimed at small business owners, however I’m not actually sure if it was ever published online anywhere. The file is date stamped from September 2003… which will explain why it doesn’t mention any of the current buzz words. Some of the ideas might be considered common knowledge now, but then again after the recent NAB experience with My Future Bank, you have to wonder! Read through and you’ll find a simple three step model for building trust (Encouraging, Demonstrating and Contributing). Enjoy!
Building a community of customers on-line
What to do once your Web site has been built has been the perennial challenge for e-commerce. Selling on the Web might work for some, but on-line stores aren’t for everyone. In most cases you still need to deliver your product or service in the real world. Meanwhile Web hosting, domain names and graphic design all cost money. Should you just keep your fingers crossed and write your World Wide Web presence off as an advertising expense?
An alternative is to stop thinking about trying to sell on-line and instead to start treating your customers as an on-line community. The potential for Internet communities exists wherever Web users share something in common. What could your customers have in common? Perhaps it’s an everyday business problem, a social issue or a shared leisure activity. For example there is an accounting firm that has created a community around a free on-line footy tipping competition – it has nothing do with the services they sell but it builds goodwill with their clients.
Whatever it is, if the success of your business depends on building trust and recognition with your customers, then tapping into this social capital might help you in terms of the following:
- Becoming your customer’s preferred supplier or service provider;
- Getting additional referrals;
- Building stronger working relationships with your customers; and
- Providing a way of obtaining feedback that can generate new product ideas or sales opportunities.
Don’t use e-mail like a sledgehammer
Unfortunately some businesses that try to build a Web-based customer community take a sledgehammer approach. They gather a subscriber list and then bombard it with e-mails that don’t provide anything of value or interest. Opt-in e-mail marketing is fine if your objective is to advertise, but it is unlikely to build trust or loyalty with your customers.
In an on-line community people will volunteer themselves to be a part of it – there is no need to coerce. The members get something from participation – not the offer of a 10% discount on something they don’t want.
Building trust with an on-line community
It is important to avoid the temptation to rush the process of building trust with an on-line community. These relationships need to be nurtured over time by demonstrating a genuine interest in the community and what the participants hold in common.
Typically this process takes place over three stages:
- Encouraging - Inviting new members to join;
- Demonstrating - Showing commitment to the community’s interests by providing information and resources relevant to them; and
- Contributing – With time your customers begin to reciprocate and will give information and resources back to you and their virtual community.
Do you really want a customer community?
If this sounds like a lot of work, well it is; no one said building an on-line customer community would be easy! However, if you think this idea would benefit your business, make sure you are willing to invest the time and effort required, and make use of the professionals who can help you to build your site, write content and plan the development of your on-line community.
A bad Web site might just waste your money, but a poor attempt at creating an on-line customer community will definitely do your business more harm than good.