Why customers are now your brand's best salespeople

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The consumer landscape has changed considerably in recent years, with customer expectations reaching unprecedented heights, pushed along by the uptake of social media.

Businesses and consumers alike have acknowledged this shift. Survey results released last week revealed that 82 per cent of U.S business leaders believe customers have higher expectations compared to three years ago – with 60 per cent admitting to facing difficulties pleasing their customers. Similarly, a 2014 study showed that 87 per cent of customers have requested help online, with 66 per cent expecting a same-day response to their online request.

This trend shows no signs of abating, with increasing social media uptake and non-traditional web-based apps continuing to bolster the standards of customer service and choice.

More and more customers are using digital channels to find and share information, and to produce their own reviews, recommendations and tips. This rapid growth in user-generated content has elevated the customer’s position as a brand’s most powerful advocate and critic.

The evolution of this “new digital consumer” has necessitated a rethink of the way that brands market and tap into social customer service channels. All businesses are being forced to innovate and adapt their online strategies to keep customers happy, deliver real-time service and cultivate brand loyalty.  

Customer-centric tactics are key

With consumer expectations and influence rising, it makes sense for businesses to put customers at the centre of their approach. But how can brands achieve this in ways that are both effective and efficient?

Online communities have become a particularly integral tool and resource for both customer service reps and marketers. A study by Millward Brown Digital showed that customer communities drive almost 12 times more same-session revenue than other social channels including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube and Google+ combined. This is an alarming discrepancy when one considers how much time and resources most businesses today put into these social platforms.

The same survey found that customers who interact with brands through online communities experience greater levels of brand engagement, loyalty and satisfaction. In fact, stats showed that online communities lifted a brand’s Net Promoter Score (NPS) – which measures a customer’s willingness to recommend a company’s product or services – by almost 70 per cent.

But it’s not just brand loyalty and recognition that stands to benefit – it’s sales as well. Sony recently released data showing how its online PlayStation Europe Community is fostering deeper customer engagement and driving online sales.

The PlayStation Community has more than three million unique monthly visitors and acts as digital destination for gamers to connect and share experiences, as well as exchange ideas and communicate with customer service.

Sony examined the top members in this community and found that 82 per cent made purchases from the online Playstation Store. This shows the potential for online communities to function simultaneously as both customer service channels and viable marketing channels for sales growth.

Vodafone UK has employed similar tactics to great effect. The company recently revealed that it has been using gamification in its Vodafone UK eForum to improve online engagement and sales. Results followed in the last financial year, with an average of 800 customers a month visiting Vodafone’s online community on their way to the checkout.

The selling power of social communities

To maximise the selling potential of online communities, businesses need to recognise that consumers are now the most powerful driver in their sales funnel.

The Millward Brown Digital survey showed that online communities impacted more than US$500 million sales over a yearly period, as well as driving 65 per cent of all e-commerce sales. This equated to 7.8 more shoppers than other social channels and 11.8 times more sales than other social channels.

This is not a ‘flash-in-the-pan’ tactic, however, with online communities having the ability to influence consumers over a much longer time-period than some might expect. Statistics show that sales conversion increases by approximately 50 per cent after a visit to an online community, and that 79 per cent of visitors intend to make repeat purchases from the company they’ve engaged with via the community. 

Online communities can be a game-changer for businesses, enabling them to build closer connections with customers and influencers who now demand, and matter, more than ever before. The key to unlocking this potential lies in providing consumers with rich content and peer recommendations – to not only boost brand engagement and loyalty, but to turn customers into their most effective salespeople.

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