Community Platforms and Customer Success: The PB&J of Customer Engagement

February 3, 2021

Marley Wagner

Category: Customer Retention, Customer Success as a Service, Customer Success Maturity, Customer Success Strategy, Customer Success Tools

As technology and tools for Customer Success evolve, pioneers in the industry are testing out new engagement strategies every day. Even though “digital transformation” has become the buzziest of buzz words, it’s still a big deal in the CS world. In the Inaugural Customer Success Leadership Study, we found that many CS teams are still in the early stages of maturity when it comes to their tech stacks. For example, only 15% of Customer Success organizations have implemented tailored dashboards for easy access to vital customer health data. For efficiency and scalability, the ability to automate like this is essential.

A promising trend for customer engagement has come from the community platform space. Traditionally used for Q&A and support, these platforms are quickly pivoting to be the go-to for creating a self-service customer experience. When 72% of U.S. online consumers say they prefer to use a company’s website to get answers to their questions, we know there’s a lot of value in building a reliable one-stop-shop that keeps your customers informed and supported.

The untapped potential of community platforms

Back in 2014, TSIA published a report on Measuring the Success of Customer Communities. They found, overwhelmingly, that activity levels in customer communities were high. Though the idea of using a community platform for CS wasn’t yet fully realized, 73% of technology firms had some sort of online community in place. 66% of members of those communities were customers, and 18% were employees. Partners were not taking advantage of this channel at the time, making up only 3% of community members, even though posting useful information in these forums was an inexpensive way to boost visibility and demonstrate their expertise.

Traditional support organizations were already benefiting from these online customer communities. Customers were resolving 37% of the issues themselves, and more mature communities had 70-80% of answers coming directly from their customers. Clearly, there was an opportunity to expand from strict technical support to a scalable channel for more complete customer engagement.

Fast-forward to 2021. More and more, Customer Success organizations are realizing the potential of these communities, using platforms like inSided, Higher Logic, and others. Because of this rise in popularity, it did surprise us to learn that only 24% of respondents to our Customer Success Leadership Study are utilizing a community tool.

The heart of your Customer Success strategy

There are three major technology categories on the market today that are designed to enable CS organizations to scale and grow: Customer Success software, in-product engagement tools, and community platforms. If you consider that your Customer Success software (like ChurnZero, Gainsight, Totango, Strikedeck, etc.) is the brain of your CS org, think of your community platform as the heart. It’s the central hub for your growing customer base to find answers to their questions, connect with their peers, and access and share deeper knowledge of your product.

This central knowledge base boosts Customer Success efforts by cutting down the need for one-on-one support, giving your team the bandwidth to manage a much greater number of customers while maintaining a strong connection with each and every one. That’s what scaling with digital Customer Success is all about! When Customer Success and community platforms work together, you supercharge the impact of your CS team across your entire customer base.

From onboarding to expansion

The customer journey begins with onboarding. Making a good first impression is one of the central tenants of Customer Success. To do so with a rapidly accelerating base of new customers could mean hiring a lot of CSMs, or you could lean on your community platform to ensure new users are properly onboarded and engaged with your product. Further into the customer journey, these communities help CSMs identify opportunities for cross-sell and up-sell in your flourishing base.

Give me the data!

Community platforms also supply a boatload of valuable data about your customers. Not only will CSMs be able to readily identify opportunities for account expansion, but this data can quickly let them know when customers aren’t happy. By factoring these community interactions into your customer health scores, you can nip churn in the bud. Go a step further and loop in your product team to use this data for continuous product improvement as well.

A foundation for customer loyalty

Of course, you can’t overlook a primary benefit of these tools – support. When customers feel supported by a community, they keep coming back to interact, learn, and, best of all, pay-it-forward, sharing their own experiences for the benefit of others. In the TSIA study I mentioned earlier, the researchers were surprised to discover just how many visitors would regularly return, demonstrating the “stickiness” of these knowledge centers and their potential to encourage customer loyalty in the enterprise technology space. Even back then, 62% of members were unique visitors and they accessed the community, on average, four times a month. Visitors were also spending nearly 30 minutes of browsing time during each session.

Customer Success in the digital world

Community platforms offer a range of opportunities for CS organizations to scale efficiently, and they are just one type of technology tool poised for explosive implementation in the CS world. As one of the biggest CS trends for 2021 and beyond, we aren’t going to stop talking about how much technology empowers Customer Success organizations to scale and grow. But with an almost dizzying array of new CS tools joining the marketplace, it’s difficult to know where to even begin. As a first step, we created the Technology Vendor Selection list of questions to help CS teams choose the right tools for their needs.