Online customer community panels have moved from an emerging technology to the mainstream. And yet, despite this, they are still not fully embraced for the rich source of insight that they are. Many still see the naturally-forming online communities, such as those on Facebook and other social media platforms, as being sufficient for obtaining customer views and opinions. Since these sources are seen as free, many brands are even using these pre-existing communities to test propositions and collect results on which they make important decisions.
Other brands simply send the occasional survey to their customer database in order to gauge opinion. Both of these approaches have limitations which are not fully recognised, but this is where online customer community panels can help.
Introducing Customer Community Panels
Gathering information on social media can be problematic for a number of reasons; the most prominent of which, is that the respondents on this platform are a self-selecting group and they typically only voice their opinions if they have encountered an issue. Through this, customers often see social media as a way to get in contact with a brand without going through the traditional customer service channels. In regards to the stand-alone survey approach, the interactions gleaned from that are typically one-offs, the responses will be minimal, and there is only a low chance of follow up interactions for more information as there is a distinct lack of motivation on the customers’ end.
All brands have the opportunity to create, manage and fully utilise a customer community panel which provides the most agile research solution enabling more fact-based decision making on topics quicker and more cost-effectively than ever before. The brands that embrace this solution are able to compete more effectively, as their decision making is grounded in customer feedback sourced from a well-thought out community panel asset that is managed professionally to obtain insights.
There is also the compelling benefit of building and enhancing brand loyalty through these dedicated research communities, both by making decisions rooted in feedback from current customers, but also due to the sheer fact that the brand is seen as listening to its customers even if every customer doesn’t necessarily agree or benefit with a decision that is made. The larger the community panel, the more questions that can be answered across more topics and more customer segments. Also, there is a greater potential for positive impacts on brand loyalty, as after all these customers will know that the brand cares enough to recruit them into an online platform so that their opinions can be considered continuously, rather than only being asked for their input occasionally.
So why the resistance? What are the obstacles brands face in making the investment? Obstacles that are typically relatively small when compared with the importance and impact of making the right (or wrong) decisions. Is it budget? The insights function? Senior management? Is it the belief that there is so much data already in existence, how can a brand possibly manage to make use of the results of any additional data sources?
The truth is that it is probably a bit of all of those reasons, depending on the company. Brands continually face challenges with their budgets, which typically results in market research/insights functions being depleted generally across most companies, and that is if they even have or had an insights function to begin with! But, customer community panels such as our own at FlexMR, can act as host platforms for continual impactful research, that provides tangible return on research investment in order to justify the decision to invest.
Enhanced Brand Loyalty through Participant Consideration
A community panel is an entity comprised of customers who have agreed to join and participate in market research on a continual basis, and a platform for those customers to complete any research tasks a brand may create to gain more data and insights. The specific composition is completely up to the insight team managing the panel, as invitations can be selective and the composition should be closely monitored to ensure that it represents the customer-base fully and is proportioned accurately.
The types of research activities can include a quick poll, which is just a closed question where the overall result is shared immediately with the customer who has answered the question, or a dedicated forum where participants are able to express their opinion on a specific topic or question, and see and react to the opinions of others. There are also more involved research activities such as the traditional survey, or a live chat or question board-type focus group where many questions are posed and customers have the opportunity to engage with the moderator and others over a pre-specified, agreeable, amount of time. Online community platforms, such as our own InsightHub, sometimes also provide access to a range of creative qualitative research methods such as smartboards, diaries and scrapbooks, which are used with these customers in order to elicit their feedback quickly, engagingly, and cost effectively. We find that this variety of research topics and methods makes the experience more interesting and engaging for customers, thus creating a positive experience with the brand furthering the chance of strong brand loyalty through this built-up personal connection.
All of these activities can be set-up and fielded quickly, and those customers who are invited to participate in each activity will pre-screened, qualified, and segmented to ensure they are the right participant for the tasks required. Multiple activities can occur within the community panel simultaneously with only certain segments participating in their designated activities relevant to them, so the productivity and production of insights within a customer community panel solution is practically unlimited.
This approach also means that customers are respected for their time, mainly by not re-asking questions and only inviting them to those research activities that are relevant to them. Everything that is learned about the customer over time is stored within the community panel database and is then used to ensure that the experience is as respectful and professional as possible, thus further enhancing brand loyalty through this consideration of the research participants.
Enhanced Brand Loyalty though Customer Insights
Simultaneously running in conjunction with and because of the consideration of the participant experience, the insights gained from the research activities are likely to be accurate, detailed, actionable, and thus, incredibly valuable. As said above, creating research experiences with the participant in mind will allow those experiences to relevant and enjoyable for the participant; thus, they will spend more time answering a brand’s questions, discussing their answers with other participants, and generally spend more time helping the brand gain insights into customer activities and anxieties.
Due to the consideration afforded to the participant experience through customer community panels, the insights gained are likely to be accurate and detailed, and thus, incredibly valuable to building brand loyalty.
These insights also contain information on customer behaviours and perceptions. These insights can then be used to better understand how a brand’s customers perceive the notion of loyalty, and specifically, what it takes to encourage them to dedicate their loyalty to a brand. Once these insights are gained, they can be incorporated into brand processes, used to update policies, and actioned upon within marketing campaigns to enhance a brand’s image as worthy of their customers’ loyalties.
Customer community panels remain a secret to building brand loyalty, largely because relatively few brands are taking advantage of this valuable research opportunity. There are so many ways in which a brand can implement this type solution, as platforms can enable a brand’s own staff to do the research themselves or that brand can rely on the supplier to provide whatever level of professional services are required.
Some suppliers can flex their services in order to accommodate the brand at the initial stage and then this level of service can adjust as a brand becomes more comfortable in using the tools and running their community panel and research activities themselves. With this flexibility in approach and increased importance on protecting and growing relationships with customers, now is the time for more brands to take advantage of this loyalty driver.
The original version of this article appeared on the FlexMR Insight Blog and can be accessed here.