This was originally posted on Farland Group’s blog, Voice of the Customer on July 16, 2010.
One of the best blogs on community is Martin Reed’s Community Spark. The blog is good for a few reasons: he has a depth of experience in community building and managing, his blog is educational and prescriptive, and he’s happy to share his expertise. I commented on a post that resonated with me, An open letter to companies planning online communities. In this post, Martin does a great job covering all the points for building a community as well as some of the pitfalls to avoid. Whenever I comment on a post, I always subscribe via email. That way, if the blog writer, or another commenter mentions me and that warrants a response, I can reply.
Even though Martin wrote this particular post in April 2010, 3 months ago, it still receives comments. Just yesterday, Jim added the following comment, “Communities can be a double edge sword, gives a place for customers to complain about your products.” This gave me pause. People will complain about your product whether you have a community or not. If you have products people complain about, they can air their issues on Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, discussion boards, to their friends, to the person next to them on the train, etc. Just ask Apple.
On the other hand, I see two reasons why companies interested in improving their products, services and customer satisfaction should build an online community.
- You don’t have to chase down that complaint. There’s not much a company can do when a complaint is posted on someone’s Facebook wall. If the complaint is in your own community, then you know about it, and if valid, the company can take action internally so there aren’t more complaints like it.
- You have the opportunity to respond to the complaint. If one person is complaining about your product, chances are there are others out there as well. By posting that complaint in your community, it gives you the opportunity to respond with an apology, and allows you to explain how it’s being fixed, or why it’s an issue in the first place.
Now, I know there are sadly plenty of companies out there who know their products aren’t good and there are so many issues to fix, and they don’t want to hear from their customers. I also know there are many who still can’t quite grasp the fact that providing no answer is much worse than telling a customer that the issue is real and the company is working to address it (or can’t fix it and here’s why.) My advice to those folks who want to control the community message but are afraid of negative comments is, focus on your business issues first, then think about starting an online community.
For those who want to improve your products, want to hear what your customers say and want to be able to respond, but are still concerned about negative comments – do it anyway. Prepare yourself by sitting in a room with the customer support folks, the sales folks and others who have direct interaction with the customer and ask them what the complaints are. Write those down, and create real and honest responses to them. While you might not be able to capture all of the expected complaints, you’ll come close. You’ll realize that you can handle the issues and addressing them will benefit your business by making your customers realize you’re listening and responding.
Image used under Creative Commons from ronploof.