When I wrote one of my first blogs “The inevitable pain of growing a community”, boy, that did not go unnoticed. I was quite surprised by it. I got comments from all over the place and the general message was one of ‘honestly coming out’ and tell the story as it is. So, the obvious sequel to this story is of course. Why do this? Why do you go thru this ‘inevitable pain” ? Well, to have the “inevitable joy” of successful customers of course. This article has also stood the test of time so here is an updated version.
If you get down to the essence of what a customer needs, it is basically two things: good software and good people. With digital transformation well underway, and 'traditional' companies regularly exploring platform business models and exposing digital services, this is not only true anymore for software product companies. You need to have the right software and you need the right mix of capable persons to make a business difference. Ironically these are two sides of the same coin. The coin being, the collective IP of all of us (your company and her partners and customers; We=you & me, remember?). The solutions we have in our minds translated into strict machine code (software) or ‘less structured’ human code, generally called knowledge. Anybody will assert that it is pretty pointless to ship one without the other. The community plays a vital role in both sides of the coin. Enter the community definition game.
There are a number of – what I call – maturity thinking models that you can adopt in growing a community. I’m skipping ‘doing social media’ as a community strategy. At first there is the “Social Intranet Experiment”. For about a decade, a lot of companies jumped on the “Intranet is not working and costs too much to maintain, let’s go social” bandwagon. You hire a fresh millennial out of school as they know social media and you probably see some results in better communication and hence some ripple effect may even benefit the customer. Trouble is, you are still closed. It is an efficiency driver.
Then we get into the “Keep the analyst happy” model and open up for the analyst to have a checkmark for their next wave or quadrant review. Customers can now truly engage but who is behind the user interface? The next step I see widely used is the “Case deflection model” . You put most of your content out there, make sure search works and see the amount of knowledge related cases drop and the case duration go up because the nobrainers no longer get logged. Now we are getting somewhere. Customers have questions and they get answers. Quick and easy. Still it is again an efficiency driver.
At the B2B software product company I was working at the time, we opted for the next levels but include the previous mentions. We were shooting for 2 things: Better software by having open conversations about what should improve and also opening up the arena for non-employees to contribute with a proper reward model. Better people by designing customer success and determining together with the customers and partners what mix of people we need to be successful across the customer journey and what knowledge is required to make that happen. In doing so we allowed our company to change in a way that will bring a better customer experience for as long as the customer is with us. And boy, that hurts!
Everybody will recognize the question in a job interview: “Where do you think you will be in 5 years’ time?”. For me it is clear. I will be doing things that we haven’t thought of yet but will result from the journey mentioned above. My job did not exist 5 years ago. I expect to be doing something then that doesn’t exist now. I’m really looking forward to that job.