Wisdom of Crowds: 4 ways customers can improve your company

The development of a strong relationship between consumers and your company is one of the keys to achieving a good level of customer retention.

Now, with the increasing possibilities offered by digitalisation, it is even possible to make the customer a part of the company, allowing them to play an active role in its activities and build a genuine emotional connection through the four following options:

1. Crowd sourcing

The market has the potential to be a tremendous source of inspiration for organisations, and by appealing to customers for help, it is possible to find new products and implement improvements in your processes that customers will really value.

It is extremely useful for any organisation to be able to test its day-to-day decisions against the opinions of its own customers, and many major brands have developed customer communities for this purpose.

Adidas started “Adidas Insiders” as its customer community in 2012 these people are now a daily source of inspiration for the brand.

Procter & Gamble launched an open innovation website to capitalise on this trend in 2013 and now consumers are completely necessary for both the generation and testing of new ideas.

Customers who take part in these platforms become committed to the brand, strengthening the customer relationship immeasurably.

2. Crowd funding

Many people will know the famous story of the 1988 Jamaican bobsleigh team that qualified for the Winter Olympics for the first time. However, the Jamaicans qualified once again for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, and unfortunately, this time there wasn’t enough money to fund the team’s trip to Russia.

Crowdfunding was the answer, and once they had explained their needs online and launched an appeal, they raised the necessary $80,000 within days, all pledged by complete strangers who were now rooting for the team’s Olympic dream to come true.

Crowdfunding has grown in popularity massively in recent years. Kickstarter, the largest crowdfunding platform, has raised almost £1billion of funding for some 75,000 projects since its launch in 2009. Around 6.5 million people from all around the world have made contributions at some point, 2 million of which invest regularly in innovative new concepts posted on the site.

The concept of turning to ordinary members of the public instead of major investors or venture capitalists has now become a viable and important financial alternative for start-ups.

Aside from the cash-injection, crowdfunding also offers fantastic opportunities to connect the interested segment of the market with individual companies. People have committed themselves financially, and most probably emotionally too, so they will usually follow up ‘their’ projects much more closely and maybe even serve as an army of PR ambassadors.

3. Crowd service

In 2010, the Netherlands arm of T-Mobile found itself in the middle of a PR crisis about its lack of customer orientation as well-known Dutch cabaret artist, Youp Van ’t Hek, publicly took the company to task for the ongoing bad service he had received.

This made T-Mobile concentrate its efforts on the processes involved and has now made considerable progress. Today, 95% of all service queries within T-Mobile are now self-service, and 65% of any remaining questions are largely dealt with via crowd service through its large customer forum.

With some 193,000 users in 2014, the forum enables customers and T-Mobile staff to interact and help each other to improve the company’s service. Whereas previously some 20% of customer questions were received by telephone, self-service and crowd service have reduced this figure to just 1.5%, with customer satisfaction scores standing at more than 8.5 out of 10.

Crowd service offers numerous advantages for almost any company, not least because the cost benefits of crowd service compared to personal service are huge.

A study by McKinsey highlighted that self-service costs stand at around 12% of the costs associated with personal service, while crowd service is as low as 9%.

This is a benefit that some might describe as “return on happiness,” or having more satisfied customers at a lower cost, but perhaps more importantly it adds a valued human aspect to the customer relationship by bringing customers into contact with each other.

4. Crowd commerce

The fourth alternative that can involve the crowd in your business’ activities is creating a marketplace for your customers to actually do business with each other.

Amazon’s site for second-hand goods is an excellent example of doing this effectively. While their core business might be selling new products to people, they recognised that by helping people to sell their second-hand goods to others it would mean that they can buy more new ones from Amazon.

Trends show that customers really like these kinds of marketplaces. AirBnB, Lending Club and eBay are amongst the most well-known, offering easy-to-use digital platforms where ordinary people can sell things to each other.

What is interesting is how, by setting up a marketplace of this kind, companies bring their customers together, which is not only a good thing from an emotional perspective, but can also result in extra business.

Human connections: The ultimate component in a customer relationship

Whether it is in a café or an internet forum, bringing people together who share a common interest always creates a pleasant atmosphere.

Now the number of human interactions in the customer-company relationship is steadily falling across all industries, taking measures to increase the number of customer-to-customer interactions is a great way for a company to boost the human element in its overall customer relationship process, in an efficient and effective manner.

Both crowdfunding and crowd sourcing have the potential to connect consumers and companies in an intense emotional way, as consumers contribute meaningfully to the company through either their help or financial support.

Crowd service and crowd commerce both have the potential to offer added value for consumers by allowing them to give each other additional support or even do business with each other. This strong bond between customers then results in a strong bond with the platform that makes this customer interaction possible.

As a final thought, Twitter and Facebook generate no content of their own, but they occupy an important place in the lives of many people because they bring people together to the benefit of the people concerned. Thinking about how your customers could really create value for each other could be the final step on the road to a fantastic relationship between your customers and your business.

Crowd power

About the author

This article has been written for ByteStart by Prof. Steven Van Belleghem, author of The Conversation Company and The Conversation Manager. His new book, When Digital Becomes Human, will be published by Kogan Page in April 2015. Follow him on twitter @StevenVBe or visit www.stevenvanbelleghem.com.

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