Why Customers Turn to Each Other for Help

Community Building on the Web

Do you still rely on company Websites when you need more than the information about a program a company is running? Say you want to do something with it and before you make the final decision, you want to be able to see a couple of steps ahead:

  • will this be a tricky process that will require time on your end?
  • is there a catch? Did you miss some of the fine print?
  • is this one of those where you hardly ever get to use points for what you want to do?

And many more questions along the same lines. When your friends are not talking about a program, you do look at it with more scrutiny, regardless of whether the program sounds good or indifferent to you. You're all familiar with the crowded restaurant or coffee shop metaphor.

This is a question of content — for example, is it clear what the steps are in the process? What can someone expect if they do what you ask them to do? And of presentation. How you present information allows you to attract or repell readers — for example, is site navigation intuitive? Will the browser lock for longer than ten seconds? Is there visual transparency and feedback that tells people where they are in the process?

Just like your customers don't have the time to get on a phone loop with your 800-number anymore, they are unwilling to embark on a Website browsing to nowhere fast — so much to do, so little time. And one more thought: people are increasingly sophisticated about seeing through marketing spin.

Too many burned bridges between the allure of a reward and the harsh reality of lack of true commitment to customer loyalty by businesses have raised the bar on the promise. Customer lifetime value is a two-way street.

A deeper reason why customers turn to each other

There is, however, a deeper reason why your customers turn to each other — and that is that they get an immediate focused reply instead of having to wade through clumsy content on your site [hat tip: Bernd Nurnberger]. It also means they have the feeling that peers are in it to help, while the business purely for profit [contribution: Brian Driggs].

The immediate, focused reply should not be that hard to replicate if an organization is monitoring online conversations and listening. Listening is so much more than monitoring. Among the advantages of listening is the ability to help people with shared interests collaborate and connect — even based upon their desire to turn to each other for help and support.

Abraham Maslow believed that people are motivated by the urge to satisfy needs ranging from basic survival to self-fulfillment. He found that people don't fill the higher-level needs until the lower-level ones are satisfied. In the book Community Building on the Web (Amazon affiliate link), Amy Jo Kim uses Maslow hierarchy to clarify the goals and needs of online community participants.

In support situations, people already have an articulated purpose, which is why they are inclined to look to each other more strongly for that response and answer. How can you change the customer experience so that your business is part of the positive conversation and solution?


Additional resources:

The Case for Customer Communities

Why Customer Communities Work


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0 responses to “Why Customers Turn to Each Other for Help”

  1. Another example of why customers turn to each other? When the brand/company simply *can’t* give them the answers they are looking for.
    The perfect example: DSL lines. No ISP will *ever* tell you if the performance of their lines in a particular area code suck, that’s for granted. If you subscribe to a 20MBit connection, they will say it’s a 20Mbit connection.
    The only way to find out the truth? Ask other customers in your area. In this case, and many others, it’s really the only way to make an educated purchase.

  2. I think Brian Driggs said it all in the first comment, and managed to use so few words.
    What’s a corporation to do? There is something to the issue of speed of response. Have more corp people quickly responding on twitter, facebook. Fast fast fast, and don’t ignore. 🙂 And then, no canned scripts.
    Happy Monday!

  3. Great post. You / Brian make a very important point about the value of a community of peers versus a connection to a vendor through a seller. I also wonder what you think about the context of the peer exchange that community can develop to ensure a stronger affiliation. We are finding that by creating a strong context – one that is defined by shared value – that the peer exchange is even more powerful. I would be interested to know if you or others working on this approach too.

  4. @Melody – It was SO hard to just leave that comment as it was. I am a wordy sonofagun!
    @Jane – I agree with you on creating shared value. The more an organization helps its customers, the more customers it will have. Now, some might set the cruise control at this point. I refuse to. The more our business helps the community, the more the community will support our business, which will enable us to do even more to help the community.
    For us, the focus is NOT profit. Our focus is 110% on our community. The more successful we can make our community, the more successful we will be.
    Our profits will never be more than HALF of what we put back into our community. If we make a dime, six cents gets reinvested in the community.
    We are in the business of building high performance machines & lives.

  5. @Brian – thank you for contributing.
    @Gabriele – yes, there is also the legal issue, not being able to confirm or deny something due to potential ramifications.
    @Melody – more natural talk does help. As it does closing communication loops. If there is no new information, state that, etc.
    @Jane – thank you for stopping by and adding to the conversation.
    @Brian – there are intangibles, like social capital, that matter. They always did, by the way. We just called it something else.

  6. Great article Val. I think it always comes down to people like to deal with, buy from and build relationships with those that they like, trust and know. This means that when you have a website, you need to have a About Us that shows more information than a company profile. When you write in your blog you need to show your personality and when you send a Christmas card you make it personal to show you care.
    I say make fewer real human connections rather than shallow transit ones and you will be rewarded 10 fold.

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