Creating a community for your customers around your brand can save a lot of money.

By Dewi Gigengack/The Intelligent Optimist

The management at the British company Standing on Giants knows how to prevent customer service frustration: Build your company’s core around your clients. “There are always people who are passionate about your product, whether you’re selling telephones, insurance or cosmetics,” says Vincent Boon (pictured above), one of the company’s cofounders. His advice: “Make use of their expertise and the fact they like to share it.”

Companies can accomplish this with an online forum wherein customer volunteers can respond to complaints and questions. Active members are rewarded with money, discounts or free products. “That way, you give some of what you’ve saved in costs back to the customer.” Those savings can run to 30 percent, Boon says, drawing on his firsthand experience with Spanish telecom provider Telefónica, Standing on Giants’ parent company. Telefónica gets 25 percent of its new customers through the community.

Boon, who has won several awards for his innovative forum designs, believes that creating a community around a brand has additional advantages: It increases visibility and accessibility, gives you instant access to good ideas for new or existing products and lets you see when a competitor is recommended, thereby telling you how your company is falling short.

Companies must realize that the era of arrogance and ivory towers is past, according to Boon. Customers want input and influence. “The more open and honest you are, the more you can get out of the relationship with the customer,” he says. “Present yourself as vulnerable and authentic. Explain why you do things. That fosters understanding and empathy.” Are companies ready for that? “They don’t have a choice,” Boon says. “Those who don’t join in won’t survive.” | FIND OUT MORE: STANDINGONGIANTS.COM

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