Building Brand Trust with Community and Social Support

Online customer reviews have become incredibly powerful in recent years. User-generated reviews and star ratings can sway new customers to purchase a product or avoid a brand completely. Building trust within a brand’s customer base is vital to success, and encouraging customers to write a review helps provide critical content to help build that trust.

Customers leaving online reviews are often taking part in a one-sided conversation. Many brands don’t answer reviews or comments, which can give the unintended impression of a lack of concern on the company’s part. But those reviews, even those left without a response, carry enormous heft. 82% of consumers read online reviews and star ratings, because no matter what a brand says in its commercials, the community knows that if they want the real skinny, they need to rely on one another.

Customers Share Common Interests in Online Communities

The original customer communities (we’re going back to the days of dial-up here) tended to be groups of individuals with common interests sharing their knowledge and experiences. Think sci-fi fans jamming about favorite films or computer geeks debating hardware. In the course of these discussions they’d inevitably share thoughts on products and services, helping one another find trustworthy goods and avoid well-marketed junk. As the internet grew, so grew comment communities and forums, where customers swapped opinions.

Customers also posted their thoughts when there were no outlets to share their concerns, especially if the brand was not responsive through other channels. While some users would commiserate about unpleasant brand experiences, others would make a point of sharing more positive interactions, especially when they felt the brand went out of its way to accommodate them. People are motivated to post when they have an emotional reaction, and positive experiences carry significant weight. Brand managers should keep in mind that customers are compelled to post about a brand when their emotions prompt them to do so — so stay on their good side!

Brands Build Trust by Coming to Customers on Their Turf

Today, we see brands providing forums, article comment sections, and social media pages where customers can gather and relate their experiences. Customers often post comments to share their thoughts with others, not really expecting to hear from a brand representative. So when your brand pops up in the conversation to provide community support, you’re on the customers’ turf, and they recognize that. Customers get that you’re reaching out to them on their terms. If you do a good job at connecting, listening, and problem-solving, you’ll earn their trust and elevate your brand in their eyes. In the case of LEGO, the Danish toy company gives customers the chance to participate in product development by soliciting ideas and feedback in their online community.

Building a community is about engaging with the crowd and responding to the audience. Position your answers as an official brand response but appreciate that customers may provide additional helpful answers. Recognize volunteer community leaders. When appropriate, don’t be afraid to show some personality with your community as your relationship grows.

Brands Build Loyalty by Solving Customer Problems with Compassion

As times change, of course, there are varying degrees of outreach. We’ve all seen when some brands copy-and-paste the same platitudes to nearly every comment. (No thanks.)  Customers really want a brand to care enough to respond to requests with courtesy, and to complaints with active problem-solving. Want to foster a community’s lifetime brand loyalty and to create brand advocates? Address the community’s problems with a genuine concern and offer real solutions, as exemplified in this Facebook post by a satisfied Zappos customer who received an incorrectly sized order and was wowed by the company’s “surprise-and-delight” response.

Effective social customer support identifies when a comment on social media or blogs and an online review is really a request for customer service, and then provides that service. If someone complains on social media, they really want it to be made right, not just to be heard. Reach out and apologize to the customers that the product didn’t work for them, then make your best effort to put things right. Publicly address the customers in a social forum; even if it’s on a non-official channel, your community will realize that their experience matters to your company. Alternately, you can ask them to join you on a customer service line for personal, direct assistance.

Brands Build Respect by Deflecting Trolls and Scam Artists with Courtesy

There are, unfortunately, trolls and scam artists who may infiltrate communities of brands that clearly care about their patrons. A company may strive to create an open dialogue with the community only to have trolls drop by to ruin the fun. A brand offering returns and free replacements may entice scam artists to jump in for the shakedown. That’s when your brand community leaders need to gracefully navigate these situations in a kind-but-firm manner. Your community members will rally around you and offer support; they probably enjoy these intrusions even less than you do.

Whether by engaging on social media, forums, comments, or review sections, a brand that takes time for its community will go a long way toward winning its trust, loyalty, and respect.  Reach out, be compassionate, and put effort into solving problems. Your community will support you with as much enthusiasm as you show them.

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