Scaling the customer experience without losing the personal touch

One of the biggest challenges of scaling up a business is maintaining a high standard of customer experience. Fortunately, online communities might provide the solution.

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For SaaS companies making the shift from start-up to scale-up, finding the right growth levers and efficiencies to achieve that scale is essential. However, during the process of scaling up, companies run the risk of losing what made them unique to their core customer base, and compromising the customer experience

Increasingly, SaaS businesses are turning to online communities to drive scale without losing the personal, premium customer experience they are used to delivering.

One company that has adopted a community model is Sova Assessment, an AI-driven, HR assessment platform which helps companies hire and nurture the best talent for their needs. Our recent webinar with Claire Rahmatallah, Sova’s Director of Marketing, focused on the HR SaaS company’s transition from a service business. Having established their reputation across multiple industries and sectors with brands from Santander to the NHS, Sova wanted to create a more scalable customer experience by centralizing their services in one online hub. 

The community was a way of creating an additional call to action that would allow us to widen our community of people who could come in, get to know us and establish a relationship.

-Claire Rahmatallah

Director of Marketing, Sova Assessment

One of Sova’s primary objectives when transitioning to a community model was to provide a premium customer experience at scale. The challenge with this would be retaining the personal touch of their service and not alienating any of their customers. Sova were able to achieve all of this through the four main pillars of their approach: engagement, onboarding, support and leverage of customer insights.

Engagement

Online communities form a hub of expert knowledge and discussion around a brand, making that brand synonymous with insight and passion within their industry. This means that many more potential leads will find themselves in the orbit of the brand before they are even considering becoming a customer. 

Claire describes the Sova community as ‘an additional call to action’ which allows leads to grow familiar with the Sova brand before committing to becoming a customer. This means that when those leads’ contracts expire or they find themselves looking for a new assessment platform, Sova can expect to be considered. In the meantime, Sova can nurture their leads, establishing themselves as the go-to resource for assessment professionals.

One of the main benefits of using an online community to nurture leads is that they attract those who are far more passionate than average about that brand or topic - particularly those who contribute regularly to discussions. This means that prospects are introduced to the brand by its strongest advocates, who serve as mediators on behalf of the brand and supply it with additional credibility in the eyes of the prospect.

Onboarding

Product onboarding is an integral part of the wider process of product adoption - in fact, 63% of customers say that the level of onboarding on offer is a key factor when making a purchasing decision. Yet many companies still find themselves failing to properly acclimatize their new customers, either through poor preparation or a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t account for differences in size and experience between organizations.

Sova had previously found that their Customer Success teams tended to use the same approach for all of their clients, big or small.They needed a way to scale this part of the customer experience, and create a more self-serve model that still felt human.

Claire highlights the importance of the Sova community as an onboarding tool by referring to a customer who had been forced to consolidate their recruitment team during the height of the pandemic, essentially meaning they had to rebuild from scratch. The community was vital in getting these new members up to speed at a time when all staff were working remotely and unable to communicate face-to-face, supplying new employees with all the necessary learning resources and communication channels to quickly integrate themselves into the culture of the organization.

The transition to an online community also makes it easier to provide repeatable and identical onboarding for everyone. As a company scales, new recruits need to be onboarded to the same standard. It is therefore crucial to provide scalable, easily repeated onboarding that can be accessed at any time, without relying on the existing users. Good customer onboarding will feature a prescriptive setup and implementation process that can be carried out by anybody asynchronously and repeated any number of times.

Support

Offering effective support to customers is a key part of any SaaS business. 82% of customers leave or pass on a company every year owing to poor customer support, making it another key part of the customer experience for SaaS businesses.

The peer-to-peer support provided by online communities is hugely beneficial in lowering support costs - so much so, in fact, that it works out as 72% cheaper to have customer queries answered via a community than through standard customer support channels. Simplycommunicate, a network comprising over 300 communication professionals, has been able to leverage the power of peer-to-peer support in their Zapnito community by setting up an ‘Ask the community’ room, which allows members to pose questions to the community at large and receive support from their peers.

Online communities also allow for easier access to experts and their insights. This helps to cultivate a reputation around the community as a hub of knowledge, but also means companies can retain the personal touch they had in the past and make members feel valued. Claire explained during the webinar that Sova had scheduled regular community sessions with the company’s CEO, offering greater transparency around their process. This direct line to the senior management of the company helps to strengthen the emotional bond between them and their customers and ensures those customers feel valued.

Customer insights

SaaS customers today want to be more than just people being sold a product; they want to feel valued and have their opinions taken on board. In today’s marketplace, the relationship between brand and customer must be a two-way street.

Online communities give brands the opportunity to make the most of their customer insights, leveraging them to inform their strategy going forward. Claire observes that Sova’s community allows them to be ‘much more insight-driven’ as a result of now having a direct channel between themselves and their customers. One example of this is their Innovation Board, consisting of a small group of customer advocates who contribute to discussions on development of the Sova platform. Conversations, video panels and access to experts are just a few examples of how online communities create new paths to dialogue between brands and their customers, making it much easier to extract meaningful insights.

Online communities also make it easier to combine insights from across a variety of fields. This was one of the aims when WildTeam built their WildHub community for animal conservationists. Following the initial launch of the community, WildTeam planned to make it easier for members with relevant skills or interests to find each other, paving the way for those involved in finance, graphic design and more to contribute to the cause of animal conservation.

In order to gain the best possible insights from customers, it is important that brands have access to high-quality data on their behavior and activity. Online communities provide brands with full ownership of their analytics, meaning they can see which content and features are receiving the most engagement and hopefully gain a greater understanding of their customers’ pain points as a result. This is one luxury that social media companies withhold.

Redefining the customer experience

Building an online community is a complex task, particularly when it necessitates a major switch in business strategy. However, the benefits for companies making the transition to a community model in terms of scalability speak for themselves. Communities allow SaaS companies to engage, educate and support their customers at scale, while connecting them to product and subject matter experts as well as each other. Communities open up many more opportunities for interaction between brands and their customers, meaning customers can still feel valued and looked after while brands leverage their feedback to further improve their product. Growing as a company can begin to feel risky for organizations built on providing a strong customer experience; with an online community, however, your resources will always reach far enough.

Nicola Fine

Marketing Director, Zapnito

I've worked in B2B marketing for 6 years now, across corporate events and professional services. I love digital marketing and analytics, and finding ways to make B2B as exciting as B2C.