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Friday, November 25, 2005

Using e-communities to meet your business objectives

Cybercommunities are groups of people with common interests comprised of volunteer members who connect and discuss freely on the Internet. The majority of these communities are hosted, visited and continually enhanced by enthusiastic people who wish to discuss a subject that interests them. Cybercommunities can be useful and profitable for numerous businesses but certain facts must be kept in mind ensure that their use remains economically feasible.

To begin, it is important to realize that the Internet is a bidirectional communication tool. In other words, the Internet must enable, encourage and maintain dialogue. It must maintain a conversation with the market. This implies that a business is no longer in a “ MESSAGE ” transmission mode, but rather in a “ DIALOGUE ” mode and must enable customers to submit complaints and criticisms. In short, businesses must accept criticisms and incorporate them into a system of continual improvement.

CISCO is a forerunner in this domain. As early as 1993(1), in an act of exceptional transparency, CISCO displayed all known bugs affecting its software products and equipment parts on the site's electronic billboard. Customers added to this list of bugs in the hopes that CISCO engineers would find solutions. Strangely enough, customers then began proposing and trading solutions with other customers and CISCO consequently avoided paying the salaries of the 10,000 engineers that the company would have been required to hire to respond to its customers. In fact, between 1995 and 2000, while CISCO's sales increased by 600%, its customer service personnel merely doubled.

Secondly, businesses must realize that if customers cannot express themselves openly to a company, they will certainly do so behind the company's back. A good example of this finding is undoubtedly the web site www.anti-walmart.com. The Internet enables “word-of-mouth” to function on a global scale. Businesses are better off using this phenomenon to their advantage by transforming e-commerce transactions into interactions, and even into emotional experiences.
For these various reasons, cybercommunities used for commercial purposes can create business value and yield a considerable return on the investment. Taking the initiative to establish a cybercommunity enables a business to:
  • Convert web site visitors into customers
  • Attract and retain new consumers
  • Reduce customer service costs
  • Strengthen customer relations
  • Acquire a strategic advantage over the competition
  • Increase customer loyalty
  • Streamline business processes
  • Increase collaboration and cooperation between their partners, clients and employees

Thanks to the permanent base of participants obtained via cybercommunities, such groups of people become a kind of volunteer focus group. This enables businesses to:

  • Benefit from a low-cost and continual method for obtaining customer opinions on a large number of subjects relevant to the company
  • Identify and correct weaknesses in a product or service

(1)- Example taken from: Slywotsky, Adrian J., et al, How digital is your business? ( New York : Crown Business, 2000), ISBN 0-609-60770-7, p. 164-169.


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