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Earlier this week, I hosted The New Customer Playbook: How to Engage Your Customers to Drive Innovation and Reduce Churn, a webinar featuring Jeremiah Owyang of Crowd Companies.

We explored the collaborative economy, an emerging trend where people get and access what they need from each other instead of going through traditional means. Using findings from our recent report, Jeremiah provided examples of global brands already participating in this movement and why it could potentially double in the next 12 months.

One key insight from the webinar is that customer listening could help brands successfully enter the collaborative economy. But tuning into your customers isn't just essential to your collaborative economy initiatives: in this new world where consumers are also producers, your customers expect to be treated like partners.

That's why listening to your customers is essential to everything a brand does, not just to its efforts to join the sharing space. We know this firsthand because our software has already helped over a third of Fortune 100 companies get closer to their customers. Using insight communities, these brands engage their customers on a consistent basis.

Here are three ways ongoing customer engagement can help your brand win in the collaborative economy and beyond:

  1. Reduce churn by strengthening customer relationships.

Listening to your customers with an insight community is what allows you to develop deep relationships over time - so you have the kind of relationship your customers expect in the collaborative economy era. If you're doing this kind of deep listening, your customers don't feel like they're just consumers any more. They feel like your partner, the same way they feel like a partner when they are selling something on Etsy or eBay.

Even if you haven't seen your brand being able to partner with your customers in the way AirBnB or Uber does - by letting them sell to other customers through your site - you might be able to partner with your customers the way Discovery Communications did when it launched Discover America. Since 2011, Discovery has used its Influencer Panel to listen to its audiences. Discovery's audience members shaped the name, logo and programming of its new network - a truly co-created network where customers feel like stakeholders.

  1. Get innovative ideas directly from your customers.

A strong customer engagement channel, like an insight community, also lets you involve your customers in innovation - whether that is looking for your own collaborative economy offering, or any other initiative where you want to make sure your customers have a seat at the table. Simply engaging your customers in co-innovation is a great way of helping them feel more involved in your brand, the way they do in a site like Lift or Kickstarter.

When you're engaging your customers in co-innovation, keep in mind that participating in the innovation process needs to be a reward in itself. Think about how to make the innovation process really visual and participatory - for example, we get people to highlight what's most important to them in a new product.

NASCAR is a great example of an established brand engaging customers in that kind of co-innovation process. They used their insight community to talk with their fans about how to make races more exciting, which is what led them to change NASCAR rules so drivers now race side-by-side instead of single file.

  1. Enhance your marketing strategy.

Listening to your customers lets you get your collaborative economy marketing right - or any other kind of marketing initiative, for that matter. Our report is an example of how easy it is to get your message wrong if you aren't listening to your customers: we were surprised to learn that even though people associate sustainability and community with the collaborative economy, it's actually price, convenience and product quality that drives sharing transactions.

For example, listening to customers helped Avianca get its rebranding right after merging with TACA airlines. They used their insight community to drive everything from in-flight amenities and food choices to what is in their airline magazine.

The competencies that companies need to thrive in the collaborative economy - the competencies that insight communities help companies develop - are the same competencies that serve them very well in many different aspects of their business. What makes you a smart business will ready for the collaborative economy.

To learn more about engaging your customers to drive innovation and reduce churn in your company, listen to the recording of our webinar. You can also see highlights from our webinar by following #SharingNewBuying on Twitter.

Capitalize on the opportunity of the collaborative economy

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