Build a Customer Community in 4 Steps — Q&A With CX Expert

Gladly Team

Read Time

4 minute read

Ecommerce brands know there’s a lot of untapped value in customer loyalty. As typical methods of acquisition and sales become more expensive and bring lower ROIs, more companies are exploring ways to foster ongoing relationships with satisfied customers who bring repeat business and spread word-of-mouth recommendations.

A sign of success for businesses is a strong customer community. These groups are huge assets to cultivating better communications with customers and understanding what they want out of a brand. Read on for a deep dive into what customer communities do, how brands can start building their own, and an exclusive Q&A with Gladly’s Lifecycle Director on what he considers a successful customer community.

What Is a Customer Community?

A customer community is a place, physical or digital, where a brand’s shoppers, fans, and partners can meet to discuss products, services, or stories from their experiences with the company.

Within a customer community, people share product reviews, anecdotes of great (or sometimes not-so-great) customer service, ideas about new products or directions for the brand, and even potential partnership and sponsorship opportunities. The ways in which companies build these groups are open-ended, but ultimately the goal is to create a customer community that draws in more and more happy shoppers organically. An example is Harley-Davidson, which has been praised over the years for fostering strong communities through brand affinity and a shared passion for the motorcycle rider lifestyle.


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4 Steps to Build a Customer Community

Every customer community started with a handful or even just a couple particularly satisfied shoppers that eventually grew as more and more people felt a connection to the brand and commonality with other brand enthusiasts. But how can a growing company get to that point even faster, and what actions can they take to eliminate roadblocks?

1. Give them something to talk about

Communities and communication go hand-in-hand. The origins of a group usually start with fans of a brand coming together to discuss what they love so much. But you don’t have to wait on customers to start the conversation.

Take, for example, the clothing retailer Chubbies, known for its close-knit community of advocates and loyal fans. They saw early on that they had a growing community on social media. According to Tom Montgomery, Co-Founder and Chief Digital Officer of Chubbies, “We saw we had an active community. We saw customers just giving us tons of feedback, and we wanted to channel this into a place where we could more formally communicate with everyone in a fun way.”

Chubbies saw this opportunity and ran with it, sending every customer who shared their social media pages a free koozie to further build the customer community. They sent more than 30,000 koozies nationwide, and Chubbies reinforced their reputation as a fan favorite.

2. Turn your agents into conversationalists

Customer service, and in particular forward-facing service agents, are the baseline for any strong customer community. Knowing how to converse with — as well as how to listen to customers — is a skill that support teams should train and reinforce continually. If your agents can have continuous personal conversations with your shoppers, the outcome will be loyal relationships that lead to community.

3. Listen to feedback and customer stories

Some of the most important insights into your brand and your products come from the customers who know you best. Being attentive and responsive to a loyal customer’s feedback will strengthen the relationships within the community and make them feel listened to, while also providing a fresh perspective from a third party about what is and isn’t working.

Andie, makers of women’s swimwear, has seen the power of customer feedback firsthand through their customer service team. Andie Founder and CEO, Melanie Travis, shared with Gladly: “…the [customer service] team is basically a third of our staff, and they sit right in the room with us. They’re also our customers, so it helps us develop a much more robust customer feedback loop because they’re sitting right there. If there’s a trend they’re starting to see or a particularly moving customer story, they’ll just stand up and say, ‘Oh my God, guys, look what just happened.’ It keeps us close to the customer.”

Customer Feedback and Survey Tools

Gathering feedback from customers is essential for understanding their satisfaction levels and identifying areas for improvement. Feedback and survey tools help teams collect customer insights through feedback forms, satisfaction surveys, and Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys. To this end, Gladly integrates with popular survey tools like Medallia and Delighted.

4. Create upsell opportunities

Overly sales-y jargon can turn people off, but when agents can suggest purchase opportunities based on a deep understanding of the shopper, the customer takes this as a sign that a brand is listening and worth investing their time and money in. In fact, 66% of consumers prefer brands that know them and can recommend things they would like, while 26% have gone further to even say they’ve purchased something that an agent recommended. These one-to-one transactions feel like special bonuses for both buyer and seller, and feed into the positivity that helps foster a community.

A Q&A With Chris Van Wagoner, Lifecycle Director at Gladly

Here’s how Chris Van Wagoner, Lifecycle Director at Gladly, suggests creating a sustainable customer community, from the basic building blocks all the way to the success measurements and maintenance needs.

What are the essential elements required to build a customer community?

CVW: With the communities I have built, there are always a few boxes that I make sure to check:

  • Shared purpose: This could be a shared interest, a common goal, or mutual challenges. The shared purpose brings people together and inspires them to participate.
  • Leadership: Leaders can be moderators, administrators, or influential community members who guide discussions, mediate conflicts, and encourage participation.
  • Content: This can come in many forms, including blog posts, discussion threads, videos, podcasts, or newsletters.
  • Feedback: Regularly asking for and incorporating member feedback improves the community experience and creates alignment with community members.
  • Active engagement: The platform should facilitate sharing of ideas, knowledge, and experiences. Regularly engaging with members through discussions, Q&A sessions, polls, or events helps maintain interest and involvement.

The takeaway: Find like-minded people and brands, and focus on keeping everyone involved and active in the community. Consistency is the key to longevity.

How does building a community improve other aspects of business?

CVW: Communities are a great place to share best practices and collaborate with other business professionals. This allows for a significant amount of ideation, assisting with the construction of detailed user journeys and customer value. The activities ultimately help to retain customers and increase brand loyalty.

The takeaway: Strong communities mean strong insight-sharing, which drives higher support center performance overall. This boost will trickle down to how well you’re able to improve customer relationships.

What are common mistakes leaders make while building a community?

CVW: Quality over quantity. From membership to content to platform, cutting corners and failing to deliver value will always lead to diminished community longevity. In this way, engagement and monthly active users are extremely valuable KPIs. Too often, community leaders are exclusively monitoring total sign-ups.

The takeaway: Focus on the metrics that matter, leaning on and learning from the other members of your community to identify those measurements that lead to the most long-term success.

How do you define success in your community?

CVW: We are primarily looking at platform, email, and in-person meetup engagement. Community growth is also very important to us, but only through a value-to-community member mentality.

[Also], this will sound overly philosophical and a little romanticized, but for me, measuring community success is not constrained by time but built into the relationships it fosters — relationships between people and relationships with brands. The essence of success isn’t in the hurried achievement but in crafting a space that thrives on the exchange of value.

The takeaway: When analyzing the success of your community, don’t just track attendance and overall numbers — source the individual performance metrics of the brands that have contributed and grown from one another.

What is the role of mentorship in building a community?

CVW: With their wealth of wisdom, mentors are the pistons within any community engine focused on its customers. These leaders help others hone crucial skills like communication, problem-solving, and empathy — these are all important to delivering seriously great customer experiences.

The takeaway: Creating a mentorship program presents an opportunity for everyone to feel like they can become leaders, helping to build long-lasting mentor-mentee relationships.


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