The power of community. Lessons from enterprise AI powerhouse, DataikuDawn

We’ve all heard of customer success — making sure that the person who’s bought your software and who will make the decision on renewal is happy and well looked after. SaaS businesses add customer service early on in their journey, ideally as soon as they have live deployments.

But as a next phase of maturity, the challenge then becomes: how to delight the actual users of your product within the account, to make them engaged advocates? Product alone will get you some of the way, but community is the key differentiator between SaaS companies with engaged and loyal customer bases, and those without.

I recently sat down with the Community team at Dataiku — Julie HamelKerri Williams, and Lisa Bardet — to talk about how they have built out their community, as well as having done so previously at companies including Alteryx and Khoros.

Why do you need a community?

There are five key reasons that software businesses typically want to invest in building a community:

  • Customer Success: interfacing with customers at end-user level and building trust and loyalty.
  • Help and Support: assisting engineering and customer services agents by solving support requests before customers submit tickets.
  • Sales and Marketing: generating a pipeline through which to nurture users.
  • Product: generating and collecting ideas to inform product teams.
  • Partnering: engaging with technology partners.

One main point to note, because there are so many flavours and different potential reporting lines for the Community function, is that there is danger that it’s pulled in too many directions and lacks focus. For that reason, as Lisa puts it, “it’s vital that a community is built with the goal of meeting a defined and targeted business need”. For example:

“I want to reduce support tickets for agents by 25 percent.”

“I want to engage with end users in my top 10 enterprise accounts — driving advocacy beyond just the business sponsor.”

Usually, a community starts out in a low-touch way — a StackOverflow forum, or a Slack group. Monitoring threads on these platforms and engaging with users builds credibility, but a company is able to gather very little data about individual users or account-level tie-in at this stage.

“I always advise companies to transition to an on-domain forum as soon as possible”, says Julie. “It improves SEO and enables you to gather rich data on each customer to support more sophisticated outcomes.”

This stage is mainly Q&A, and transactional between user and company. The community-building happens when an actively managed on-domain portal moves from a troubleshooting space to a user experience platform, underpinned by deep data collection and integrations. A company can engage with customers beyond business needs and create true bonds and loyalty.

Community-building is a long-term investment so, as the adage goes, the best time to start was yesterday; the second best time is now. It is advisable to begin the process at least a year in advance of the anticipated scaling of users.

It also requires the right people, technology and content. If a company is just starting on this journey, it is an investment that will likely take time to show a tangible return on investment.

“Community is a non-transactional, non-financial relationship with users,” notes Kerri. “So factors like incentives for users, such as recognition and appreciation, building thoughtful, well-designed customer journeys so users can become engaged over time, and the dynamics of social media engagement are all important to consider.”

Vanilla ; Khoros ; Discourse

Looking for an on-domain platform that best suits a company’s needs takes a bit of trial and error. One of the most popular in the market is Discourse, which was founded by three Stack Overflow veterans. Because the platform is 100 percent open source, it is accessible for startups.

Though it is similar to the experiences businesses may try to create with their community off-domain, the platform can bring these experiences into an on-domain environment, and in a feature-rich way. Discourse includes integrations with tools like Slack, WordPress, and Zendesk. And for some clear examples of how it can be used, take a look at Monzo Community and Freetrade Community.

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