How to Launch a Private Online Community Without Angering Your Customers

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Change Management Tips to Ease the Transition to a Community-Based Customer Experience

My wife and I love Walt Disney World. Like many people who frequent the parks, we have developed our own ways of avoiding lines, hitting a ton of attractions, and getting the most for our money.

Our approach is threefold: timing, prioritization, and—most importantly—smart use of Disney’s system for reserving a spot on popular rides during a specific time window later in the day, called FastPass. By going on attractions or seeing shows with short lines in between our FastPass windows, we spend the day going to from activity to activity without wasting time in line.

How to Launch a Private Online Community Without Angering Your Customers image launching private online community software change managementHowever, on a recent trip to Disney, that all changed. Disney is testing their new FastPass+ system where hotel, restaurant, payment, and park ticket information are all stored on rubber bracelets, called MagicBands.

At first, we were excited to take part in this test that allowed us to pre-reserve three FastPass rides or shows each day weeks in advance.

It was not until we were in the parks that we discovered that we could only use the three FastPasses for which we pre-registered and not the walk-up FastPass system we had come to know over the past ten years. While enhancing our hotel and payment experience, Disney’s innovative system decreased the quality of our overall experience in the Disney parks.

We were used to riding rides and seeing shows all day long, even on crowded days. Now, we could now only take advantage of a few attractions beyond the three that we pre-reserved—unless we wanted to wait in 40-90 minute lines.

Don’t Follow Disney’s Lead When Rolling Out Your Private Online Community

While adding something new and exciting for their customers, Disney also took a valued benefit away. This is a lesson in change management that applies to companies and membership organizations that are launching private online communities.

Private online customer and member communities represent a step forward for most organization in how they communicate and provide value to their customers, as well as how their customers collaborate with each other.

In an example of poor change management, I have seen membership organizations with active email listservs replace those listservs with an online-only community because they wanted to be like Facebook, rather than implement an online community software platform that contains both online discussion forums and email listservs.

In an effort to bring their membership into the future, they took away a valued communication tool used by members today. After getting an earful from their members, those organizations typically have to switch platforms fairly hastily (and at their own expense).

How can your organization avoid making a Disney-like mistake when rolling out your online customer or member community platform?

Customers may be used to linear communication with your organization. Some customers or members may not be used to engaging with other customers, sharing their experiences, and asking for help from peers. Others may be thriving with the current tools and process and are keptical of changes to their workflow.

While we hear a lot about managing change inside your organization, here are seven tips for managing the change for customers and members caused by shifting to a community-based customer management strategy.

7 Change Management Tips for Happier Customers

1) Don’t Just Change For The Sake Of Change.

It’s easy to get bored with your current systems and think you need to mix things up. However, your customers might not feel the same way and you don’t want to risk taking away a familiar process without good reason.

Use customer interviews and surveys to make sure your reasons for taking away once helpful tools are valid and to understand how your innovation will be received. Otherwise, you might find it challenging to get your customers or members on board.

2) Create A Simple Vision.

Your customers and members are too important to be left in the dark when a big change, like an online customer community, is on the horizon. They are also super busy, frazzled with their own jobs, and don’t understand your organization like you do.

Communicate your online community plans and expectations early on in a manner that is easy for them to understand. Avoid using jargon or other language that might create confusion. Instead, succinctly illustrate the problems with the current processes and highlight how the upcoming changes will improve their customer or member experience.

3) Detail the “Gap.”

If, from the perspective of your customers or members, there weren’t any problems with your current system, they might not understand why your company felt the need to launch a private online community.

Communicate openly where your organization is today, where you want to be when the change comes, and how you’ll measure success.

If it is feasible, share as many of your private online community plans in person—whether at conferences, road shows, or other opportunities for face time with your community members—so questions can be addressed from the start.

Regardless of how you choose to communicate the change, handle the initial announcement with as much as sensitivity as possible.

4) Involve, Don’t Impose.

Rather than springing your private online community on your customers or members without asking their opinions, do your best to involve them in the planing process. This might mean identifying leaders in your community and getting them involved in the decision making process directly, or simply crowd-sourcing feedback along the way.

Try interviewing customers or members to find out their experiences and challenges with your current customer management processes or member benefits. People like to feel heard and considered, so taking the time to do so will likely make your changes better received.

5) Make Plans in Stages.

Change doesn’t have to take your customers from 0-60 miles per hour all at once. Break your plans down into stages that allow for short term wins and avoid giving your customers or members “change whiplash.” Create and communicate a online community rollout timeline that details what will happen and when so your customers or members can prepare.

6) Communicate Openly, Early, and Frequently.

When you have a large membership or customer base, the rumor mill can sometimes take on a life of its own.

By practicing clear communication from the early stages of your online community strategy and continuing to keep your customers in the loop as the shift toward a community-based customer experience progresses, you can get ahead of the rumor mill and create a more positive customer culture.  Go out of your way to be open and transparent. Above all, emphasize that this change is all about your customers.

7) Provide Ongoing Training and Education.

A large factor in why people fear change is the discomfort of not having required knowledge to do their jobs. By giving your customers or members opportunities to learn about your online community platform and get more comfortable with it, you can help alleviate this concern.

Educational opportunities might come through a webinar series, a “how-to” column in your customer newsletter, or an in-person booth or training session at an event. The more you can educate your customers and members on how to work in a community environment, the more likely they are to buy into the overall idea.

Online Community: Change Management Takeaway

You might notice a trend in all of the above change management tips for launching a private online customer or member community: communication.

By keeping your customers in the loop and offering them opportunities to give feedback and educate themselves on this change, you can simplify the adjustment period and increase adoption of your online community platform.

Imagine if Disney had better communicated the purpose of the new MagicBands and validated their new ideas with customers before changing the FastPass system—my wife and I might have had a much more positive experience in the Disney parks and I wouldn’t be writing about Disney’s change management fail today.

Don’t leave your customers or members in the same position.

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