Guest Post: Online communities are the competitive edge in an uncertain economy

Guest Post: Online communities are the competitive edge in an uncertain economy

As the pandemic lingers and a recession threatens, the only way to compete is to be as efficient as possible while maintaining your brand promise, says Kelly Stocker, Senior Community Strategist at Khoros

In times of economic distress, recreational and business travel are among the first things to get slashed from the budget. As the pandemic lingers and a recession threatens, the only way to compete is to be as efficient as possible while maintaining your brand promise.

As we saw during the past two years, consumers turn to online communities to make decisions, find support, and share experiences. Online communities have become the norm—enabling travel brands to build quality customer experiences and optimize customer support efforts.

What is an online brand community?

An online brand community is a digital, self-service medium where customers can share knowledge, problem-solving tips, and other helpful information in one place. 

Not to mention, online communities are particularly relevant to the travel industry because they have proven to deflect high call volumes and never-ending hold times.

Digital self-service is the future of the travel industry; here are the top five reasons why online communities are key for travel brands to stay profitable in the face of economic uncertainty:

Create a powerful, full-funnel advantage

Online communities are an internet darling. Search engines love updated high-quality, user-generated content. Fresh information, natural language, and repeated keywords play a huge role in visibility. Ending up at the top of search results secures your place at point-of-sale through to point-of-support.

Because online communities are so discoverable, they become a part of the entire customer lifecycle. During the purchasing decision process, an online community builds brand awareness and provides crowd-sourced affirmation. When issues arise, customers turn to that same online resource to quickly find answers they can trust.

Build customer advocacy, increase retention

Online brand communities increase customer engagement and brand advocacy by giving consumers a space to discuss their shared experiences and support concerns.

Encountering fellow travel enthusiasts in an online community make your brand sticky. As we know, the real key to weathering an economic downturn is retaining customers and maximizing their lifetime value. There’s no better way to do that than by keeping those customers talking about their favourite travel brand.

For instance, one of the nation’s top vacation rental platforms saw a 30% increase in membership after implementing an online community, resulting in millions of dollars in added value for both the marketplace and travel hosts.

Benefit from peer-to-peer personalized care

For an industry that relies heavily on experiences, it’s crucial for consumers to hear authentic customer testimonies. In fact, 75% of consumers prefer a human conversation over carefully crafted brand messaging.

Consumers trust their peers to steer them in the right direction. It's a level of validation and trust that brands cannot provide. This extends from personalized recommendations for that “must-stay” B&B in Le Marais to the latest Covid-19 restrictions in another country.

By providing a place where consumers can come together, an online community fosters personalized and memorable customer experiences.

Solve for lengthy wait times and repeat issues

Digital self-service will account for 85% of total initial customer service interactions this year. Customers don’t want to pick up the phone. And quite frankly, the organization would prefer to avoid support-related costs that come with a heavy queue.

Outsourcing support to your brand’s loyal advocates and problem-solvers, makes digital contact centre teams more efficient and profitable. Reducing the number of repeated basic questions and issues is an additional benefit. More reasonable support queues and less repetitive support requests helps is key to agent retention.

An online community benefits every part of the organization

The travel industry is faced with the complexity of ever-changing customer expectations in an uncertain business environment. That's why it's more critical than ever to retain customers, maximize efficiency, and recognize cost savings across the business.

There is no better tool for this than a brand-owned online community. Your online community is the ideal place to understand what your customer wants, source marketing and branding stories, and identify product issues early.

By leaning into digital customer experience options and investing in a branded community, travel brands can give customers the support they deserve without sacrificing their bottom line and create opportunities for improvement across the board.