A recent statistic quoted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project shows that 40 percent of all Internet users in the United States now have broadband access at home—that’s 48 million residential users and growing. The news bodes well for sharing enriched media with a broader base of customers, now and even more so in the future. If your market segment is broadband-ready, then your brand is ready for a customer loyalty program built around Web-based exchange of knowledge and information.
Building brands is about creating positive, meaningful experiences. Advertising, public relations, storefronts, logos and packaging are one-way interactions that contribute to building the expectation of an experience. Customer service is a two-way interaction (a direct experience), but the challenge is controlling the cost and quality of such interaction. Utilizing e-learning tools can enable organizations to better manage the customer experience on a one-to-one basis while also reducing the cost and inconsistency of each interaction. The goal is to share knowledge for positive customer experiences that result in increased loyalty to the brand and, eventually, increased revenue.
Creating a bundle of knowledge-sharing services through a Web program for current customers can have several benefits:
- Strengthens brand franchise.
- Rewards loyalty of customers.
- Lowers program management costs.
- Scales as globally as needed.
- Integrates with existing customer relationship tools.
How does a brand manager build this kind of program using e-learning tools?
Customer communities have existed in the form of bulletin boards, message boards, forums and “communities of interest” for a while now. Getting customers to share their brand experience is a common practice on many Web sites. With tools for e-learning, organizations can share alternative product uses, beta products, troubleshooting tips and testimonials with and among customers to seed such discussions. Besides branding, the forums can become a useful tool for gauging customer satisfaction and customer needs for current and future brand attributes. The success of a community is related to the openness encouraged there and a focus on shared learning instead of marketing.
A game based on challenging and testing knowledge from something as simple as the product manual can engage customers in a much more successful way than the manual itself. Because of that interest, they are more likely to retain the knowledge or skills that might lead to reduced support calls and improved customer satisfaction ratings. If the brand experience is positive, not only is repeat purchase more likely, but purchase of complementary products is also facilitated. Most customers want to understand the products and services they buy, at least enough to use them independently. Offer that opportunity, and satisfaction increases.
Organizations can use video or audio over the Web to create live events where customers participate via call-ins, live demonstrations, product launch events, technical seminars or training. The opinion leaders from among the customers value exclusive events where they might feel part of a select group. Having advocates of the brand within the customer base can pay off in brand-building many times over compared with mere advertising. “Exclusive” might mean earlier access to the event than others, or it may mean only certain people are invited.
The knowledge-sharing benefits of e-learning have the potential to permeate an organization, its partners and their customers. In an age of evolving media, taking advantage of e-learning tools for customer loyalty will require abandoning a stovepiped approach in favor of collaboration across functional lines. You may start, pilot or experiment in a variety of silos, but the brand is best served by the convergence of the silos. Collaboration will eventually lead to stranger bedfellows within your organization than training and marketing working together for a competitive advantage. That will be an odd, but good thing—demonstrating strategic focus on your brand, by the entire organization.
Tom Kelly is vice president of the Internet Learning Solutions Group at Cisco Systems Inc. Nader Nanjiani is marketing programs manager of the Internet Learning Solutions Group. Contents of this article will also appear in “A Business Case for E-Learning: Justify Your Network Investment” from Cisco Press in 2004. E-mail Tom and Nader at firstname.lastname@example.org.