Think of your community members as customers

by Martin Reed on 2 April 2008 in Articles

Your members are your customers

Most online communities are free to use, and free to join. This doesn’t mean that members should be treated any worse than fee-paying customers, though and this article will explain why.

What is a customer?

As far as I am concerned, anyone that interacts with me or a site I run is a customer. If I receive an email from a reader of this blog, I consider them to be a customer. If someone emails Just Chat for help, I consider them to be a customer. By using this mindset, you will be far more concerned with satisfying your members and visitors – you already know that if customers aren’t happy, they will shop elsewhere. Visitors and members to your website are no different.

Customers need to be satisfied

If customers aren’t satisfied, they will leave. If your members aren’t satisfied, they will leave. It doesn’t matter how long they have been a member for – it is possible to alienate even your most loyal members to the point where they leave.

Remember that it is significantly more expensive to attract new customers than to retain current ones. Work hard to satisfy every member you have – don’t even give them the excuse to look for your competitors.

Customers need to feel valued

If customers do not feel valued, they will be less loyal to your site. Customers now know their true value – they know that you need them and in return they want to feel needed themselves. Use every opportunity to remind your members how valuable you consider them to be. Thank them for being a member of your site, use custom forum ranks, individually welcome new members. Just make sure your members know that you value them.

Customers need to be attracted

When a new business starts up, it will advertise to attract customers and create brand awareness. You need to do the same with your website. Get the word out – exchange links, advertise and ensure you offer something unique.

Make sure that when a new potential customer arrives at your site, they want to join. Make sure that you reply to any emails they send or questions they have. Even if they aren’t yet a member, they are already a customer.

Even if you have a large member base it is still important that your community attracts ‘fresh blood’ to keep the atmosphere fresh and lively -just because you have lots of members, you shouldn’t rest on your laurels!

Customers need to be retained

As I mentioned earlier, it is far more costly to attract new customers than it is to keep existing ones. For your community to develop a personality and a unique atmosphere, it needs committed, loyal, long term members. Think of long term members as the glue that ‘sticks’ new members to your site.

If you alienate your long term members, you will experience problems. Long term members are likely to have a lot of influence over other members – instead of upsetting one member, you will indirectly be upsetting many more.

Customers need to be your # 1 cheerleaders

What do you pay more attention to? A TV ad telling you how great a product is, or a friend telling you how great a product is? I would imagine most of us would agree that a recommendation from a friend is far more effective than any other. You want your customers to be so happy with your site that they tell everyone one they know. They will only do this though, if you are delighting them.

If your customers become your greatest cheerleaders, your community is destined for success.

Your thoughts

Have you ever thought of members and visitors to your website as customers or do you think that thinking of them in this way is wrong? What do you think of the points I have raised in this article? What have I left out? Share your thoughts and opinions by leaving a comment below.

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Amish Made Furniture April 2, 2008 at 4:13 pm

Yes. I am in total agreement with you with one caveat. Customers need to be heard too. On hearing from them, we need to act on whatever information that they give us. This is particularly important in this instance. If you do this diligently, you will retain them and they will be your cheer leaders and WOM agents too.

sommerhus April 2, 2008 at 10:21 pm

Interesting article for sure – building a online community is a lot of work for sure but can also be very rewarding.

Pocatello Real Estate April 2, 2008 at 10:30 pm

This statement is dead on: Customers need to be your # 1 cheerleaders

We’re working in the opposite direction; thinking of our customers as community members. The real estate transaction is usually pretty one way (buyer-agent, seller-agent), but more leads come in through word of mouth than anywhere else.

Smiley April 3, 2008 at 3:39 am

Hi, Martin.

Yes, I agree completely. Your members, whether new or old ARE customers of your site. I think of them as customers, that is why I thought going with the (Support) tag was quite a good idea and make it clear on the site that one of the main features is………….. a friendly CUSTOMER support team.

Rather than “admin”, “mod”, “bouncer”, I’ve tried moving the perception of my moderators away from people who enforce the rules and kick you if you’re naughty. I’ve made them a customer support team.. “they’re here to help you”.

Plumbing Course Andy April 3, 2008 at 6:58 am

I agree, as much as possible deliver to them quality “services”. Thanks for that very nice post!

Nicole Price April 4, 2008 at 9:50 am

Never thought of them as customers per se, but given them utmost importance in all situations. This point cannot be stressed enough.

Eva White April 4, 2008 at 12:28 pm

May be I could be wrong, but just out of curiosity I would like to ask, does thinking your visitors as customers would give that personal touch which one would get if the visitor is taken as a community member.
I agree with what you have written, but the moment you term anybody customer it becomes a business affair rather than a personal one… what do you think?

Simon Brown April 4, 2008 at 2:00 pm

Also, if you are running a website as an amatur and don’t pay your mods – potential mods would be much less likley to agree to “work as a volenteer in our customer support team”.

Furniture Store April 5, 2008 at 6:07 pm

I would not have thought of community members as customers simply because there is no monetary consideration involved. But i suppose there is a more subtle non-monetary consideration at play here, and the points you make that customers need to feel attracted, valued and satisfied make a lot of sense in that context.

Smiley April 7, 2008 at 12:38 am

I don’t agree, Simon. All my regulars are very keen to be part of the customer support team, they like the title. They like to help the site because they enjoy being part of the community, they don’t want pay.

Martin Reed - Blog Author April 8, 2008 at 10:54 pm

Ramana – Good point; customers definitely need to be heard. More important than just being heard though, is being listened to!

sommerhus – Yes, it’s a lot of work, and yes it can also be very rewarding. Have you developed an online community?

Pocatello – Very interesting; I am advocating treating community members as customers, and you are currently treating customers as community members! It just goes to show that they are each one and the same.

Smiley – You make a good point; by thinking of your community members as customers, you need to ensure that your customers have access to support mechanisms.

Andy – If you don’t deliver great services to your customers, they’ll leave. It’s as simple as that!

Nicole – Community members need to be treated as VIPs. Sometimes it just helps thinking of them as customers to ensure you adopt the right attitude towards them.

Eva – I don’t think considering your members as customers can destroy the personal touch; you just need to make sure you don’t take the ‘corporate mentality’ too far. Small family businesses take advantage of the personal touch – you can do the same.

Simon – I don’t think it matters whether you call your mods a customer support team or a moderation team; loyal, dedicated members of your community will always be keen to volunteer. I will admit however, that giving your staff members such a title could cause confusion amongst your community members as they wonder who the customers are!

Reena – I am glad you agree; I am sure that if community developers thought of their visitors and members as customers, far more would be successful.

Smiley – You make a good point; many members would get a sense of satisfaction with such a title – you just need to make that isn’t the sole reason why they are applying for the job!

Eva White April 10, 2008 at 5:02 am

Thanks for your reply. You’ve cleared my doubts.

Cody April 11, 2008 at 2:40 am

I have always thought of my website users as customers. I think if anyone is using a service they are a customer whether they are paying or not.

Its true if you don’t treat your customers good they will go to a competitor. Which in turn loses you business!


Martin Reed - Blog Author April 15, 2008 at 11:08 am

Eva – Glad to have helped; I am glad you found the article interesting.

Cody – I completely agree. It doesn’t matter whether your visitors or members are paying to use your site – they are still customers and should be treated as such.