The Copper Community will be celebrating its one-year anniversary soon — an exciting milestone for our customer engagement strategy. And I’ve been thinking about how we got here.
At the beginning of 2021, I was a fairly recent arrival at Copper, taking a fresh look at ways to strengthen our customer service. And I quickly realized that retention wasn’t where it needed to be. Not on a downward path, but not growing at the right pace for a dynamic SaaS company serving small and mid-sized businesses.
One problem: Where our biggest customers were receiving excellent, high-touch service from dedicated Customer Success Managers, thousands of our smaller customers were getting very little attention.
What we needed was a one-to-many approach that could scale up the high-touch effect without adding a lot of personnel. Since I already had a background in community-building, I knew it would be the key component in our strategy.
Getting started with a community
A “community” is an online gathering place for customers where they can hear from us — and we can hear from them. This space provides a forum for the kind of two-way conversations that drive customer engagement.
But customers won’t automatically join a community just because you build one. The first essential for success is creating value for users. Which means offering the tools, information and encouragement that will help them use your product effectively. At Copper, we wanted to build a place for learning and discovery, and for sharing news and gathering feedback.
We understood from the outset that this isn’t the kind of vision that can be achieved with an out-of-the-box solution or cookie-cutter design. So our team spent almost six months planning our strategy and developing the community platform — which was actually a very fast pace for a mission-critical project, but I saw it as an urgent priority.
Here's a sketch of our pre-launch timeline:
- 2 months of brainstorming and strategy
- 1 month of decision-making
- 2 months of development and implementation
The most significant decision here became choosing a platform product. Based on my experience and our collective vision for the community, I had three must-have features in mind:
- A way for people to leave product requests and comments
- Support for both public and private access
- Plenty of room for customization
The customization piece was especially important, because we wanted Copper Community to be beautiful as well as interesting. So we needed the freedom to craft our site using CSS, HTML and other creative tools.
We also wanted a platform that was purpose-built for SaaS companies. Our final choice that met all these criteria was inSided — and if you drop by their site you can browse their gallery to see a variety of approaches. Copper Community is one of the featured sites, so you’ll get an idea of how we leveraged inSided to express our brand personality: fun, colorful and accessible.
From the beginning, we’d approached the Copper Community as a company-wide initiative. Everyone was enthusiastic about the potential, and everyone had something to contribute.
We brainstormed ideas based on what we knew about Copper customers: how they use the product, what their frequent questions are and what features they might want to know more about. Though a lot of Copper support content already existed, it didn’t have the right voice or personality for a customer community. So, we created most of our early content from scratch.
By May of 2021, we’d built a beautiful place for customers to gather — but, as we discovered, that was actually the easy part. Getting the first 100 customers to join was much harder. In fact, it took two months (and a lot of effort) to reach that milestone.
In the lead-up to launch, we deployed the same kind of fanfare and promotion we would use for a major feature release. For example, we teased the new offering in all our customer communications and promoted the community with in-app popups.
A few early adopters trickled in, then a few more. We made a focused effort to nurture them by following two fundamental “rules:” always have fresh content up on the platform, and always respond to customer activity as quickly as possible.
Early on in those first two months, we realized that raising awareness was just a first step. Many of our customers hadn’t experienced meaningful interaction with Copper for a long time, and they didn’t have high expectations for our new offering. This meant making sure that if they dropped by the community for a look, they’d immediately see a lot of value.
Great content was an obvious value component, along with the bright design and user-friendly interface. But beyond those mostly passive elements, they needed to see signs of active engagement. At first this mainly involved Copper reaching out to the community with answers and insights, but after a while, community members were interacting with each other.
The more activity, the more people will want to participate. And now — just a year later — Copper Community gains 200 new members every month.
Overall, about 12% of Copper customers engage with the community today, and we expect that number to rise steadily. But reaching our own customers is just one of the community’s benefits. Thousands of outside visitors have come to the community site in search of helpful content, and while there, they get to see how the Copper Community informs and encourages Copper customers. We’re showing potential customers that Copper walks the walk, not just talks the talk when it comes to customer support.
The community not only expands our customer service, it also supports our sales and marketing arm by generating and nurturing leads.
And there are other benefits as well:
- We’ve gotten valuable input from the community about what customers like (and don’t like) about our product, along with ideas for new features.
- We’ve seen a measurable improvement in retention over the past year. Although Copper has a market advantage with its simple setup and quick-start features, users who stay at that basic level can easily drift away. Copper Community offers those customers a supportive way to learn about CRM strategy and master Copper’s advanced capabilities.
- We have an engaged, accessible audience that we can easily tap for feedback on new features in beta and periodical customer polls to support our ongoing efforts to improve their experience.
The road ahead
The progress of the Copper Community has generated a lot of positive energy throughout the company. Every employee is a member of the community, and they not only make contributions to the ongoing conversation, they also learn more about our users.
So we’re increasing our investment in the Copper Community — most importantly, by adding a full-time Community Manager. It’s always a challenge to decide when the value of a customer service initiative is large enough to justify increased staffing. But it’s also true that the success of a community depends on continuous care, so for brands considering adding a community, I suggest moving as early as possible to put a dedicated manager in place.
In the months ahead, we want to explore offering additional features in the community platform, including gamification strategies that visibly reward community participation. This strategy will help us meet our goal to improve the ratio between customer-created and Copper-created content.
We also want to offer more events, such as webinars and workshops — which is another reason to invest in additional staff.
If you haven’t thought about building a customer community, I hope Copper’s story will inspire you. Based on our experience, here are a few suggestions for achieving success:
- Think creatively about every aspect of the project
- Take a whole-of-company, all-in approach
- Make your community fun as well as interesting and informative
- Maintain a steady flow of fresh content
- Respond quickly to every engagement opportunity
One final thought: Be patient as the community takes shape and gains momentum. It may take some time, but with the right approach and continued commitment, this investment will deliver big returns.