Joel Portice sees one problem with meetings: You have to be there. The president and CEO of Intelimedix LLC, a company that provides predictive health care analytics, thinks that’s too restrictive.
So when Portice created advisory groups of Intelimedix customers — who are health plan providers — as sounding boards for needs and opportunities, he leveraged their collective knowledge by blowing the doors off the boardroom.
“Rather than just relying on set meetings where everybody has to be there and if you’re not there, you’re not participating, it’s open 24/7,” says Portice, who has 50 employees. “What we’re saying is: Take away the physicality of this and make it digital. Our view was [that] to digitize the meetings would help promote participation and sharing and use.”
That was the inspiration behind Tru:Connect, an online platform for communities of customers to share experiences and best practices.
The first key to building customer communities is staying on the sidelines.
“If a vendor comes in and dominates the discussion, then it becomes just a big sale session,” Portice says. “If we are encouraging the conversation and helping to create discussion topics and engaging the participants, then that’s going to keep them further involved.”
Facilitate conversations by asking for problems and issues, then let your customers take it from there.
“The biggest way to get the feedback and to get the participation is having them lead it,” Portice says. “We think about it from the perspective of: You’re going to lead discussions. You’re going to lead the identification of things you want to address. They’re your ideas. We’re going to help you monetize those ideas.”
You step into an active role later by identifying and validating ideas that bubble up through the community.
“We’re involved to help synthesize the issue,” Portice says. “If the issue’s coming in different words or it’s being articulated different ways from five different perspectives, it’s our job to really understand what the issue is and synthesize that for everybody so there’s a single view of what we’re trying to achieve.”
Once you’re clear on the key issues, confirm they are issues you and your customers can solve.
“It really is about understanding our circle of influence,” Portice says. “As we’re looking at things, we have to be very honest with ourselves and with our customers as to not only what we can do but what we should do. If it’s going to be shared across a lot of our customers, then it’s going to be worth our effort.”
To turn feedback into strategic business moves, position yourself behind the problems with the broadest influence. Examine the scope of the problem and of the potential solution by questioning other customers.
“We’ll look and say, ‘Is this a persistent issue? And if that issue were resolved, what does that mean to the users? How does that benefit them?’” he says. “It’s really understanding: Is it really an issue, what kind of a lift does it provide the customers if the issue is resolved [and then] what does it take to do that? Is it repeatable and ongoing or is it just a one-time deal?”
Online communities not only identify needs and opportunities for your business, but they also create loyal customers — after all, they’re benefiting, as well, by learning and leveraging best practices from others on issues that matter to them.
“The core issue here that’s underlying all of this is listening to the customers and listening to the market,” Portice says. “You see a lot of companies that try to pursue and develop things that are interesting and cool to them rather than saying, ‘What is it that the market is really feeling the pain with, and how can we help that?’”
How to reach: Intelimedix LLC, www.intelimedix.com
Joel Portice wants feedback from his customers, but he knows better than to throw open the floodgates. When the president and CEO of Intelimedix launched Tru:Connect, an online community for customers, he did so with limits.
“The information is compartmentalized based on the specific areas that we’re covering,” he says. “Somebody who connects to Tru:Connect — no pun intended — for analytic reporting, they’re not seeing what’s going on in the Tru:Connect that’s dealing with cost containment or the Tru:Connect that’s dealing with fraud detection. You’re part of a community on a specific issue.”
Of course, one customer may participate in several groups but only after agreeing to some terms to ensure that nobody is hijacking the output for their own purpose.
Portice monitors each customer’s engagement, contacting idle participants as a warning and a way to keep the group rich.
“If somebody’s not engaging, then we will reach out to them and say, ‘We need to make room for somebody else because this time is too valuable for everybody,’” he says.
That keeps participation high, and the selectivity even entices customers who aren’t involved.
“We want to make it useful,” Portice says. “But we also want to make it a little selective because it keeps the folks involved engaged. It also sparks opportunities for people that may not be involved to say, ‘I want to create my own subgroup.’”