I am thrilled to bring my 5th article to you and appreciate the comments and messages I am receiving; I learn a great deal from opening these discussions up. I also hope that this Newsletter might encourage more ‘leaders’ to share their thoughts on this LinkedIn feature.
Before I start my thoughts on this week’s title, I want to gain some of your trust. I hope to do that by sharing some of my business experience as a ‘futurist’. Without any bragging rights, I can firmly state that I have always sensed change in human needs in business. Ecademy was the first ‘online social network’ in the world, it was formed as I could sense the ‘business loneliness’ that the internet would create. We created community and for those that treated it as a community, it truly solved that issue. My second company brought a new skills solution to the market, a Digital Apprenticeship, on the back of the Digital Business Britain Manifesto I wrote in 2010, sharing the issues of digital mindset and skills gap that existed and would hold back the UK Digital Economy. I might not make my life easy by evangelising concepts and my beliefs, however, I certainly witness the changes and in my own small way, I hope to inspire others to jump onboard.
My belief in the opportunity for business within the ‘social’ media or networking, Internet world is the creation and delivery of high-quality communities. I am now beating the drum for business leaders and owners to see the opportunity for ‘Community Led Business’. Promoting this as a new revenue and part of a business model, to truly manifest your business values, purpose, and ability to contribute to your customers, way beyond the transaction. As my ‘strapline to this article states. “”Customers are just like you, they have many needs beyond the transaction”. I believe the bridge between business and humanity is ‘Community’.
As a Futurist, Innovator and Community Builder, I know that ‘community led business growth’ is powerful. This does not include half created, low level of commitment and poorly led LinkedIn or Facebook Groups; it is a belief, the creation of a methodology within a business, a Leadership decision. It is not delegated or placed in a marketing or sales department but is actually the domain of the ‘leader’ a place for them to show genuine interest and commitment to their clients. It is the ‘social capital’ within the organisation that sustains a company into the future. It is the absolute height of ‘servant leadership’.
I witnessed the power of community for 14 years, as the Leader of an ‘Entrepreneur Community, Ecademy’, and saw what the citizens, Business Owners like you, had benefited from
- Firstly, ‘belonging is a basic human need’, number 3 in the hierarchy of human needs, after our physical needs and our need for security are met. Belonging comes before ‘self-esteem’ and our true manifestation of our purpose in life.
- Belonging is not ‘using’, a community is not a utility, it is a home, a family.
- I wrote in 2002 ‘Emotional Wealth leads to Financial Wealth’ and I witnessed the truth in tis over and over again.
- Deep conversation is what we all desire, to be heard and to hear. It is the way to create deep trust and openness. Automation and the constant desire for productivity and shortcuts has created distrust and lack of customer engagement.
- A community of ‘highly engaged citizens’ enables innovation and is the antidote to the constant threat of disruption
- Community is also the antidote to the ‘fickle customer’. Increasing the opportunity to keep your customers for longer. Customer retention is far more powerful than constantly shouting out across social media for new clients.
- Community provides the home for all ‘citizens’ to know that they matter to others, thereby raising self-worth and esteem and enabling their truth, their needs and vulnerabilities to be shared, this creating an honest starting point for us all to contribute.
Let’s look at the challenges many businesses have now. Customers are fickle, the choices of suppliers are vast, so they can move easily to a new shiny supplier. They have high expectations, and they have unlimited choice. Even service driven businesses are being treated as commodities, disruptive technology is impacting even Professional Service firms. Add to that the fear of GDPR ad the challenges of keeping in touch. The dread we all have of our ‘INBOX’ filling up with benign, irrelevant content, it is so much easier to use the drop-down menu in email to state’ spam’ than it is to Unsubscribe. Thereby reporting your supplier to the provider of your ‘email marketing machine’ and stopping them for keeping in touch with you.
While you read this, you may be thinking about your business, but now think about you as a client. Which companies that you are part of make you feel that they appreciate or value your business? Which clients understand you, know what you need beyond the transaction?
People are craving the human touch. Automation has made all of us as ‘customers’ feel like an unimportant number in a database. yet, while we adapt constantly to technology and accept the downside, we crave the person in a company that makes us feel of value. I hear the phrase ‘Customer Driven’ leadership and strategies, however, while this may be driven through the organisation, where do I feel it when I am that client. Who is interested in me as a customer? Who even notices when I take my business elsewhere? Does Waitrose know that they have lost £500 a month from us since we switched to Mindful Chef? Could they have made me feel more important by realising that 25 years of total loyalty to them, has now gone, could they have brought me back?
This might make you laugh, but I remember when I was a wee school girl and I saw my teacher go into a toilet at school. I was so shocked that she needed to go to the loo just like I did. I couldn’t relate to her. We often do this as suppliers. Customers are like you and me. Empathy beyond the transaction is what we all seek.
Customers also have their challenges and pains. They also need to know that they matter. They also need a sense of belonging. They are human too. They need to get ideas. To innovate. To feel a stable footing beneath their business, to have conversations with other people that are experiencing similar challenges and know that they are not alone, to know they are safe, and that they are not weak, or lacking thought their own challenges, to know that they are totally normal.
They want a supplier that they know cares for them beyond the transaction.
I believe every business will have community embedded in its business model, you might find this hard to believe, but 20 years ago people struggled to believe it was possible to create friendships online and run a multi-million pound business from home, and that belief has certainly shifted.
I believe building a community is the number one way to build a future proofed, customer centric, global revenue stream which enables any business to thrive and adapt in an ever changing world. There is a lot more I need to do to convince many, but I hope you stay on this journey with me
Next week, I am going to talk about the ‘leadership style’ of building a community and start to map out the ways an online community mirrors the offline world, and why wouldn’t it, we are humans not robots. Let’s hang onto that.
*This blog first appeared in my LinkedIn newsletter.