In Business, Thought Leadership Starts with Customer Support

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thought-leadership_1-02_large2What if you could do just one thing that would assure your company of retaining customers, getting more business from them and attracting new customers? That’s exactly what can happen when you become a thought leader in customer support. A thought leader is the authority that customers, potential customers and other audiences look to over and over again for reliable, accurate, expert information and answers to their questions.

You can establish yourself as a thought leader by consistently providing information that proves useful and credible, beginning with topics that focus on supporting people who are actually using your products or services. Once you’ve achieved that, you can move on to providing higher-level information and views about your industry more generally, not just your own company.

Both types of thought leadership – about your products or services specifically and about the larger industry – are important. The first enables you to become the one that people count on to support them as users of your products or services. And it lays the foundation for the second, broader kind of thought leadership.

We’ll talk about the best ways to reach customers and potential customers with your information and views later in this post. But first, let’s look at why it’s so important to assume the role of thought leader in your field – and at the specific ways in which thought leadership benefits your organization.

Lead, follow or get out of the way.

When you establish yourself as a thought leader, you differentiate your company, setting it apart from your competitors as the source that can best meet the demand for authoritative information in your field. This serves two purposes: It establishes your authority about how best to use your products or services, and it sets you up as a trusted source of guidance for helping plan larger strategies and initiatives.

For example, if you run a software company that serves marketing directors, once you’ve become known as the best source of information about your product or service, you can go on to become a valuable source of information for higher-level considerations like content strategy, content distribution, multi-channel marketing strategies and so forth. You learn a lot by partnering with your customers to accomplish their goals, and that puts you in a position to share what you’ve learned, which can serve your market as a whole.

If you don’t fill the role of thought leader, people will look elsewhere for someone to do it – and that’s likely to be a competitor. It doesn’t matter whether they go to a competitor’s website, a general forum or a media channel; the point is that if they’re looking to someone else, you’re missing the opportunity to be the one who controls the message that’s out there about your field and even your own products and services.

This brings to mind the old expression “lead, follow or get out of the way.” In this situation, you want to be the one who leads the thinking about your company and your industry – the source people immediately think of to go to when they need information about your products and services and how to use them effectively. Being that leader enables you to:

Retain existing customers who appreciate having readily available support content around your products and services to help them when they have questions or issues.

Enhance relationships with customers who see the support and information you provide – both about your own products and services and about related industry topics – as an added value of doing business with you instead of with someone else.

Upsell current customers by educating them about ways to meet their needs.

Attract new customers who are using search engines to find information that’s relevant to them and their needs.

People today are hungry for information. When you consistently provide content to satisfy those cravings, you become the leader they’re looking for in your field.

Top three ways to share your expertise and be a thought leader

Let’s be clear on one important point: Thought leadership isn’t about self-promotion. It’s about helping people when they need information. As one communications consultant described it, “Thought leadership is about writing what you know, sharing your expertise and addressing potential customer pain points.” With that in mind, here are three things you can do to achieve thought leadership in customer support.

  1. Publish blogposts and articles to share your expertise.
    Regularly publishing blogposts and articles on your website about topics of interest to customers and potential customers enables you to engage with them directly to share information that’s of value to them, building their trust over time. For example, if your company provides IT support to small businesses, you might start by simply offering some practical guidance on how to troubleshoot a particular computer problem, and then expand into blogging about larger topics such as how to decide when it’s time to upgrade systems and software.
  2. Maintain a Q&A knowledge base of helpful information.
    One of the main reasons people use search engines like Google is to find answers to questions. When you maintain an online knowledge base of questions and answers in your field, you set your company up as a source for the answers people are looking for. One of my favorite examples of this is the services referral company Angie’s List, which has built an extensive knowledgebase from which to provide expert information. Google “How much should water heater installation cost?” for example, and an answer from Angie’s List tops the non-paid search results.
  3. Engage beyond your own website on social media and other channels.
    It’s important to have content on your website to establish thought leadership, but it’s even more important to expand your reach by engaging with customers and potential customers through other channels online. Instead of just posting articles on your site, put the content on LinkedIn, link to it via Twitter and Facebook, and refer to it in general-interest online forums like quora.com or more specialized communities like stackoverflow.com. This is also a great opportunity to provide a link to your own blog or knowledge base and bring people back to your environment.

A content strategy that includes all three of these things allows you to create a presence across several different channels, increasing the odds that people who are looking for information will find you wherever they look. It also helps ensure that if you don’t reach your audience in one channel, they’ll find you in another.

Don’t miss your chance to lead the thinking about what you do – which both serves your current customers while leading more potential customers to your company, products, and services.

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