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Listen to customer communities to build loyalty

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The key to building customer loyalty is listening to your customers. There's no point trying to manage customer relationships if you don't know what it is your customers need. One way to build customer relationships is by creating a brand community atmosphere that fosters customer interactions with peers as well as your business.

The opening panel at ShopSmart magazine's Summit on Tips, Scams & Deals on May 11 featured three executives from customer-centric companies discussing how each brand uses customer feedback to enhance their products and services. 

"Community is everything," said Stephanie Brocoum, VP of marketing at Rue La La. "We have 3.2 million members. We think of them all as part of our community. We embrace the notion of the voice of the consumer. She must say 'wow' to what we offer and share it with her community." 

Because consumers are more empowered than ever to share their views, Brocoum said, businesses must listen to what they are saying and allow them to "drive success."

Brocoum said Rue La La launched three years ago under the assumption that social media would allow consumers to turn shopping into a digital social event. 

"Most of our members come through word of mouth," she said. "We have basic social integration as well as email sharing. We see on our Twitter feed every day that people are talking about the things they bought and the prices they bought it at. It's so important to give consumers the right tools to spread the word. Unleashing that is such an important thing."

Rue La La has facilitated a member council practically since the company's founding, said Brocoum. "Their feedback shapes the business and what we sell," she said.

According to Brocoum, Rue La La members helped shape the way the company developed its return policy. 

"Two years back...we offered returns for a credit and free shipping," she said. "We were going to take that away. We were going to give consumers their money back. But they said they wanted free return shipping so we added the other option without taking away the return credit and free shipping." 

ShopSavvy, a company that allows users to scan product bar codes with their mobile phones to find lower-than-retail prices, also adapted its offerings to meet consumer need.

"Users love the idea of finding the right price," said Matthew Weathers, VP of product at ShopSavvy. "Bringing transparency to users is what attaches users to our brand and apps. We enable discussion between us and our users. Some of our best features have come from them." 

Weathers said ShopSavvy opened its system to allow users to add items to the app because an overwhelming number of consumers recommended the company do so. 

"Usage has been phenomenal," he said. "They added a quarter of a million products in the last month."

Quirky, a technology company founded by 24-year-old Ben Kaufman, actually allows consumers to invent and vote on products.

"Every American has a product invention in them," said Kaufman. "The actual packaging of our products has the names of the thousands of Quirky members who helped make this product a reality...Our users help make the product possible and make the products what they are."

Quirky consumers have the ability to present an idea for an invention; they can vote on ideas, create ideas and post comments. 

"Crowdsourcing has the [stigma] that the community is smarter than the experts," he said. "The power is putting the community and the experts together. We're partners in growing the business."

The Quirky process will be featured in a TV show launching on Sunday, June 28 on the Sundance Channel.   

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