If you ever want to question the power of customer loyalty in the digital age, just ask Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber.
We’re not at the end of 2017 yet, but we’ll call it early: This may be Kalanick’s worst year ever. In February, he was caught on video berating an Uber driver, was publicly condemned for reportedly failing to disclose sexual harassment allegations within his company, and lost more and 200,000 users in one week thanks to the massive #DeleteUber campaign. By the end of March, three of Uber’s top executives—COO, VP of product, and SVP of engineering—had resigned.
As Kalanick and his remaining team scramble to put out the raging PR inferno, other brands should heed this valuable lesson: Customers are always watching—and you need to offer more than coupon codes to earn (and keep) their trust. How can digital brands stay in touch with their user base and foster better loyalty? Surprisingly, crowdsourcing may be the perfect solution. Here’s how you can leverage crowdsourcing to transform users into brand advocates:
1. Give users a chance to impact product development
The concept of garnering public interest in a product before it even exists seems counter-intuitive and reckless, but that’s exactly the model Kickstarter used to successfully crowdfund more than 120,000 projects.
By polling interest and providing behind-the-scene glimpses into product development, users have the opportunity to feel personally invested in the product and, ultimately, your brand. Justin Kazmark, VP of communications at Kickstarter, told Forbes, “Kickstarter is at the intersection of commerce and patronage. It’s a way for creators and backers to bring a piece of work to life together.”
2. Ask users to break your product
Engineers know one of the best people to keep in their circle is an ethical hacker. After all, it’s better to have someone on your side catch a vulnerability in your software than a cybercriminal who could cost your company millions of dollars.
Some services allow companies to leverage hackers-on-demand to identify bugs and potential issues within applications before releasing them to market. Facebook’s bug bounty program offers recognition and a handsome reward to anyone who can hack into its software. Like crowdsourced product development, crowdsourced hacking introduces your product to new users and establishes buy-in from those who feel like part of the process.
3. Poll your staff: Potentially dangerous business stances can wait
When Kalanick joined President Trump’s economic advisory council in December—and remained even after Trump signed his immigration order against seven Muslim countries—he angered a significant portion of Uber’s user base. But he could have avoided this undesirable outcome if he only listened to his staff.
Chris Cancialosi, founder of gothamCulture, wrote in Forbes that crowdsourcing can help you take one giant step around bias, a pretty hideous word in business. “Crowdsourcing prevents groupthink and stops leaders from buying into their own ideas without thinking through other perspectives. By bouncing ideas off others in your organization, you can stay true to company goals and focus on broader objectives.”
While opening the floodgates for a barrage of employee opinions sounds like a nightmare to most leaders, collaborative decision-making can prevent horrific outcomes. Earning and maintaining customer loyalty is especially challenging in an era when consumers have more choices than ever, but outpacing the competition is virtually impossible without a committed user base. By leveraging crowdsourcing and the technologies that make it possible, digital brands can amass and retain user allegiance.