When I first established Clear Books, my vision was to have a business where customers were truly integrated into the fabric of what was going on. We’ve all been in a situation where a company we’ve dealt with has treated us with disdain. I didn’t want that situation with my venture.
Little did I know when I first started out that ‘community’ would become a core ethos of Clear Books – one that would not only see customers continuously being part of our product roadmap but also one that would have many of them as investors in the business.
100 years ago the concept of marketing didn’t really exist as it does today. People made products and sold what they had and there were no proper systems or checks in place to determine the satisfaction of customers, let alone on an ongoing basis.
During the 20th century the first signs of modern marketing appeared when companies began to research and understand exactly what their customers wanted – their needs and desires.
They were then able to design and produce products and services that customers liked. They also began to put in place customer satisfaction surveys to gather feedback about what was good and what was not so good. Once they were annual, then they became more frequent.
As other influences have come into play, especially the growth of global communication and collaborative tools that we now have in abundance in the 21st century, the concept of marketing has evolved even further. Companies have to be more open, more transparent, more ‘two-way’.
They have to truly listen to the needs and desires of their customers on an ongoing basis. They may not be able to satisfy every individual customer’s specific requirement, but they can adopt an approach that is open and says: “we want your suggestions, we want what we do to be better for you and ALL of our customers”.
At Clear Books, we take the spirit of community very seriously. I say seriously, but it’s also a lot of fun, of course!
We continuously want to provide services that customers want, we actively seek their technical collaboration and we seek their investment as ‘fanvestors’ in our company.
In 2014 we launched our community network for customers to collaborate, network, raise questions and post ideas for the Clear Books network. Through this we establish our road map and prioritise development requests. This is a hub spot for individuals and businesses to collaborate, raise suggestions and build the wider community, both within the company and externally.
The developers at Clear Books are always looking at ways to improve the software in an attempt to streamline our customers’ workflow and increase their efficiencies. The best way of doing this is through collaboration.
Although we take every care to work together and listen to our customers' needs, we have a roadmap to follow that has been configured through a combination of "ideas" from our customer community as well as new innovations from our team internally.
We also provide an online Custom Accelerated Development service that enables customers to fast-track ideas to developers, allowing them to commission features for any Clear Books product.
Through collaborative working and by using the tools that are available to businesses and their stakeholders, companies can tweak and fine-tune their product or service offering almost on a daily basis.
It may seem like more work than it’s worth, but in highly competitive industries it can be the difference between losing or keeping customers, and even increasing their business.
Funding is another area where our community ethos has played an important role in the direction and operation of Clear Books. We knew that customers were coming to us because we were a bit different to our competitors, but the show of hands gave us the confidence to crowdfund and in doing so we’ve raised over £1.5m.
Having “fanvestors” owning a part of your business means there is an extension of the team and advocates flying the flag. They are everyday customers and can ultimately become a part of sales and marketing through their word of mouth recommendations.
Crowdfunding may not be right for all companies, but for those who do it successfully it can bring about a sense of community to a business; and if that sense of community is contagious, then more people want to get involved.
In summary, the way businesses operate is changing. it’s no longer us and them. Companies that are able to build a successful community spirit will have understood and locked into modern marketing as it now looks in the 21st century.