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  • Intranet Book: What Role Do Customer Testimonials Play?
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During our conversation, you’ll notice I’ve occasionally made reference to one or two of our customers. Would you like to find out more about the different customers we’ve made intranets for? If so, you’re not alone. Many others have inquired about the same thing. And this is something I can definitely understand. However, I still don’t want to go into that at this point. I have a couple of reasons for saying this. 

Testimonials are always incomplete and one-sided

Currently, we add one or two new customer testimonials to our Linchpin website every month. At the moment, you can read about a dozen reference projects on our site. In total, however, we have around 200 customers that use Linchpin. So, although the picture is detailed – with video interviews and screenshots – it’s not complete. In addition, I’d be concerned if I only had Linchpin testimonials to offer you. The customers who decided against our intranet solution usually don’t spend much time talking to us afterward. When it comes to the functionalities we’ve already discussed, the underlying technology is pretty much secondary. What’s much more important is being able to map the specific application well. When it comes to testimonials, however, the user scenarios and results always relate strictly to the software tools available. 

Our Customer Community on the Extranet as an Application and a Forum for Exchange

At our company, we always encourage our prospects and customers to network with one another. Maybe this would also be an attractive and interesting prospect for you? Our extranet has a customer community. There are two reasons I think it makes sense to mention this to you. First, it represents a great opportunity to exchange ideas with other intranet enthusiasts, make contacts, and talk “among customers” in an unfiltered manner. Second, having the “customer community on the extranet” application allows us to take a closer look at it in our discussion about intranet projects. A community of this type not only increases the benefit to your customers, it also enhances their loyalty to the company offering it. And the platform is very simple to set up from a technical standpoint. 

Specifically, we’ve activated an extension called Space Privacy in our Confluence-based extranet. This makes it possible to limit the open community character of Confluence to a certain extent. What I mean by community character is the desired level of openness to people and activities. One of the strengths of a wiki-like Confluence is that, in the standard case – i.e., without special permissions settings – everything is open to all the users at first. This isn’t clear to most users and intranet operators, but this basic setting makes it clear why SharePoint often doesn’t work very well. Most companies fail to change the basic settings in their intranet system. They simply see no reason to do so. 

In SharePoint, new documents are restricted by default and have to be actively shared with others. This may differ in individual areas, of course, but as a standard, these areas are restricted. (Google doesn’t do this any better, incidentally – same issue.) As a user, it’s really annoying to always have to think about what you need to do and adjust certain page settings all the time, even though you really want to work on the thing as a whole. 

The openness in Confluence, i.e., the visibility of people in the system along with their documents and work results is highly desirable and extremely helpful to the company as well. When it comes to customers, suppliers, partners, applicants, and alumni, however, a nasty mix quickly emerges that’s detrimental to your business and may be illegal. In any case, it’s something you certainly don’t want. 

Just imagine if one of your suppliers established contact with your customers – facilitated and enabled by your extranet (see “An Extranet for Customers, Partners, And Suppliers”). And it turns out that it would be both practical and cheaper for them to simply shut you out as a trading partner. Suddenly, your extranet is damaging your own business. This is in no way a desirable goal. 

If you want to have groups on your extranet that aren’t allowed to communicate with one another, you need to create separate areas. And this is what the Space Privacy add-on is for. It enables you to offer each customer and partner a separate area where you can interact with them. In addition, you can then create spaces that people from different areas can access together – similar to our customer community. 

We have communities like these for customers, partners, applicants, and alumni – three different communities in which you can exchange ideas and establish direct contact. You can view other members’ profiles, including their phone numbers and email addresses, and post messages on the platform — the same way you would on a discussion forum. We do this using integrated microblogs. 

Here’s an example of a post from our partner community: 

Returning  briefly to the question of project references, we recommend to interested parties and customers that they use these communities to identify precisely the people who are willing to exchange information and those who meet the desired criteria. Interested parties we deal with often want to speak to those responsible for the intranet at companies in the same industry. These people can be quickly and easily filtered in the communities and then addressed directly. 

This direct, unfiltered contact creates a great deal of authenticity. However, you’ll have to ask yourself whether your organization’s business model allows for this. 

At our company, all our prices are public, and they apply to all customers equally. This is why we’re not afraid of customers potentially comparing prices. However, if you’ve adopted a yield pricing model instead, where the conditions differ based on need and urgency, direct contacts and communities may not be advisable. 

Another factor that you shouldn’t underestimate is the need to activate the target groups in the communities. Participation is anything but a matter of course, and user activation is as difficult a nut to crack as creating an intranet itself. Don’t assume that a customer community with the right technology base will function on its own. Communication and active support are at least as important. 

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