Help Customers Help Each Other

In May 2006, a Malaysian IKEA fan who goes by the pseudonym Jules Yap started the Website, posting interesting examples of IKEA customers who assembled their furniture in creative and innovative ways. Before long, the site became the leading community for IKEA fans looking for interesting ideas to enhance their IKEA furniture experience.

From IKEA’s viewpoint, it’s a huge benefit to have a passionate blogger, working at no cost to IKEA, building a community of IKEA fans who share ideas and experiences, and along the way happen to buy more IKEA products. Most businesses would love to have that kind of fan community, and many pay their staff to build such a community – but rarely with that much success. IKEA should be thrilled by Jules’ site.

But they weren’t. Bizarrely, eight years after Jules launched the site, IKEA turned its lawyers on her, demanding she shut it down for trademark infringement. Strictly speaking, they might have been in the right, but it wasn’t harming IKEA in any way – in fact, just the opposite. Rather than embracing the efforts of a passionate fan, they threatened and intimidated her.

Jules and her fans didn’t want to go down without a fight, and they took to Twitter, e-mail, and any other form of feedback to ask IKEA to retract their action. And this story has a happy ending, because – to their credit – somebody at IKEA saw the light and backed down. Their apology reflected (in retrospect) the mindset they should have had right from the start:

“We want to clarify that we deeply regret the situation at hand with IKEAhackers. It has of course never been our ambition to stop their webpage. On the contrary, we very much appreciate the interest in our products and the fact that there are people around the world that love our products as much as we do. We are now evaluating the situation, with the intention to try to find a solution that is good for all involved.”

At the time of the legal dispute, Jules said, “I was a just crazy fan … In retrospect, a naive one too”. Fortunately for IKEA, they recognised the value of “crazy fans” on their side.

Your customers know more than you think.

You think you know everything about your product or service, because you live it, breathe it, and developed it with blood, sweat, and tears. All that might be true, but it doesn’t mean you know everything. As much as you are experts in building it, your customers are experts in using it.

In a nutshell: Customers know how to help other customers get stuff done!

Because you’re always looking at your product from an internal view, you create rules about how to solve a problem, or (if you’re being a bit more flexible) different options.

But customers view it with a fresh outlook and an external perspective. Sometimes they find answers you hadn’t considered, and you can add them to your support database.

The real gold comes when customers find solutions in innovative ways – which we call “hacks” – that break the rules of how you’re “supposed” to use your product or service. You didn’t imagine them, and sometimes you wouldn’t even allow or sanction them. But they still work!

Don’t discourage these hacks. Instead, encourage, endorse and embrace them – and find a way to bring these fans together to help each other.

Like ants at a picnic that lay a trail for other ants, they’ll share their ideas with other customers – and that’s good for you.

What can you do to help customers help each other?

What can you do to support customers who want to support each other? Ask these three questions first:

  1. Are you currently doing anything that restricts or discourages customers from sharing ideas with each other?
  2. Can you find customers who are already building a fan base for you? What can you do to support and encourage them?
  3. What can you do to build a space (often online) for customers to share ideas with each other?


What Next?

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