Groundswell: Autodesk Drives Customer Loyalty with Collaborative and Proactive Community

Lithium Alumni (Retired)

How does a B2B software company build customer loyalty and increase the value of each customer with an ever-changing social landscape? Autodesk, one of the world leaders in 3D design, engineering, and entertainment software, has found the answer – delivering on customers’ needs before they ask. The company drives customer loyalty and product affinity through a Total Community strategy. The strategy includes activations on Facebook, nearly 200,000 followers on Twitter, more than 40 million views on YouTube, and a branded community, running on the Lithium platform, that has seen its unique visitors grow by 34% in the last year.  


One of the pillars of the Autodesk social strategy is its branded community which is the main hub for directly connecting with customers. Dating back to 1986, with Compuserve, Autodesk has leveraged community to foster peer-to-peer to support, drive greater brand affinity, and solidify relationships with its customers. It has evolved to focus on collaborating with and anticipating the needs of customers.


Now its eight communities in multiple languages, offer customers unique experiences by industry, region, and expertise level. The company shares product use information, solves potential product issues, and promotes best practices to proactively supply customers with the tools and information needed for a successful product experience.  


The company’s collaborative and proactive approach is supported by several key programs, including Expert Elite, Knowledge Network, and Autodesk Help Webinars. The tactics have delivered the following success metrics:

  • Autodesk communities received over 27 million unique visits in the last 12 months.
  • Annually, the community successfully serves answers to millions of customers, yielding a multimillion dollar value to Autodesk and its customers.
  •  Customer success is tracked and measured via surveys to ensure that the community is providing actual solutions, and at an increasing rate.
  • The community has more than 1.4 million registered members that have shared more than 135,000 kudos and over 20,000 newly accepted solutions in the last year.


Expert Elite:


Autodesk’s Expert Elite are the Super Fans and lifeblood of the Autodesk Community. The Autodesk Expert Elite program was created to recognize customers around the world who have contributed a significant amount of time, knowledge, and assistance to fellow customers.  These people have demonstrated a strong sense of leadership and use an engaging style of collaboration that contributes to a healthy and valuable customer community. The program now has over 200 members representing 23 different countries. They have delivered 7,000 accepted solutions, received 17,000 kudos and posted 60,000 replies.




The unique aspect about the Expert Elite program is that it doesn’t stop at community; it is the concept of Total Community. The program not only values a user’s contribution within the community, but outside of it as well. Autodesk looks at the contributions people are making on personal blogs and other social channels, as well as at offline events such as training seminars, to really see the conversations happen full circle.


One Expert Elite, Paul Munford is a great example of Total Community. He wanted to spread the word to let people know about the terrific support options available to Autodesk customers. He interviewed various Autodesk Help team members and then posted his story on his personal blog. He then amplified it on his other social channels for maximum reach.  Not only did Paul feel passionate enough to write about the Autodesk Help team, but he has posted 943 times, received 198 Kudos and contributed 53 solutions in the community. This example shows the loyalty Autodesk has created with their trusted fans. It is not only about providing customers immediate answers for questions, but building relationships with them and bringing them into the Autodesk family.


Autodesk further drives loyalty among the Expert Elites by offering monthly webinars to share company and product news, providing free software, and hosting an annual Summit where the Expert Elites and Autodesk representatives can meet in person.  At the last Summit held in December 2014, the EE’s had a chance to meet informally over a lunch with CEO Carl Bass, and also had informal presentations and Q&A sessions with the CTO and VP of Cloud.  All of the EE’s are under NDA and therefore Autodesk can share news and information normally restricted for employees only, allowing for early input and feedback from this elite group of customers that is incorporated into products and services.


 Knowledge Network:


Autodesk’s recently-launched Knowledge Network (AKN) as a place for users to find product solutions, learn more about products and link in to the community. When looking for support, top knowledge based articles come up and in certain cases are even accepted solutions from the community. This speaks volumes to the importance of community participation for quick problem solving capabilities, not to mention the Super Users of the community who answer support questions directly.  In the last 12 months, nearly 20 million unique visitors came to the AKN site to learn and explore, troubleshoot an issue, or download software.



Autodesk Help Webinars:


Autodesk recognized the importance of video content on the community, and last year piloted and launched a webinar program to proactively offer customers another way to learn about and experience Autodesk products. For instance, the Installation and Licensing Community hosted “Troubleshooting Desktop Subscription Licensing issues” webinar to give users the information they need to get the “software up and ready.”  The Autodesk Help webinar series is a virtual studio house, with regular, and in some cases weekly offerings.  Webinar attendance can be as high as 200 live attendees and videos posted online can reach over 5,000 views.


The webinars proactively target popular topic areas to address questions or in response to customer conversations surfaced elsewhere on the community. The webinars are purely for support and learning, providing customers with information that allows them to get products up and running quickly and provide a deep knowledge about functionality, with the ultimate goal of helping customers to optimize productivity and utility of their Autodesk software.  Over 50% of webinar attendees are repeat participants because they derive continued value from the webinar content.  Put into customer words, “The session was great, and I plan to attend as many as I can.  Although I am relatively proficient there is always something I can learn.”

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 Innovating with success measurement - The Gratitude Index:


Autodesk knew that having a better understanding of their customer sentiment, relative to competitors and known market leaders, was critical to a successful long-term social strategy. To achieve that goal, the company‘s global social media support team created the Gratitude Index, which is an algorithm based on keywords and the number of social mentions that contained specific words associated with gratitude, thanks, and appreciation. In other words, it was an actual measurement of customers expressing their gratitude for the support they received from the Autodesk Help team. The Gratitude Index is used to measure customer satisfaction and efficiency; a qualitative social ROI. The index has become a key metric for the team and is shared up to the highest leadership levels at Autodesk.  Currently, and consistently, Autodesk leads among other software companies and ranks among top brands from other industries.


Autodesk also uses key words to track customers that have expressed frustration and a negative sentiment. The @AutodeskHelp team works with these customers to solve issues and turn negative situations around, when possible, moving a frustrated customer to a delighted one. The challenging feedback is also used to inform how the team and Autodesk can better serve customers and surface potential problems on the horizon.   In fact, the negative feedback is embraced almost more tightly because there is rich insight that can be gleaned about how to improve the customer experience, from product purchase to usage, to renewal and repurchase.



It's Working:


Autodesk’s Total Community strategy is working, with a Klout Score of 85, they are in the top percentile of social influencers.  And, when customer detractors are engaged, Autodesk’s Help team converts at least twice as many as those who remain upset.


The strategy is embraced from the top down, as evidenced by a recent blog post by CEO Carl Bass who frequently participates in the Fusion 360 community as it is one of Autodesk’s strategic products.


Check out the Fusion 360 community and in particular, this recent blog from Carl that talks about building the product “hand-in-hand with the Fusion community,” along with a blog comment from one of the Expert Elites that states “I’ve seen so many examples where suggestions were heard, understood, refined, and implemented in an amazingly short time frame.”  This is exactly what Autodesk wants to achieve, to drive even greater levels of customer loyalty.

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