I’ve written before about technology – artificial intelligence – that may or may not help significantly lower customer service costs in the future. But if you are facing high costs running customer support today there are actually ways of lowering your costs through a combination of technology and your users themselves: implementing a community program. Particularly if you have a very engaged group of customers, an active online community will not only lead to more self-service and fewer calls, it will lead to a higher brand advocacy. We don’t have to wait around for IBM Watson – your community is out there right now.
What is a Community Program?
So what exactly is a community program? It is a place on your website or in your mobile app where your users can ask questions and have them answered by other users. Technically it is a combination of a forum (the kind you used to visit in 2004), a knowledge-base, and an FAQ. It is much smarter than all three of those technologies, however, in that it identifies the most valuable information and surfaces it for your users. Also, it is not a “one and done” implementation – a good community requires a real commitment to moderation, content seeding, distribution, and outreach.
When Does it Make Sense to Implement a Community Program?
Building out a community platform requires a lot of up front and ongoing work. You have to be sure that the juice will be worth the squeeze. In particular, you have to know what your what your strategic and tactical goals are and whether they are realistic given your business and your ability to execute.
Some high level goals our clients have considered in the past include:
- Leveraging a highly engaged userbase with easily identifiable leaders and content creators.
- Creating a safe place where their users can discuss the product.
- Lowering the number of contacts (typically emails) that come through to your engagement center.
- Identifying brand advocates for influencer marketing.
More tactically, you should be sure you have a handle on how your community wants to interact with your and your team, and set your tactical goals appropriately. These might include:
- Establishing peer-peer-discussions via usergroups.
- Generating tutorials and how-to’s.
- Creating a self-help help knowledge base.
- Creating a direct line to your customer support via direct chat.
Some Best Practices for Launching Your Community Program
Validate the community concept before you start hiring and buying technology.
You can do this cheaply and effectively through social media – Facebook, Instagram, and so on. In fact, having an active fan base in one or more of those channels is a good indication that building a community is an option for you.
Think about the behaviors you want to establish.
For instance, if you goals are to reduce call volume to your contact center, you want to encourage your community to ask questions of each other, you will act as a moderator and ensure that the response is correct
Involve the right teams upfront.
While you may want your community to be a customer support channel, you will need to pull in team members from your sales, marketing and product team to ensure you are ensuring a balance in the content, structure, engineering and visual design of your community. This team approach will help you ensure that you are consistent with your brand and that you have fully considered your SEO approach.
A few questions to to keep in mind which will involve your content, product, and engineering teams:
- What will be your “voice” in the community? This will come from marketing and is key to define.
- Will you create customized landing pages for various topics? This may create extra engineering work.
- How you will manage and modify content as your community evolves? This will determine community support staffing levels.
Decide on your metrics
Essential metrics include:
- Monthly page-views
- Unique visitors
However, it is also essential to track engagement as well:
- How many people are asking and answering questions?
- How many people are creating blog posts?
- How often users are contributing user-generated content of any kind?
You may also want to measure satisfaction via exit surveys or through Net Promoter Score (NPS).
It’s good to outline the main KPIs (typically these are focused around support and engagement) for example:
- Increase in overall site engagement by [x]% in [y] months
- Increase user participation in community discussions by x% in [y] month
- Increase contributor participation in community discussions by x% in [y] month
- Increase discussion shares to social media by x% in [y] month
- Decrease in support tickets by x% in [y] months
Maintain a Steady Flow of Content
- Work with the your entire support team to ensure you launch with helpful and timely content. As you grow continue to involve various teams for content suggestions.
- Successful community management is one that is proactive, adds great content that sparks interest and feedback, and works to ensure that new members feel good about their involvement and want to participate. You want to reward contributions by your members to help keep member engaged and then continue to build a strong identity and relationship amongst your members.
- Use the community as a repository for videos, images, how-to’s and other media that is useful to your users.
- Publish your Q&A with individual customers. The public nature of the forum will encourage them to be civil and concise, and you will be adding to your knowledgebase at the same time!
Build a Feedback Loop
If you take the time to set up and maintain a vibrant community, use the ideas and feedback it generates! Make sure to build in a workflow on the backend that harvests the best ideas (and complaints) and puts them into your product roadmap.
Create Mentoring Opportunities
We got this one from the folks at Customer Think and it’s a great idea. Enable both your users and your team members to find each other via a mentoring program. This allows your community to find even greater value as they seek to become experts in their consumer or professional interests, and creates even more engagement with your site. Whether it’s finding an athletic advisor or a career mentor, you can enable valuable relationships that go far to cement your brand and create advocates.
- While for the most part communities are self-organizing, in our experience any community requires active administration and moderation or they can quickly move to damaging your brand, especially if you don’t stay on top of abuse, spam, neglect, inactivity, and poor behavior.
- In particular, you should make sure that if a question goes unanswered or a complaint is gaining traction, the user should be able to easily contact your support team directly. Remember this is a public forum – bad stories snowball.
- The most successful community management also is very proactive and goes out the way to draw in the best new participants and contributions to ensure the discussion stays vibrant.
- Provide feedback to encourage good community skills. One suggestion is to use a tool within community that allows the community managers and agents (and other members) ability to provide an indication of satisfaction or approval, using thumbs up, or high five, or whatever your means is on your community to ensure you reward good behavior and keep that person coming back. Also it can be a way of indicating good technical tips that you approve. This is why badging can be helpful to indicate good members with good information.
Community Technology Platforms to Consider
There are a large number of technology platforms out there to power your community. You need to do your research to ensure you are getting the right platform for your community plan and budget. A few we have used in the past include:
There are also heavier-duty options which may require more engineering and offer more enterprise level functionality. They are:
The Benefits of Building a Community
A few years we helped build a community for a major online company. The community resulted in a reduction of 60% of inbound emails in the first year and had over 1 million page views a month 3 months post launch. The numbers can be impressive if it’s done correctly.
Communities are amazing in bringing together folks that share a hobby or interest. Whether it’s food, beauty products, cycling, or running…any activity can bring a community together. Engaging with your customers and allowing them to engage with others having the same interest can help you build customer trust, loyalty and advocacy.
These platforms stimulate communication among your users and advocates, but they go beyond forums in allowing them to share their excitement for their interest. They also give your users a safe place to share what energizes and influences them in the space, and also what bugs the heck out of them. They talk, they share, they bring more like-minded users and the next thing you know you have an energized group of brand advocates. These folks will help you build a better product and service as well as lower costs for sales and support. They answer each others’ questions and find solutions to new situations. True brand advocates will know your product or service almost as well as your best support person and can help their partners in the community share best tips and tricks.