Customer Support Communities: The Keys to Unlocking Customer Service Nirvana?

Online communities can save you millions, improve customer advocacy, shorten product development timescales and your customers take on supporting your products. In this insightful guest post, Ben Kay,...

Peer-to-peer support community

Customer support communities can save you millions, improve customer advocacy, shorten product development timescales and involve your customers in creating new products. Sounds like a winner, but how do you get yours started?

Peer-to-peer support community

This is a guest post by Ben Kay, former Head of Digital Strategy & Social at the UK mobile operator, EE, where he led the strategic direction for digital interactions across the customer lifecycle, including EE’s Social Hub and peer-to-peer support community.

There are many facets needing to be covered when developing and running a support community, so I have picked out a few of importance:

Community Management

Communities need nurturing, development and feeding in order that to grow. The key is your community manager, many organisations feel it appropriate to re-deploy existing customer service reps into this role, however I don’t recommend this approach. Having worked with a number of CM’s I have found the role demands someone who can write, is creative, understands the nuance of social conversation, (they often have a journalistic background) and who can facilitate the community (and organisation) to deliver customer service.

Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a place for customer service reps within the community, and they should be explicitly labelled as such, but the CM must be the host. I have always likened the CM as a party host, providing the venue, refreshments (and keeping them flowing) and (most importantly) facilitating the conversation to encourage participants to enjoy their time with you.

Content

Content is the blood that keeps the community alive, it is what brings users back and encourages them to contribute more. Remember 90% of the traffic to your community will just consume content, 9% will contribute, 1% will become super-users. Each of these groups are equally important, and strategies must be put in place to cater for all of them. From creating content to superuser development programmes, ensure you know your audience and what they need from a community is being provided.

Think of content as a value exchange, the provision of good crowd-sourced content will entice users to come back to consume and contribute more in the future, so it’s imperative to understand what your community wants to hear about, often just an exclusive sneak peek inside the organisation can provide very rich, highly desirable content.

Measurement

Make sure you have a strong business case for a peer-to-peer support community, Lithium Technologies publishes some interesting suggestions. For customer service the most compelling is the reduction of support operating costs. To achieve this you need:

  1. Visits – getting eyeballs to your site is imperative to reducing costs on a large scale
  2. Answers – Having a community full of unanswered questions will not bring repeat usage, so ensure posts have an (correct) answer (the industry average is 25-30%)

Evolution (i.e. keep listening to your community)

Be prepared to go with the flow. If your community conversations deviate from your intended purpose have courage to let the conversation flow. Often these threads provide insights to the organisation that a market research department would never have thought to ask! Back to my dinner party analogy, the host doesn’t dictate the conversation, but invites like-minded individuals together in the hope of generating interesting conversation.

I hope this guidance is useful. I strongly believe that communities present a huge opportunity for organisations that goes beyond pure support, however before you begin to tackle everything else, get your support community up and running. It will be worth it.

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