There is a growing trend amongst a variety of very different companies to launch communities in an effort to reduce customer support costs. Essentially, they are looking to outsource some of the support burden to their own customers. Community-based support can be a mutually beneficial arrangement. Customers can gain in a few different ways:
- becoming recognized as product experts
- exchanging best practices with others
- promoting a product that they depend on for their livelihood or for enjoyment
The company benefits by:
- saving on supports costs
- incubating brand evangelists
- reducing the need for employees to update the KB as the product evolves
- identifying the real product, usability and documentation weaknesses
Migrating some of your support to the community requires a reevaluation of a few ingrained beliefs about how support is delivered. Traditionally, support is measured using metrics like time to resolution or percentage of cases resolved on first contact. The success of an online community, on the other hand, is measured by looking at time on site, return visits, comments per discussion, etc. Support is all about efficiency whereas community is all about participation. So how can a community be better at providing customer support than a well-ordered, searchable knowledge base?
What we’ve observed among our customers it that community-based support works best for complex products or products that benefit from knowledge of best practices. Established members of the community can guide new members, and those looking for support, in a way that a static knowledge base can’t. GameSalad is an excellent example of a company that has built a great community around its game development platform. Big Green Egg is another. A barbecue is simple product but using it properly isn't always so simple.
Regardless of the kind of product or service that you offer, community engagement must trump efficiency if you want to build a healthy community and reduce support costs. Your community must be welcoming, it must reward positive behavior, and it must make it easy for first time visitors to get involved and participate.