The Second Pillar of Community Strategy: Support

Posted by Patrick Groome on Apr 16, 2015 2:48:43 PM

3 minute read

In the previous article, we discussed how generating sales can be a crucial part of community strategy. In this article, it’s time to discuss another crucial factor: support.

Like many other fields, the internet is changing support. The traditional channels, such as customer support phone lines, are outdated and insufficient for most businesses. Customers now expect omni-channel support, where they choose the how, where and when of their support. Customers expectations are higher than they’ve ever been, and it’s easier than ever for customers to see if you’re doing it wrong. Bad support doesn’t just affect existing customers, it leads to a bad reputation among those shopping around. No product is flawless, and customers want to know that if something goes wrong, you’re there to help. A given customer might decide that they want support from:

  • A phone line
  • A support email account
  • A Twitter account
  • A branded Facebook page
  • Online chat
  • A community forum

For customers, the problem is receiving effective support. If they have a problem with a product, any delay in fixing it feels unacceptable to them. Time to response and time to resolution are both critical, but they’re only part of the puzzle. A crucial one, certainly, but to a modern customer being good at customer service means more than that. It means transparency. It means being able to communicate effectively with the person providing that support, and to be treated like a human being. For many, it even means bypassing the people side of the equation and simply finding the answer they want, fast.

Cost is Always a Factor In Community Strategy

For businesses, the problem is managing the cost of support. Few can afford to staff each of those channels effectively, and even those that can are likely to want to reduce costs wherever  possible.

So how does community figure into this? There are a few ways that your community strategy can help your support:

  • By allowing you to mobilise your existing customers (especially enthusiastic brand advocates) to provide help to other users, and to share their own solutions to problems.
  • By giving your support staff a convenient location to provide support, converse with users and build stronger relationships with your customers.
  • By allowing you to build a living knowledge base about your product, which community members contribute to, update and revise as needed

Community allows you to use your existing customers (and strong brand advocates in particular) to provide fast, effective, and cheap support to other users. People enjoy helping others, whether it’s because they simply enjoy helping out or because they like to show their superior knowledge of a product. In some cases, they may want to build a reputation as a problem solver, in the hope of attaining consulting work or a lucrative career opportunity down the line. It should be a key part of your community strategy to find, recognise and reward these users, to encourage them to continue helping out. As part of an omni-channel support approach, this can deflect a lot of tickets from your staff (particularly simple ones), given them more time to spend on more complex problems

Aside from ticket deflection, community can allow your support staff to build better relationships with their customers. Have you ever come to a company with a product problem, and left the exchange feeling better about the company than when you started. I have, and each time it was the result of support staff who went the extra mile to be friendly and helpful. This can be done on a phone call or an email and it might impress one customer. If it happens in a public branded community, it might impress dozens. Everyone knows that their support needs to be fast and accurate, but a community approach also allows you to be open and transparent.

Building a community as a knowledge base is also a huge resource saver. Telephone support tend to work from scripts for a reason; most user problems are not unique to them and could be solved with a quick google. Make your community into the place that search leads to, and you’ll deflect tickets before you even know they exist. A user simply finds an answer, and moves on. You can do this with online product documentation of course, but a community forum is a living document, and answers can be added to, changed and revised by either staff or users as it becomes available.

Brand Advocates Make For Great Support

Once again, the watchword here is brand advocacy. If your users love your product and love your brand, they’ll go out of their way to help you out. I won’t bang the same drum again, but the only way these crucial customers are going to be on your side is if you’ve built a great community.

Customers want support options. There’s no such thing as a catch all solution, just a variety of different solutions of varying effectiveness and cost. If support is part of your community strategy however, you’ll find it much easier to get the job done well. Your support improves, your customer relationships grow, and both improvements can be displayed to the world.

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Topics: Community, Support, News

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