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What We've Learned About Support Communities

Posted by Patrick Groome on Sep 22, 2015 1:06:49 PM

6 minute read

What We've Learned About Support CommunitiesOmni-channel support is here to stay, and support communities  are one of the most popular manifestations of this trend. Support communities are similar, but distinct from, other forms of social customer service. Using Twitter as a source of support for instance, can be useful in giving your customers a simple place to find you (a place where they’re already spending time), but is still based upon the customer receiving help directly from you. The strength of a support community is in giving customers a place to support each other, and an SEO friendly format that allows these answers to function as a knowledge base.

We recently performed a study on customer support community forums to measure their impact on businesses. These range from large name brands to smaller, more specialised communities. This article contains a list of insights that we’ve gained both from the study and our years of experience as a provide of support forum software. We’ll list some of the great results we’ve seen from support forums, and give a little advice on  how your community team can compensate for some of the problems that arise.

Customers Can Provide Great Support to Each Other

Customer-to-customer support is the most sought after benefit of a customer community, but even we were surprised by the statistics our study uncovered. 83% of support questions were answered by other customers rather than paid staff.

This may sound too good to be true, but statistics bear out the fact that customers are keen to help each other. There are a number of reasons why support communities create this effect:

  • Some members might simply enjoy the feeling of helping others
  • Members may feel that helping others elevates their status in the community
  • Being known as an expert in a community can help to build the member’s professional profile and reputation

Regardless of the reason, the data is clear: customer-to-customer support is a powerful part of modern support.

To help quantify the impact, if your cost per support inquiry sits at $10, and you typically process 100 support requests a day, a customer support community could mean nearly $300,000 in operational costs savings yearly.

Clear Discussion Titles Are a Necessity

A customer’s problem is much more likely to be solved if they can effectively describe it. Fortunately, 91% of customers in our study had no problem with this. Unfortunately, this still leaves 10% of customers who are less likely to receive help with their problem. A great description also pays dividends in the future. A problem solved for one customer can be saved for many, if searchers are able to find it. A thread title like “A Problem With My Phone” or similar won’t be picked up by other customers, even if they receive a great answer.

Your community team can alleviate this problem, both with proactive and preventative measures. Ensure that your visitors see clearly visible guidelines on how to format their questions for maximum effectiveness. It’s in the interest of the customer, after all, to receive an answer as quickly and accurately as possible. The community team will also receive great mileage out of editing discussion titles to be more descriptive. Not only does this help the customer get a great answer, but it has huge benefits for the SEO of your support forum. Great SEO means more answers, more eyes on those answers and more potential tickets deflected.

Customers Can’t Always Be Relied Upon to Show Thanks

It’s human nature to expect a little appreciation when you do something nice for someone. In support communities, this plays out most of the time. Our study showed that 71% of customers acknowledged an answer from another customer. This, unfortunately, is still too low. If a customer providing support in their free time feels unappreciated, they’re less likely to give help in the future.

It’s not only the person that receives advice that can show thanks though. These customers are helping your business, it’s only fitting that your staff should step in to provide thanks when it isn’t forthcoming from other users. There are many ways that staff can show their appreciation. A simple note of thanks is always nice, the more personal and social the better. It shouldn’t seem like you’re merely fulfilling a corporate PR duty. Using gamification features such as badges, points and reaction buttons can also be a great way to make sure your most helpful customers feel valued. If you don’t have much experience with gamification, you can check out our free ebook on the subject here

Negativity is Less of a Problem Than You Might Expect

The internet has a somewhat deserved reputation as a hostile environment. Absent the ability to put a face to the person talking to them, many people are much less pleasant than they would be in person. Given that support forums are public facing venues, this is obviously a concern for anyone starting one. What if a wave of negativity from disgruntled customers takes over your community?

As it turns out, the numbers show that this simply doesn’t happen. 89% of responses were considered neutral by our testing criteria. 8% were positive. Only the remaining 3% were clearly negative. It seems that most customers appreciate the opportunity to talk about their product problems and resolve them in a timely fashion. There are going to be negative outliers in any group (especially during serious product issues), but 3% is a pretty reasonable number.

The room for improvement is on getting that 8% positive result up. Neutral is better than negative, but any company would rather that customers are glowing rather than merely satisfied. This is a great KPI to hang on your support community.

The Biggest Potential For Improvement is in Time to Response

There is an unfortunate area in which the support communities we studied have room to improve: response time. Response time for customer questions in a support community were at a modal average of 37 hours. There are some outliers in the data, but even removing them reduces the average time to 18 hours. Ideally, a customer will receive an answer to their question within a single working day, so there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Questions posed on a support community tend to be more complex than those that are asked by other means. The long form format allows customers more room to add complex data and descriptions to their problem. This added complexity necessarily leads to a longer time to answer.

Once the question is answered however, it stays answered. These statistics don’t account for customers who find an existing forum thread answering their question and never even need to sign in to the community. That’s data which is much harder to measure.

Response times can be improved in a number of ways. Firstly, as above, by using gamification and other incentives to reward members who help others. Secondly by empowering your staff to answer the trickier questions (outside the scope of customer to customer help) quickly and effectively. Setting up notifications and integrations so that staff are immediately aware of problems is a great way of getting this time down. If a question is unanswered after too long, a staff member should be ready to respond and escalate the ticket to dedicated support staff.

Support Communities Will Continue to Improve

This data is heartening, but support communities haven’t stopped improving on them. Recent integration and ticketing improvements have made forums a more powerful support platform than ever before. With this new technology comes a new period of developing techniques and best practises to use the platform to its fullest potential. The numbers are strong, but there’s still a clear path to providing even better customer support through forum technology.

Topics: Community, News, Support

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