Where Chat Collaboration Software Falls Short as a Community Tool

When it comes to offering support choices, many firms believe they can save a little money and streamline the process by using a popular new tool, even if it isn’t the right tool for the job. In this instance, many companies have been choosing chat collaboration software such as Slack for this purpose.

There are inherent problems with taking this route. And a lot of it comes down to the old adage about using the right tool for the right job.

Where Chat Software Breaks Down

Chat collaboration software is a great tool, particularly for quick questions and instant answers from a colleague or collaborator. Even the folks at Vanilla rely on it as a back up to HipChat. However when it comes to offering customer support, it falls short. Programs such as these are intended to facilitate the work for an internal company team. While you certainly can use it for other purposes, it is collaboration tool first. 

In a particularly scathing article entitled “Actually, Slack Really Sucks,” (ouch), Christopher Batts of Medium.com breaks down some of the ways in which such programs fall short of creating a true community feel.

Among the issues outlined:

  • Clunky notifications, owing in part to having to manage multiple different feeds.
  • Group chat functions that create multiple new conversations where only one is needed.

This makes offering support difficult to customers and team members if the chat is too large.

“If someone is already using the channel for a chat, it’ll interrupt that conversation and send the whole channel on two tangents. If it’s quiet, it’ll show as a notification for anyone and everyone in the channel.”

The latter is one of the key reasons why these programs fail as a support tool. Timely attention to customer inquiries is an essential component of any support tool. When messaging systems closely resemble loud, crowded chat rooms; it can be difficult to provide the level of attention and support that is needed. Often, the chat groups become a jumbled mess.

Another example of chat collaboration software failing to live up to expectations comes from Freecodecamp.com which sought to use the system for their growing community of code campers. While things started off well enough, the problems soon became obvious.

Message limits were hit, user limits were achieved, and the system performed sluggishly. Eventually the only alternative was to pay an exorbitant upgrade fee, or segment their message groups to ease strain on the system as well as loophole around user limitations.

Ultimately, Freecodecamp had to abandon the plan and move elsewhere, and their ordeal should serve as a cautionary tale. The entire exercise reinforced the fact that team collaboration software has its use, but creating a community is not one of them.

Online Communities: A Solution that Works

At the end of the day, it’s not a good idea to force a program to be something that it isn’t. When trying to provide support for your business, team collaboration software falls short of fulfilling the basic needs of your community.

A large chatroom full of squawking voices is hardly ideal when trying to address support tickets or troubleshoot problems. Companies are better off going with a forum. Forum software are proven winner for providing customer support. Customers are increasingly interested in troubleshooting their own problems.

And your savvier customers are only too happy to flex their mental muscle and lend a hand.

What’s better, with a forum-based community, once an issue is resolved, the solution remains visible for future users to see. This helps users address a number of common issues, and is one of the ways self-service support can actually improve your overall customer service.

But Is it Worth It?

One of the biggest deterrents to forming a forum-based community is it’s hard to measure ROI with forums. The most immediate impact of implementing a customer support forum is that it saves up time from your agents and valuable resources on channels such as phone, email, or social media  can as you funnel your users to the community. 

Even if ROI is a concern, forums have a relatively easy time ranking in terms of search engine optimization. A collaboration tool such as Slack? Not so much.

Another impact is that self-service support is essentially “free” by its nature. When you provide an environment for customers and fans to interact with your brand as well as each other, you need only provide oversight and watch the community take hold.

Of course your team will still need to maintain an active presence to help and guide customers where needed. However, once the community is established the bulk of the support comes from within.

A Clear Choice – The Right Tool For the Right Job

Ultimately, it does come down to the idea of using the right tool for the right job. An online community is a better system for handling support, and will eventually save time and money down the road.

Providing support is one of the reasons why forums exist in the first place. No matter how much you try and force it, chat collaboration software can’t say the same.

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