Free and Open: How to Get the Most out of Your Self-Service Support Forum
One of the earliest manifestations of self-service was the venerable knowledge base. This storehouse of product support material remains strong today as users often go here first to search for answers to their problems.
But, to what extent should you take insider product knowledge and go public with it? Do you really want your competitors to know the inner workings of your offering? Will non-customers learn enough from your knowledge base to meet their needs without your product?
These are important questions. As self-service solutions continue to grow and evolve, organizations wonder whether to restrict access, either by shutting out the public by way of a sign-in and/or segmenting access for existing customers.
I want to take a hint from Optimizely, however, who experienced great success by choosing to leave their knowledge base free and open to the public.
3 Benefits of a Free and Open Self-Service Solution
1. Ease of Use
The desire to cordon off sections of your knowledge base is understandable. If you’ve got a multi-tiered offering and you want to keep the good stuff for the premium customers, then it makes some sense to restrict the premium knowledge.
In practice, however, this creates a needlessly atomized self-service structure. Rather than benefiting from a wide base of both brand- and user-generated content, you restrict yourself to multiple little self-service silos.
Break down the walls and offer your users access to every level of self-service and support to create a more fruitful customer experience.
2. SEO Value
Self-service solutions like a knowledge base or a customer support forum are often seen as efficient ticket deflectors, but they’re not usually appreciated for their ability to garner significant attention from Google.
Your knowledge base is a goldmine of high-value, contextually-rich, and keyword-dense content. To wall it off from the public would effectively null out any advantage you might hope to get from search engine indexing of your self-service content.
3. Help You Get Sales
As we’ve seen, the cache of indexable content housed in your self-service system will work wonders in drawing in organic search traffic.
But, have you considered the positive sales value of a rich knowledge base and/or forum discussion?
Consider this scenario:
- Potential Customer Betty: I’m interested in your product because I really need to do XYZ.
- Salesperson Alex: Interesting you should mention that. A few months ago, one of our customers was looking to accomplish the same thing but didn’t know how. So, they hopped onto our self-service forum.
- Betty: That is interesting; were they able to figure it out?
- Alex: Yes and, in fact, their question kicked off quite a lengthy discussion. A few of our more advanced users chimed in with a few ideas that even our team hadn’t thought of. Let me email you the link; I’d love to know your thoughts.
It’s one thing to tell a customer your product can do XYZ. It’s quite another to direct them to a community of users who’ve learned how to do it at a level higher than she’d ever before considered.
Customer self-service is all about giving your customers the knowledge and tools they need to make the highest and best use of your product. The better you get at doing that, the more effective your self-service will be.
So, keep the walls down. Open it up to the world. Let everyone see what your product is about and how your users are making it work for them. That’s the best way to make your customers happy and earn a few new ones along the way.