If you are a customer of Vanilla Forums than you’ve no doubt either read or posted in our customer support forum to get answers to your questions. But even before we built that for ourselves, we had enterprising customers contacting us wanting to use the Vanilla Forums platform to handle their support communities. Some of them run private support communities and some of them run public-facing ones, and those that have public-facing ones use those deep-linked public pages to power Search Engine Optimization for their site.
There are a number of reasons our customers sought us out before we even began packaging a customer community solution. The most common are: (a) the complete flexibility of the design and the overall clean look and feel; (b) the advanced single-sign-on capability to both external sites and applications; (c) the modular architecture that allows for customized plugins that can be built to achieve very specific functionality according to unique customer needs; and (d) the fact it is open source.
Those are some reasons why customers choose Vanilla to power their customer community. But why do they want to do a customer community in the first place?
The answer to that question can be summarized by the classic phrase, “Sales Up, Costs Down”. Having your sales go up and your costs go down simultaneously is a wonderful thing for profit, but let’s examine how an engaging customer community leads to each.
Costs Down: when you start driving support through a community forum, where answers to previous questions are archived for search and retrieval and active customer members can answer each other, you start to get to Customer Self-Service as a means of support. Obviously if your customers are helping themselves and each other, this saves you on in-house support costs. And if customers are able to get their answer faster because of being able to find it through searching the forums then their overall satisfaction goes up, which leads to increased loyalty which leads to…
Sales Up: Beyond customer loyalty through better service as well as the feeling of belonging to a community and being recognized, there are also supporting statistics from Post-Release/Synovate that people who participate in a forum community are 3.5 times more likely to proactively recommend a particular purchase to someone than the general population. They are also 3.5 times more likely to share links to articles about new products or reviews of products, and are 4 times more likely to post online ratings and reviews themselves. Happy, loyal, engaged customers purchasing from you more often and recommending your product to friends and acquaintances = more sales.
All of that said, to focus only on the Sales Up, Costs Down aspect would be to miss one of the main customer contributions that community managers and company executives alike look for, namely New Ideas!
So I guess you can really summarize the key benefits as Sales Up, Innovation Up, and Costs Down. Did I miss anything?