Businesses will often wonder about what the benefits are of a community forum built around their brand/product. Typically, businesses don’t outright “sell” their wares through their online forum, so the question becomes:What’s in it for us? How will this benefit our bottom line?”
Online community forums provide a unique platform for consumers to discuss products, ask questions, and communicate/connect with like-minded individuals who enjoy the same product that they do. For businesses, this community provides several valuable benefits that they may not be able to get anywhere else.
Gathering customer feedback
Since your community forum is populated by fans and customers, the main topic of conversation will always center around your company’s products. Many businesses want to know how to refine and improve what they’ve created, and forums provide a net in which to catch feedback about a product that has been shared.
The community forum members are already invested in your product, so they are the key players in helping make your products better. As the team over at Agilebits found out:
“The forum let us gather feedback, but also allowed people to give opinions and suggestions to reach a consensus. In the end, it helped us make a better product.” Jeff Shiner, CEO Agilebits
Creating a community forum around your product or brand can have the unexpected benefit of crowdsourcing ideas and identifying key areas where you can make improvements. What’s better, your customers are willingly coming through the door and sharing their thoughts with you for FREE. Compared to spending time and money on expensive focus groups or market research, this is an extra bonus.
Reducing customer support tickets
As community forums allow consumers to chat with one another and troubleshoot problems they may have, consumers are less likely to call businesses with questions regarding the product since they can go look-up the answers online. This ends up reducing the number of support calls for common questions and issues which frees up your employees to work on other tasks and issues.
Think of all of the times you’ve asked Google how to fix your car, and looked through all of the information that forums, which are made up of others who’ve experienced the same problem, had to provide.
You trusted that the information was coming from a reliable source, because other car drivers had experienced, and fixed, the same problem you have. Since you utilized an online forum to fix your problem, or figure out what needs to be done to fix your problem, you didn’t need to call your car dealership for advice.
Just ask the folks over at Avant Credit, who report that their forum:
“…reduced call escalation and thousands of support tickets to our ops team, as well as the need for the customer to call us back.” Loren Anderson, Dir. of Training & QA at Avant Credit
By providing self-serve support, customers are able to ease the amount of traffic to other support channels. At the same time, key areas of improvement are identified. If multiple users are experiencing the same issues, or wanting the same upgrades, you will most certainly hear about it in the confines of your forum. So, when it comes time to develop new products, or release updates for existing products, your forum can serve as a reference to guide your planning.
Community, Community, Community!
By providing your consumers with a space in which to communicate with one another, you are also providing them with a sense of community. That this community also ends up benefiting your business at large is just a large bonus.
What could possibly be better than a group of people gathered together who are excited about your product, want to help one another, and ultimately want to help better your product overall? Online community forums provide a space to facilitate all of those things, as the folks at ShipStation have confirmed:
“Our clients don’t have to go through our ticketing system, they can help each other out, especially the easy questions and opinion questions like ‘What kind of label printers do you use?’, which is actually one of our most popular threads right now!” Erika Jarvi, Social Media and Content Manager
An Engaged Community = More Product Feedback
Overall, creating a forum in which your consumers can connect with each other not only benefits them, making for happy customers, but more-so benefits your company as a whole. When you provide an arena for customers to discuss your product, invaluable feedback is generated that serves to provide direction for your future product updates, or even new offerings.
As the community grows, the self-service support that happens organically further helps to identify key areas of needed improvement, while at the same time easing traffic to your existing support channels. All together this makes for a better level of service, and ultimately a better product.