In chapter 8 of Groundswell, Li & Bernoff (2011) explain how companies are switching from the traditional way of customer support, to new and innovative ways like blogs, wikis, and forums. These can be used instead of the old fashioned call centres, that actually cost way more money to run, an average of $6-$7 per call, and that increases to $10-$20 if you need technical support (Li & Bernoff, 2011).
Companies have resorted to outsourcing to try save costs in labour. Call centres run about 40% lower in wages than in North America (Li & Bernoff, 2011). However, customers don’t really care how much money a company is saving, they care about the service and getting their problems resolved fast and efficiently. People are tired of long wait times, hit or miss quality, and lots of paperwork (Li & Bernoff, 2011). That’s why people are resorting to online forums, Q&As and wikis to answer their questions and fix their problems. They don’t even need the company in order to get the answers they need; they can use each other. People can post questions and answer them between themselves. Companies can just monitor these sites, get involved and respond back, or create their own forums.
There are 3 things to consider before starting this move:
- What problem is your support activity trying to solve?
Look at this from the customers perspective. Why do people want to participate? Don’t participate in a narrow market either, and specialize in one area of the business. Branch out and think bigger.
- How will you participate?
These communities need activity, so regular updates are key for success. You also need to ensure you are reaching out to the right customer base, using your technographics profile you created on your customers. During the first year, the community will require lots of your attention, with staff and resources dedicated to it (Li & Bernoff, 2011). Drive customers to these forums and blogs, get people talking, and talk back!
- Should you create a support community or join an existing one?
There are forums and blogs out there that companies didn’t even create, but are getting a lot of buzz and responds on them. Most of the work is already done for your company, you just need to get involved and start responding, and make it clear that it’s your company that is talking back. If these don’t exist, then you should create your own. Eventually these will blow up and get lots of people talking, and eventually they will do most of the work for you.
Advice for Getting Started With a Community
- Start small, but plan for a larger presence- As in many groundswell activities, starting small leads to success. Figure out what works best for your customers, specialize it, and expand.
- Reach out to your most active customers – Find those who participate the most in the online forums and ask their opinion on how to run things. They have expertise, so keeping their support and enthusiasm is crucial.
- Plan to drive traffic to your community – No one knows you exist, so you need to find ways to drive traffic. Advertise the forums where your customers browse, shop and on your own website. Consider buying search listings on Google or Yahoo! search.
- Build in a reputation system – Give those who participate a lot points, which will give them more credibility towards others. People will see their expertise and knowledge in areas and go to them for advice.
- Let your customers lead you – The customers know what they want, and you should let them tell you what you are doing right and wrong. It would be helpful to set up a “how can we improve” forum and let people comment, but pay attention to what they are saying and fix what needs to be fixed!
Li, C. Bernoff, J. (2011). Groundswell: winning in a world transformed by social technologies. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.