I attended the TSW conference last week at The Mirage Convention Center in Las Vegas. One important point made was the opportunity to change customer service channels used as companies strive to decrease the cost burden of supporting customers and create new revenue streams.
Interestingly, social support is key to achieving the first of these two key objectives. In the opening keynote sessions, JB Wood and Thomas Lah spoke of the high cost of email support, and the associated poor customer satisfaction rating. This channel is the least happy for both company and customers, whereas chat and community forums are both cheaper and more satisfying.
The relevance of Internet channels remains high. Indeed, chat may be having a rennaissance as we approach 2012. Chat originally promised much but didn’t have the expected impact when adopted. As company websites, and social media, hook customers to the Internet the opportunity remains for well-managed chat to keep the customer there and demonstrate real-time help to find what’s available, make offers and assist purchase decisions. Further, proactive chat shifts control from consumer to the online sales/support team by enabling them to monitor visitor behaviour and pop a window at the right moment.
As with anything, the best tools in the wrong hands are virtually worthless. Take a look at community forums built on SaaS platforms such as Lithium, Jive and Telligent. Many of these date back to around 2006/7 and won awards in those early days. Since then these have largely been under-resourced and poorly managed – failing to address the needs of the very people they rely on for their health – customers!
I presented at TSW during one of the Expo Theater sessions. My address, similar to my recent webcast, looked at what happens in the community and what must happen behind the scenes. Companies spend a lot of money on the technology platform but then fail to achieve a return on their investment because the community fails to step up. Right?
Sort of right, actually. There are very few cases where the “build it and they shall come” approach has really worked. Picture this – if you leave your garden untended, it WILL become unsightly. The same happens to your community forum. To prevent this, have your team give care and attention
- Fertilise (nurture relationships)
- Prune (remove abusive content)
- Mow (clean up threads)
- Move plants (repurpose content)
- Cut flowers (take the important stuff back indoors for product managers)
Community forums are about people. People are about relationships, trust and confidence. These all need to be worked on. Your team is necessary to realise the potential of the community, and deliver service to customers. And over time, as community participation changes, so the team profile needs to change to suit.
I asked a couple of questions during the presentation:
- Was the TSIA research summarised by John Ragsdale’s slides an accurate reflection of companies’ experience? The majority of the audience agreed.
- What would you do next if your forum question wasn’t answered? (assuming you really want the answer). Options offered were:
- Keep searching online
- Contact the company by phone or email
- Give up
- None of these
The majority voted for contacting by phone or email which is, presumably, exactly what the company does NOT want people to do. No wonder community ROI is so elusive.
The audience at my session was great. Very engaged and interactive. My white paper was distributed – Online Support Communities – Are They For You? Enjoy reading this!