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Online communities and self-service

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Online communities and self-service

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What do you think of when you hear the words ‘self-service’?  If you’re anything like me your mind will wander towards supermarkets.  After all, most large grocery stores have had self-service checkouts for a little while now.  Initially they seemed rather clunky, and many more people needed assistance than didn’t (based on nothing more than my own observation).  But people clearly saw the benefits to be had and stuck with it.

So it’ll be interesting to see the angle they take at an event I signed up for last night.  The event is being hosted by the likes of Microsoft and Mando, and will attempt to share success stories about self-service and how you can use analytics to determine ROI.

Hopefully they will be big fans of using communities to provide self-service, because support communities have been doing just that for over a decade now.

The ROI of self-service customer support communities

ROI is important, so lets look at ROI first of all.  With a customer support community it’s a pretty straightforward deal.  Ok, let me rephrase that, it ‘should’ be a straightforward deal, because I’m assuming you know how much each problem resolution costs via your standard support channels.  You do?  Great, then lets move on.  Once you have that simple bit of information, all you have to do is measure each successful problem resolution via your online community (that was solved by other members rather than yourself), and divide that by the cost of your community to get the cost per resolution.  Compare that with your traditional method and Bob’s your Uncle.

But that’s just the cost side of things, because you can also use time as a measure.  You measure how long each customer problem takes to be resolved via your official support channels, right?  Awesome.  It’s a pretty easy measurement to make on your community, so add that to the mix and you can compare how fast your users problems are solved by your customers and how fast they’re solved by your official support.

So how much could this be worth?

Well this is one of those how long is a piece of string questions as it obviously depends on the size of your community.  Let me give you an example of a company that has nailed this though.  Cisco have had an online support community for years now, where millions of customers gather online to talk about Cisco products.

Cisco estimate that the online support community diverts around 1 million support requests away from official channels each year.  The value of having problems solved by the community is estimated at over $120 million each year!  Did you get that?  $120 million each year.  I reckon that kind of saving would be enough to prove to senior management that social media is worthwhile don’t you?

How can I build such a support community?

Well I’m not going to lie to you, building communities is tough, and for every Cisco community there are probably many more with tumbleweed blowing through them.  Here are a few steps you can take to help you build something great though.

  1. Get the right people together to begin with – You want to get your most fervent advocates together to form your founding team.  Communities thrive when they coalesce around and are led by group of committed and capable individuals.  Make sure you bring these people on board and make them feel special.  At Cisco for instance they have a Hall of Fame for the best members.
  2. Use gamification to excite members – People love to compete to see who can be the best at something, and that includes customer service.  If you think about it, it’s a roundabout way of saying they’re the smartest person in the community.  People love that, so let them compete, connect and thrive through leaderboards, ratings and points.
  3. Don’t stop at customer support - If people love your product then providing support is great, but there’s so much more they could be doing above that.  This could be co-creating your next products, as they do at Lego, or maybe supporting projects in the community.
  4. Amplify what they do – It’s much better if customers say you’re great than if you say you’re great.  So turn your communities stars into brand advocates.  Maybe give them a blog or allow them to use your other social media channels.

There’s no guarantee that these will turn your community into a customer service superstar like the Cisco community, but it will give you a decent chance.  Oh, and I’ll try and report back on the event and reveal if they cover online communities at all.

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