Traditionally, independent software vendors have utilized forum software to provide a platform for their support sites. You know, users come to the website looking for a solution to their problem, only to be pushed over to the “self-help” forums where questions can sit without answers for days.
While community forums have served us well, they are simply not optimized to drive self-help in world where people are more ‘on-line social’, and where search dominates the tools we use on the net.
Busier lifestyles and schedules mean people expect faster results, responses, and outcomes for all things they do. This includes finding solutions to problems where end-users are typically pushed down the route of self-help, community support.
Here we tell you why sticking with a traditional support model built around forum software is a mistake and why forum software is quite clearly unsuited to this purpose.
1. Identity Disconnect
It seems like every time you hit a forum and want to ask question you have to create a new account. So how many accounts do you have, or, put another way, who are you?
Given the rise of “outsourced” authentication it makes sense to leverage Facebook, Google, Yahoo! and Open Id providers to increase user registration and participation.
An improved first user impression of your organization would be to stop creating barriers to entry – allow them to sign on using their Facebook identity and start engaging with someone real!
2. Missing Content
Forums alone cannot power your community self-help support function. FAQ’s and product documentation are routine on most vendor product sites.
If the FAQs and documentation are not on the product support site users looking for answers end up hunting in different locations before they eventually give up and ask a question in the hope of finding a solution.
It has to be better to organize and place support content like FAQ’s, documentation and even videos alongside Q&A discussions.
3. Disjointed Search
If I can search for videos or images in Google, then why I can’t I search for FAQ’s, documentation or discussions?
The answer is related to the previous point: forums stand alone and unless you shoehorn documentation and FAQs into them, you have no way of searching all support content.
4. No Context
Forums with categories and sub-categories don’t really help. Drilling down, browsing discussions, asking a question in the right “place” is not the optimum way of getting things done. The StackExchange suite of Q&A sites and recently Quora, have shown that categorization via tagging is the way forward.
The way to maintain context is to simply allow users to filter content and discussions by selecting the tags that relate to their problem today.
5. No Ticketing
How many times do we say “this is a known problem” in response to a question?
Forums stand alone and that does not help when you want to tell users “we know, we have logged the problem and are working on it”.
You will appear smarter if you can respond to a question with a link to the “bug” report. It shows you listen and manage, and in a transparent manner.