Today I'm saying this has gone from 'bleeding edge' to 'leading edge' to 'best practice,' and technology companies without a mature online community are soon to be in the minority. Though only a year ago SSPA members were curious, yet not totally convinced, Web 2.0 and online communities have now become one of, if not the, hottest topics I hear about in member inquiries. What has changed so quickly that is forcing companies to act, incorporating Web 2.0 elements into customer service operations? I call attention to these three drivers:
- There's no more fat to cut. After 7 years of cost cutting, service management has 'done more with less' and 'worked smarter not harder' until there's nothing left to cut, streamline or optimize. Still under pressure to cut costs, a new possibility for deflecting costly live agent interactions peaks the interest of most support managers.
- Gen Y is aging into the target demographic for more companies. The MySpace generation is now nearing 30, putting them squarely in the cross-hairs as a target demographic for more companies. And this generation prefers peer-to-peer support over corporate support; hence discussion forums emerge as a preferred support channel, and existing forums find wider user adoptions.
- Engagement leads to loyalty. At Forrester I used a pyramid diagram to illustrate how satisfied customers become loyal customers, and this involves personalization, bonding, and empowerment. This perfectly maps to the reputation models used in communities, and surveys show that as customers move up the reputation levels from 'novice' to 'intermediate' to 'expert,' their loyalty increases with them.
- Poor integration. As with other new support channels (web self-service, email, chat), companies tend to launch discussion forums in a vacuum, not integrated to the customer hub. Customers post questions on a forum that are already answered in the self-service knowledgebase, and customers create support tickets for problems not addressed in the knowledgebase that are resolved in the forum. If you don't integrate search across both KB and forum content, you end up with duplicate (and likely conflicting) information and frustrated customers.
- Lack of resources. Will we never learn? Companies gear up for new projects, staffing as needed, then pull off resources after go live. If customers post a question to a forum and never receive an answer, you have just guaranteed they will never use your forum again. Sure, customers should ultimately provide the mediation in a mature forum, but until that happens, plan on staffing moderators for at least 6 months.
- Hubris. The single biggest roadblock I've seen to including Web 2.0 in support's vision? Support management refusing to acknowledge that there are experts with expertise on their products outside their firewall. I call this the "If we don't know it, it ain't worth knowing" mentality, and companies stricken with the malady are unlikely to launch or adequately fund a forum project.
Hope this is useful for all of you. I've published quite a few reports on this topic, including some real-world examples from SSPA members. Add a comment or drop me an email if interested! Thanks for reading!