Tuesday, September 4, 2007

How Web 2.0 is Transforming Customer Service

I thought I would write a post about the biggest trend happening in my industry in case it is emerging as a hot topic for others. When I started writing about online discussion forums as a new support channel almost 3 years ago, the examples were mostly high volume consumer companies (Tivo, Palm). Today, there are both B2C and B2B companies finding great success using discussion forums to respond to customer questions, often deflecting large numbers of agent interactions--producing a huge ROI for an online community project.

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.
Analysts love a new bandwagon, and I'm sure this is one that experts across many areas of enterprise software can ride. From my perspective, I wanted to share the roadblocks to adoption that I most commonly encounter. If Web 2.0 has yet to impact your coverage area, here are problems I'm seeing in service and support that may give you an inkling about what the roadblocks in your area may be in the future:

  • 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!

19 comments:

Glenn said...

Well said, John. Anyone using or considering using discussion forums to accomplish customer service goals should read this post. Here's my manual trackback:
http://www.allbusiness.com/marketing-advertising/relationship-marketing/4554539-1.html

metadave said...

Having introduced forums at Palm, I feel qualified to comment on this article. I run online support at Palm.

We have gone thru a couple of vendors learning as we go. We have also been sensitive to the other forums that organically grew out of the Palm community.

I am acutely aware of the need to engage our customers and to enable them to engage one another. Some of our web tools are in need of update but others can be retrofittted for web 2.0 effects - ratings, reviews, feedback etc. One of the simplest and most effective additions is OpinionLabs feedback; that little floating + next to all our pages. We constantly update pages and information based on daily feedback on the site.

I am an admirer of new toolsets from Confluence, Community Server, Jive and others which are attempting to create community spaces with a new breed of software. I think of this transition in terms of an analogy - the new support site will be more like visiting a mall than visiting a doctors surgery. In other words, you will go there and choose how you interact - perhaps you'l chat to the company but perhaps you'll meet others who are interested in your category of use. It's not about break|fix or teacher|student any more. It's about an ongoing conversation set. Why should training videos only be posted on your own site - why not on VideoJug too. Why not have Digg, StumbleUpon, etc tags on all your content?

From what I have seen in my travels across the web, the companies to watch are Dell, Lego, Avid, Tivo, SlingMedia. Notice the language like "Dell Community" and "Avid Community". This is a different and more useful form of personalization than we have seen in the past. I want every site to have the vision, fun and usability of NetFlix. I'm doing my bit to redesign the Palm online experience to be a great customer experience. It's not cheap and it's not easy to do. Support sites should be useful, easy to use and enjoyable. It does not need to feel like a trip to a 1960s dentist.

Dave Moloney, Palm

Anonymous said...
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Craig said...

My name is Craig Tobias I'm the solutions aritech for Cisco's external customer support wiki.

http://supportwiki.cisco.com

Everything you put in your article is right on. I was fortunate to have plenty of resource before and after deployment, and we still ran into a number of challenges.

One of the large problems facing organizations deploying Web 2.0 is that the organization just doesn't get it (culture issue) or they don't apply enough resources to get the project to a stable state. Just because something is Web 2.0 doesn't mean that it runs itself.

Craig Tobias said...

Ohh and next time I post a comment I will make sure I get enough sleep the night before and spell architect right :)

TonnyLy said...

Hello. I find your blog very interesting. Good Customer Service is a rare thing at the present time. Although companies offering the same services are numerous and have somehow to drift on the market they still do not care about their clients. And the worst thing is that the customer services of these companies do not care about the filed complaints. They simply ignore them. What a mess!

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oracle ebs said...

This is fascinating. I own a couple of websites and run forum accounts for international companies, and I could not agree more. Web 2.0 have really made it easier for me in the day to day chores and helped me increase my clients ROI.

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