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Evaluating Community Portals as a Support Channel

Establishing a community portal as a supplement to traditional contact center phone and email support is an appealing option for technology companies. While most of your customers are savvy technology users, it’s important to consider how the community will interface with other support channels. The idea of self-service—both appealing to customers and as a lower-cost option for companies—is not as easy as you may think. Self-service and social support have promoted an image of “build it and they will come” image that’s not as true as technology companies would hope.

Many companies establish community forums and then step back, expecting that limited intervention is necessary. This is actually counter-intuitive. You wouldn’t pay to have your garden landscaped and then step back and see it decline into a wilderness over the next two years, would you? Regular work is involved to get the weeds out and keep it looking good. Community forums are like running a big house garden, with a head gardener and workers specializing in certain aspects to maintain and develop it. In a community social support environment, these roles are moderator, responder and analyst.

Inviting customers to share their experiences and expertise by asking and answering questions, contributing their thoughts and ideas about how to best use your products can enhance customer relationships. But gaining momentum for this type of activity does not easily happen on its own. And, let’s face it; no one likes to hang out in a ghost town or sometimes worse, digging through pages of threads to find the answer they’re looking for.

Nurturing relationships and tending to the posts and threads is very important. And, of course, in an open environment there have to be rules governing behaviour, language, and content. Without this the mob soon rules. Not good for the brand and not attractive to people looking for support.

Contact Center Expertise Plays to Community Roles
Rather than looking to create another silo by building a separate team to operate your social support community, consider that it will work best when incorporated with the services and channels your contact center vendor already provides. Your vendor should have the staff, knowledge and expertise across channels to create the participation and engagement necessary for your community forums and self-service initiatives to thrive.

An additional consideration is that, should questions or requests need to be escalated or taken offline to resolve, this is more easily facilitated when the community is part of the support efforts provided by your contact center vendor.

Some of the functions provided by community support include:

  • Managing relationships and enforcing rules
  • Building the participation of key member contributors
  • Moving posts to the correct forum for the topic
  • Ensuring posts get answered or providing answers for those too difficult for the community to answer
  • Engaging with customers that need expertise and technical support beyond what the community portal provides
  • Correcting misinformation to ensure that a good answer is given in every case
  • Provide feedback from the content to product managers
  • Identify workarounds and fixes

The goal is to provide a fast-track communication channel for the good of all. These roles also can be applied to other social platforms, such as a branded Facebook page designed for social support.

Form a Marketing and Support Relationship
Social networks have brought marketing and support needs closer together. Examples have emerged of marketing efforts in social networks that have attracted much user interest and requests for help like ‘how do I?’ Mistakenly, the marketing team has often chosen to look after these inquiries themselves, setting up their own response unit, and thereby creating a two-speed support structure with differing approaches.

Needless to say this was usually unsuccessful and things needed to be drawn back together, hence the reason why marketing and support come closer. Social networks have blurred the lines between promotion and support services. By forming a sort of “joint task force” the company can save on resources allocated to support and ensure that all customers have a consistent and well-informed experience.

Using your contact center provider to design a social support strategy will help to maintain focus on the team and avoid customer confusion. Many enterprise technology companies are complex organizations and have multiple contact center vendors. As a consequence, they are more likely to use their own choice of technology platform. You’ll need a strategy that is platform-neutral.

Even the best tools in the wrong hands can be virtually useless, and so the best investments can remain under-utilized. Your contact center provider has the expertise to ensure your brand presents a united front for social support that presents a seamless and satisfying experience for your customers.