Community support sites are emerging from every national brand, technology company and software innovator alike. Reports on the effectiveness and evidence of budget savings as a low cost customer channel abound. Without careful planning and execution, however, the strategy can yield unwarranted results.
By Barney Bolt
Reflecting on the Early Days of Outsourcing
Some remember the days when outsourcing companies were novelties, displaying their power points decks from boardroom to boardroom. The decks described a beautiful win-win: low cost resources that could expanding and contract without interrupting production of your software. Meanwhile they were touted as a great fit for your company. Pitches varied but all carried the tune of “like having your own employees but at a reduced cost with all the same benefits.” Executive teams everywhere cheered the prospect of having more for less.
Was it too good to be true? It depends. With extensive planning on the implementation and management side the savings could be achieved. But there was a dangerous downside. Small missteps could easily cause outsourced support teams to require massive amounts of extra time and money. Even if such mistakes are avoided, executives often underestimated the amount of time remote management would require. As a rule of thumb, I estimate the management of remote or distributed teams to consume 10-20% more company resources than local setups. In short, executives often misread what they were getting into, allocated resources poorly and failed to achieve the results they chased.
With regard to implementation, community support has similar characteristics. Done right, it can be a low-cost, high-return and high-customer-satisfaction model for handling support requests. But success lies in the details of proper planning. It must operate efficiently. Immediate success is not guaranteed. Adoption success by your customers and cost savings are made possible with thorough planning.
Community Support Case Study
One of our customers recently had us take over their community support site. Their previous efforts were disjointed, not well-thought out and ineffective for the brand and community of users. Their NPS (net promoter score) was in rapid decline and overall customer satisfaction was beginning to follow that trend. The customer didn’t bring us in to fix those issues but wanted us to take over the process of answering questions and transforming their community.
Community support can save you time and money but the lure of these aspects often blinds companies to implementing the channel correctly.
In the end, our work with them served as a perfect example of what community support can be and how it must be carried out. Community support deserves planning time the way we expect in other realms of support. While a community can save you time and money, the lure of these aspects often blinds companies to implementing the channel correctly. Community support is not free and it does not happen on its own.
We helped the company designate a community support manager and guidelines for how to moderate content. These two simple changes not only have helped their channel grow in usership but have done well for the maintenance of their brand. The company used Get Satisfaction (like us), which allowed them to build out customized product pages and obtain positive and constructive feedback directly from customers.
The company held the perspective that their community support site could be set up and let go. Users would control it and conduct good business on their behalf. This was only achieved when the company took the time to moderate out bad content, encourage new content with company updates and offer active personnel to offer support where it was needed most. In cleaning up dead threads they did not make it their mission to prune out all negativity or “purify” the brand. In the end, the customer achieved a support site that not only achieved higher customer satisfaction but also drove positive change for their products.
Characteristics that community support shares with outsourced support teams should not dissuade a company from developing their own community. Instead, companies should use this comparison to properly plan and carry out a support site that will succeed and serve as a long-serving asset.
About Barney Bolt
Barney’s support career began many years before entering tech support as an office manager and programmer of safety systems. Barney fondly remembers his early days of phone support to Fortune 100 companies on critical cases, including one conference call that lasted 30 straight hours. That experience helped inspire Barney’s move to the CRM space where he was the third support hire within a pre-IPO company. Ascending the ranks through every support position that existed, Barney became Vice President of Support and Sustaining Engineering. Today Barney creates and operates support teams for customers all over the world with ServiceRocket.