Leveraging Customer Facing Communities

Guest Blogger: Aphrodite Brinsmead, Senior Analyst at Ovum

Businesses need to play a greater role in influencing information on communities

Alongside Facebook and Twitter, communities are becoming a valuable alternative for customers to find answers to their support queries. Businesses need to ensure that posts on these sites are accurate and consistent with information available through other contact center channels. The advantage of communities over other social media sites is that they are focused on support issues around specific products, brands or services. Two main types of communities are:

  • Business-managed and -supported. These are set up by the business itself to provide a place for customers to discuss issues relating to their own product or services. Customers have to be authenticated before posting, which means that it is possible to match users with existing records and track queries.

  • Topic-specific forums. These are often managed by a group of people independent of the specific brands and businesses that are discussed. The aim is to share knowledge and experience about general industry trends rather than focus on one product or organization. Examples include forums about smartphones, flight information, or healthcare services.

Although businesses don’t have as much control over general topic-specific forums, they still need to monitor them to discover what customers are saying about the company and its competitors. Whenever possible, they should respond to questions, offer help, and provide a link to official support channels within these forums.

Businesses should take care to manage their own forums with a view to improving service resolution rates. While these communities rely on customers providing advice to each other, businesses should play a greater role in providing information that influences the customers’ buying and usage decisions. It is important to keep the momentum of answers going in order to create a lively forum with expert users that are available to respond. Businesses should make communities easy to use, and should provide some incentive for customers to answer each other’s questions. Customers appreciate well-designed portals and fast access to relevant articles that are optimized for web or mobile devices. As real-time analytics tools become more prevalent, businesses should push useful information from communities directly to customers, based on previous search terms, purchases, and the actions of customers with similar historical behavior.

It is important to keep track of what customers are posting in order to check that information is accurate and to provide expert agents to offer additional advice. This also applies to general forums that aren’t necessarily managed by the company itself. As with other types of social media, community-driven information should be pulled back into the contact center to educate agents and managers about customer issues. Agents may even be able to use customers’ own solutions to technical issues to help customers that ask similar questions via phone, email or chat. They can link to these crowd-sourced solutions from within Twitter and Facebook to provide a more detailed explanation of a resolution and connect the different channels.

Communities should be part of a broader web customer service strategy that encourages customers to connect and share information. By providing better peer-to-peer service options for customers, contact centers can reduce pressure on agents and make it easier for customers to find resolutions, thereby improving satisfaction. But as with Facebook and Twitter, customers still need the option to connect to live agents for queries that can’t be answered in a public forum. Community-driven data should therefore be used alongside other service channels as discussed in my last blog post, Understanding When Social Interactions Should Be Resolved in Another Channel.

Follow me on Twitter @diteb.

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