Where do your customers go for support? Despite the simplicity of the question, there are several factors that make the answer unique to your organization.
The first part revolves around the behavior of your customers. Even though they may prefer to speak with a live person, research indicates that 90% of people go to the web, before calling or emailing your company. Does this stat match your experience with your customers?
The other half of the equation is the online self-service options that your organization provides to support your customers. Your customers can't take advantage of online support options that are not there.
Increasingly, companies are implementing online systems to meet their customers' demand for web self-service knowledge. According to CRM Magazine, almost half of businesses that offer web or mobile self-service support options reported a reduction in customer support phone calls.
Top tier research firm, Gartner, forecasts that by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship with companies without interacting with a human. However, narrowing down your company's online support choices can be a tedious and overwhelming process, particularly in light of the abundance of technical and social business jargon on the web.
To help you decide, we're comparing two options: discussion forum software and online community software platforms.
Online support forums are a popular option for many businesses. Companies leverage peer-to-peer interactions to lower support costs. Plus, forums build a sense of loyalty and belonging by giving your customers access to other customers and experts in their field, as opposed to interacting with only your company.
By nature, people like to help each other. Online support forums are filled with people willing to give explicit and authentic answers to your customers' questions.
However, depending on the structure of your organization, standalone forum software might not be the right solution to support your online self-service support needs. Particularly if ongoing customer engagement is a driving force behind customer retention and developing customer advocates, your online support strategy might need more functionality than forum discussions.
In this case, an online customer community platform might be a better fit. While online community software does include discussion forums, they can also offer an array of other features to keep customers informed and engaged.
To help arm you with the right information to make the best decision for your business and customers, let's take a look at some of the similarities and differences between forum tools and online community software.
The main overlap between these two customer service options is that they both offer online discussion forums, whether standalone (forum software) or as part of a more robust community-building strategy (customer community platforms).
The following is the basis for their common advantages:
Now that you have an idea of what forums and online communities have in common, let's break down the differences so you can narrow in on the best choice for your organization.
With these similarities and differences in mind, here are a few questions to ask that will help narrow down your self-service support network technology:
Since most forum software can't nest groups very well, an online community might be the way to go if you want to segment discussions to keep them relevant for users of different products or member types (e.g. partners vs. customers). However, if your business or membership organization is operating on a smaller scale, forums are a simpler option.
If maintaining the privacy of customer information and activity data is a big concern for your organization, the flexibility and strong secure model of private online community software is probably the better option for your business or membership organization.
Online community platforms can help manage members on an individual or company level. However, if you don't have members requirements now or plan to track members in your community in the future, this might be an unnecessary feature.
This question will give insight into whether a discussion-only forum platform is enough for your customers or if you need more the extensive profile and engagement options of online communities. This extra might include crowdsourcing product feature requests, video libraries, and blogs.
It is important to overlay long-term thinking on your social technology decisions so that you don't find your organization invested in software that can't support your strategy. Maybe forum software would be enough for your business or membership organization right now, but will it satisfy your customer engagement needs in the future?
Though having options can often complicate a decision, knowing the pros and cons of your choice can help you make the decision that best benefits your company and customers.
There isn't a right and wrong answer when it comes to choosing between forum software and online community software. However, both have distinct differences and advantages that you should carefully consider and compare to establish the right foundation for achieving your business or membership organization's support and engagement goals.