In today's global economy, you're no longer competing with just the businesses in your town. You're competing around the world, and you may offer similar products and services to half a dozen other vendors, maybe more. You need a way to differentiate yourself outside of product and price, which can only be tweaked so much.
Smart businesses that find themselves in this situation turn to customer service as a differentiator. Excellent customer service is a highly effective way to stand out because it also builds loyalty among your customers. It will often cause them to select you for business even if your prices are higher than the competition.
According to a 2015 report by Microsoft, 97% of global consumers said good customer service is an important influencer of their brand loyalty, and 62% have stopped doing business with a company due to poor customer service.
But how do you create a great customer service experience that puts you on the right side of these statistics? One of the most basic ways is to provide service when others don't and in a way that others don't. It's nearly impossible to be seen as providing world-class customer service when your traditional customer support hours are limited, for example. That's where an online customer community comes in.
The Role of Online Customer Communities in Remarkable Customer Service
There are three common models for online communities focused on customer service: a community that handles customer enquiries, user groups (or peer-to-peer support), and communities that do both.
Brands with a devout following do well with user groups where customers can interaction with one another. These communities have a strong core of volunteer leaders that lead the sharing of best practices and tips on new ways to use products. Businesses with customers who want quick solutions to their problems or questions, on the other hand, may prefer to use the online community as a chat feature or a direct line to customer support.
Ultimately, the type of community you select should depend on customer loyalty and interest. The most versatile community, however, is the third type - the one that provides options for peer-to-peer support while at the same time allowing users to connect directly to customer service representatives. By creating a community with both options, you provide a social customer support experience for your customers and help differentiate your brand at the same time.
To achieve the best results, let's look at five ways you can integrate customer service into your online community.
5 Ways to Integrate Customer Service Options into Your Online Community
Method #1) Create a File Library
An online community is the perfect place to collect and post your help videos, documents, and frequently asked questions. It provides an opportunity for curious customers to get their own answers on their time.
To use this premise in the most effective way, you should have a robust search option built into your online community platform, so that customers can easily find the answers to their questions. Make sure those search results are relevant as well. You need to update content periodically to ensure it still applies to your current products and create new content to support recent product releases.
Method #2) Use Forums to Generate Ideas
Anywhere multiple customers come together, such as customer community forums and discussion boards, is bound to generate feedback and suggestions about products, services or designs.
Users often have better ways of doing things or ideas for additional features that can come out in these sections. Those ideas can be very useful in your development process. A customer service portal geared toward innovation gives customers a way to quickly get their ideas to decision makers, who can respond to and act on the best ideas, making those customers feel valued.
Communities with discussion forums can also give you valuable insight into how your products and services are used. If customers talk about using your product in unique ways, you might be able to translate that into new growth opportunities, including creating new campaigns for to different markets and demographics.
Method #3) Build in Access to Service
If you don't provide adequate access to support, things escalate for the entire world to see, including your competition. How many times have you seen someone ranting on Facebook or Twitter because they can't get in touch with customer service?
Instead of showing the chink in the armor, give people a place to connect with your customer service professionals with little to no wait time. It is especially important to create support channels so that support conversations will not come up in search engines.
You can do this by building options for customer service discussion forums, Q&As, or emails into your private online community. Direct support via chat and email helps reduce customer frustration, and will keep conversations private.
Method #4) Use Written Communication to Improve Efficiency
Responding to customer service concerns online, in written form, can save your support team a lot of time when compared to phone calls. That's typically because people are more apt to include the backstory when they have you on the phone.
In an online community, the focus shifts to the actual concern because, when someone must place their issue in writing, they'll usually keep it as brief and clear as possible. Even if they don't, your customer support team can pick out only the relevant details, instead of only getting problem details after a 30 minute speech.
Your team's time, as well as your customers' time, will be much more efficiently used in an online community.
Method #5) Create Outlets for Peer Recommendations and Support
Not all customer service conversations are about problems. Some customers simply need advice on what new products would best solve their recent problems or the most efficient ways to use a product. Save your support team some time and allow your customers to answer these inquiries for you.
When customers are able to interact with one another, as they do in user group communities, self-described power users or advocates are often eager to share their knowledge and experience.
They can respond to questions about product advantages and common uses in discussion forums. If you have a new product that may help, people in the community can create buzz and interest around the item, making it more likely that other customers will adopt products and services earlier.
Community users that provide content on best practices and product recommendations are incredibly valuable advocates, so go a step further with this group. Create an advocacy program that ensures that these loyal customers are the first ones to hear about new products. This also allows them help shape the product through feedback. You might even consider giving them opportunities to buy things first as a perk of being a leader in the online community and advocating for your products.
Online Communities for Customer Service Takeaway
Online communities are an opportunity to build loyalty, as well as a customer service platform that helps you delight customers with efficient solutions to their problems. If customers know they can get immediate attention and answers they will continue to log-in.
Once your community is established as a trusted, efficient support channel, engagement is often self-sustaining in these types of communities because users are continuously asking questions and sharing helpful insights. Your business should be involved in reviewing those insights, as well as providing useful content of their own in online community libraries. In these conditions, you'll will notice that in addition to engagement, you're also building customer trust, loyalty, and advocacy.