Can you have a successful customer support community built solely on volunteering? That’s the hypothesis Microsoft seems to be testing with its recent decisions for Xbox customer support.
Xbox Ambassadors are Xbox users who volunteer to help other users with their gaming issues. A news source recently reported that Microsoft has laid off twelve of its contracted Xbox customer support staff and is replacing them with these volunteers, supposedly in a cost-cutting measure. Two of the staff said they had recently finished training a group of Xbox Ambassadors who will now be their replacements.
Although Microsoft retained a couple support staff, they seem to be leaning the bulk of their Xbox customer support on these volunteers.
Is this community at work?
At first glance, this seems like something we’d advocate for – the volunteer program is working so well that Microsoft doesn’t even need a paid support team anymore. Isn’t this a great example of community at work?
Well, it might be an example of a successful use of gamification, which is how Microsoft rewards its ambassadors. To be in the program, they must be an Xbox user with a 1500 Gamerscore, be an Xbox Live Gold member, and have no enforcement actions on their account in the past year. For their services, they receive a mixture of tangible and intangible rewards like gaming equipment, games, exclusive recognition, and badges for their profiles.
We've always encouraged the integration of support staff and peer-support through online community, but that's a bit different than transitioning to a volunteer-only based customer support team. When you have the integrated model in an online community, customers with questions can make their first stop the online community, where they can get answers from peers and access exclusive resources. They’re able to access these resources at any time. If they don’t find what they’re looking for, they can submit a support ticket to be helped during customer service hours.
This ultimately saves time and money in customer support as the burden of customer support is disseminated across the online community. Customers are also happier as they find what they need more quickly through this self-service option.
Do you get the same results if you remove the paid customer support layer and rely solely on volunteer support?
Genius gamification or customer support chaos?
Microsoft’s decision to cut costs by moving to a more volunteer-heavy model is risky. First, they’re relying on the success of an incentive program to provide support to Xbox users. If Xbox Ambassadors feel that the program’s rewards aren’t worth it for the work they’re doing, users will be out of luck. If the Xbox Ambassadors on call don’t have the time to solve their problem, users will probably end up more frustrated than if they had sat on hold waiting to talk to a support rep for an hour. Second, Microsoft’s volunteer-gamification system is not within an online community, so customers also don’t have the options that are usually available in a community, such as going to the file resource library or peer support.
Gamification and peer-to-peer support/discussion help make communities both a place to learn and a place to connect. They’re built-in components that help you encourage participation and engagement by members. But they don’t exist in isolation when they’re in a community setting. They’re built on a community made up of relationships among members and your company, and the customer support staff and the peer support complement each other to create a great customer experience.
Also, these tools aren’t a customer’s last resource. If they have a tricky question or an issue with software that’s too complicated for another member to solve, they have the option to go to customer support. These are paid support staff whose job is to respond to their concern.
Does cutting costs mean you have to decrease quality?
Cutting customer support costs with an online community is possible, and it doesn’t result in a decrease in quality. The goal of using volunteering and gamification should be to cut costs while still providing a smooth, integrated experience. Microsoft is taking a short cut by replacing paid customer staff with volunteers, which could reduce the quality of their support. If Microsoft had chosen to use volunteers within an online community, they could be doing so much more for their customers with benefits like increasing customer retention, brand loyalty, and customer engagement, while still providing the full support that their customers expect.
Ironically, in Microsoft's 2017 State of Global Customer Service Report, they said:
“Self-service options that enable customers to resolve issues on their own should be an essential part of your service strategy…Though more and more customers are relying on self-service, customers still care deeply about agent support when they encounter problems too complex to solve on their own.”
Hopefully, Microsoft will see the value in their words and avoid cutting costs in a way that reduces the quality of the customer experience. Online communities make customers more successful while still reducing support costs for your company.
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