According to a study done by Forrester Research, 80 percent of businesses think they deliver ‘superior customer service.’ And, guess what? That same survey found that only eight percent of customers agree. Clearly, there’s a major divide between perception and a hard reality.
In a world where mistakes and missteps can go viral instantly, no one wants to be caught in the social media crosshairs for bad customer service. But there are social communities that can manage customer service issues as well as generate new approaches while building stronger customer relationships.
Online Communities Are Different Than Social Media
Many companies—either on their own or at the urging of their customers—are, wisely, turning to more public forums to address customer issues. It works because it forces transparency and allows companies to gain back customer trust and loyalty.
While traditional social media—such as Twitter and Facebook—are effective and essential channels, there is unrecognized potential for providing high quality customer service via an online community. An online community is a much more controlled environment with the potential to not just solve problems, but strengthen relationships. It works to truly shape, grow and maintain a community of customers.
While there are many ways to address your customer service needs, here are five good reasons online communities can help mitigate the negative effects of a bad customer service experience:
1. Customers help each other
When you broaden the scope of customer service, allowing more people to see what’s going on, you also allow more people to help out. An online community not only publicly documents how to fix problems, it allows fellow customers to offer solutions.
This is incredibly powerful for several reasons:
- Your customers are in the product and know it differently than you. They may come up with interesting, out of the box solutions your support team never would have suggested.
- Customers can connect with each other, which creates loyalty and makes your online community just that—a community.
Letting more people into the conversation doesn’t expose the world to your company’s faults—it opens your customers and company up to more interesting, creative solutions that end up benefiting everyone in the long run.
2. Learn from customers
As much as customers can help fellow customers out, they can also help your team out. Although your support team knows the product inside and out, they don’t know it the way your customers who—and they’re the people who actually rely on your product every day.
While you watch customers ask questions and help each other out, look for patterns or interesting solutions. But don't stop there. Take that insight to heart, and examine your product for areas of improvement. Your customers are a huge asset for your product team and can show you, without meaning to, where your product team how they can improve your product.
3. Build a user generated, ever updating manual
Helping one person at a time isn’t efficient for anyone. And that’s what traditional customer service is all about.
Think about it—when you help customers through email, phone or social media, you’re almost always helping just one customer at a time. Even if you publicly tweet at a customer, usually only that person sees the tweet.
How many times a day is your support team asked the same question? Or the same types of questions? When customers seek help on an online community, they contribute to a user generated, ever updating, searchable manual. That means any future customer can search within the community, find their question and follow the thread.
What about those times when a customer really does need one-on-one support? When those instances come up, you will have the mechanisms—and more time—to properly deal with those issues. In fact, many online community platforms integrate with support software so a customer can easily create a ticket, sending the entire thread to the support team so they have all the background they need to help.
4. Always there
Unlike your support team, an online community never takes a break. If you have customers across the globe or in different time zones, your customers might get an answer faster. Plus, your customers might log in during the weekend when your support team is gone.
5. See complaints as opportunities
Just as with traditional customer service, complaints are not always bad. They can be used to draw on, learn from and inspire new approaches and ideas.
Properly addressing problems not only helps win back disgruntled customers, but can be a good way to win prospective customers. If a prospect is about to spend a lot of money on your product, by being transparent, they learn how you respond to tricky situations. If you do a good job, they’ll trust you before they’re even customers.
Don’t Make Online the Last Resort for Customers
An online community gives your customers a voice that travels right to your ears. Respect that and respond with programs or changes that meet the needs of the broader community. Not only will you be able to deliver better customer service to more customers, but you’ll be able to cut down on support costs and increase customer retention.