CUSTOMER COMMUNITIES REDUCE SUPPORT COSTS: CUSTOMER SELF-SERVICE
Long before customers turned to Facebook to ask questions, share feedback, and connect with brands, business owners have been faced with a common problem—how do you scale support, while keeping company costs low and providing a great customer experience? Facebook alone has not had a huge impact on that issue (and isn’t growth the business problem to have?). In the social era, it’s more important than ever to provide positive customer experiences. You simply can’t afford not to when people are relying so heavily on the opinions of their peers to make purchase decisions, and any perceived misstep on your part is likely to result in negative word-of-mouth with unprecedented reach.
This can pose a challenge for a business that’s trying to scale support quickly. Agent salaries are the most expensive aspect of a support center, so keeping this cost low by understaffing the team or resorting to static or automated responses is tempting. Unfortunately, these solutions also have a tendency to result in lower satisfaction levels, negative word-of-mouth, and poor customer retention.
This is where support communities come in. When moderated and curated effectively, customer support communities can result in serious savings for companies. We worked with Dr. Natalie Petouhoff to identify three major areas where support communities can reduce costs and drive revenue by:
- Enabling excellent self-service for common issues
- Improving agent workflow and efficiency
- Increasing customer retention and acquisition
This eBook is the first in a three-post series explaining how customer communities can help companies realize significant savings and revenue, along with the metrics and calculations to measure the value. This book focuses on the way companies can leverage community for customer self-service, freeing up agents to deal with more complicated, technical problems. Stay tuned for the next two, which will focus on the other ways you can leverage community to improve agent efficiency and drive revenue.
SELF-SERVICE: THE WHAT AND THE WHY
Perhaps you’re familiar with the expression: Customer service is the new marketing. This doesn’t imply that your support agents will now be responsible for crafting messaging, producing webinars, or collecting customer testimonials. Rather, it suggests that providing consumers with helpful, positive experiences at every touch point in the customer lifecycle is critical for creating the kind of loyal relationships that are the foundation of all repeat business and brand advocacy.
So what does this mean for your company? Obviously you want to ensure that your support agents are friendly, helpful, and have a reasonable workload, so they can provide great service to everyone that needs their help. A customer community may not help much with those first two requirements (although a number of companies do hire top support agents by identifying brand advocates in their community).
A community can, however, greatly reduce the amount of one-off requests your support agents get by making it easy for customers to self-service their own answers, especially the ones to simple questions that get asked over and over again. This frees up your agents to deal with more complicated requests from other customers, and prevents your customers from having to wait in a phone queue or for an email response, when the answer to their question—“what is the average wait time for delivery,” for example —is simple and readily available in your community
Self-service support implies a variety of easy-to-find and understand resources, so your customers have access to up to date, accurate information. A solid self-service strategy doesn’t just benefit your support agents (although they will thank you for implementing a good system). It’s extremely desirable for your customers, who are bound to be relieved if they can find the answers to their questions themselves, instead of having to call or email. This is especially true if your target market is made up of Millenials, but more and more it’s true of all generations. People would rather find the answers to their questions themselves than wait for a phone or email representative to help. Customers who have faith that their issues will be dealt with a way that is painless and effective are much more likely to bring their business back to you next time they’re making a purchase.
FAQS THAT REALLY ARE FREQUENTLY ASKED
What’s a better source of FAQs than the real-time questions your customers are asking every day? Odds are these are changing as you release new products and features, the industry and market change, and consumers move through the customer lifecycle. You don’t need to pay someone to constantly be anticipating what the next questions and issues will be. Instead, allow your community to surface the logical questions, issues, and bugs that will inevitably come up.
There are some guiding curation best practices that will help you leverage your community as a dynamic, social place for FAQs. “Social” isn’t just a buzzword here—it’s a key aspect to ensuring that the “frequently” part of FAQ holds true. You want to make sure your self-service is actively covering all the issues and questions your customers are having today, not just the ones you envisioned them having when you launched two years ago.
You’ll want to seed your community with FAQs before you even launch, so that it acts as a self-service resource for your customers from the minute your community goes live. You can make this more dynamic by creating a product category tag for FAQs. When you tag other pieces of content with your FAQ label, they will be added to the attention-grabbing tab on your community home page, in real-time. (See figure 1 to the above)
Employees can also mark the status of questions that have been answered by the community as “answered,” so that other customers know which community responses are company verified. By curating your community this way, your customers and prospects will have access to a great source of real-time questions and answers, with the authority of company sanctioned FAQs.
Use Get Satisfaction’s simple copy and paste code snippets (widgets, for you techies out there) to place FAQs and other community conversations anywhere you want on your website. This means that when people come to your home page, help site, or product pages, they’ll be able to see the topics people are having in real-time about your products and services. If they’re experiencing an issue that others are having as well, they’ll be able to self-serve their own answers right from your site. And you’ll be able to address all of them in one fell swoop as soon as there are updates.
Remember, a key aspect of self-service is that answers are quick and easy to find and understand. If you have all the information your customers could need, but it’s buried in a support ghetto on a difficult-to-find to page on your website, it isn’t likely to improve anyone’s experience or reduce any workloads. Which brings us to our next point about self-service…
SEARCH, THE KING OF SELF-SERVICE
Think about it. Where’s the first place you turn when you have a question or would like more information about something. Your favorite search engine, right? The same is true for your customers. You want to make sure that your self-service topics consistently turns up in top results when your customers turn search.
Easy, effective searchability will perpetuate the success of your self-service strategy exponentially. As customers search for the answers to their questions and are brought to your community, your engagement levels and pageviews will go up. This, in turn, improves the ranking of these pages, driving even more customers there to discover them as resources.
A Get Satisfaction customer community is uniquely structured to rank well in search. The URL of each community conversation has the company name in it, as well as the topic title phrased in the words of the person who asked the question. That means that each link is highly optimized for the company name and the natural, organic language that customers are using to ask questions and report problems. That’s important because the internal language you use to refer to your products, features, and bugs doesn’t necessarily map to the language your customers use. The discrepancy between your language and that of your customers can make it difficult for them to find the answers to their questions in traditional FAQs and knowledge repositories, which were written internally by someone drinking your company Koolaide.
Adding more pack to its SEO punch, Get Satisfaction is home to more than 70,000 communities. Because of the sheer size of the network, as well as the extent of customer-generated content and engagement that takes place there, search engines crawl the entire Get Satisfaction platform constantly. User-generated content is viewed as authoritative by Google, so it ranks particularly well. Once a topic is posted, it’s likely to start showing up in search almost immediately.
COMMUNITY AS THE BEST WAY TO BUILD A GREAT CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
The more people of various backgrounds, experiences, and expertise levels you have interacting in your community, the more resources your customers will have. This can work in a number of ways. Perhaps yours is a highly technical community, bringing people together around bike purchases, for example. By connecting long-term bikers to mechanics, to bike salesmen, and to parents about to purchase Junior’s first bike, you’re exposing all of them to the unique perspectives of the others.
Extend the Shelf-Life of Social Conversations
When social first came on the scene as a business tool, many companies jumped on board, without being entirely sure how best to use it. They treated Twitter and Facebook as support channels, without appreciating the shortcomings of these sites for that purpose.
To be fair, there are some great points about Twitter and Facebook as channels for customer engagement and support. They’re easily accessible from multiple channels, and most consumers have profiles on at least one of these sites.
But Facebook and Twitter alone are not sufficient resources for your customers to self-serve their own answers. For one thing, posts on these social sites have short shelf lives, so they do nothing to reduce one-off common requests like FAQs and other simple-to-solve issues. For another thing, they’re not optimized to connect your customers to one another, which reduces the amount of collaboration and social support that can take place.
You can improve self-service by using a customer community with strong linkages to social networks. In this way, you can push content from the community out to social networks, and import questions from those networks into the community where you can answer them more fully, and they’ll live on for much longer as a resource for others. By taking fleeting social media content and bringing the conversation into the community where it will have a long shelf-life and can continue to evolve, your customers will be able to self-serve the answers to questions that are commonly being asked in these social spaces.
These benefits are not just anecdotal. We worked with Dr, Natalie Petouhoff to calculate exactly how much the benefits of self-service strategy can save a customer. Dr. Pethouoff examined a number of Get Satisfaction customer case studies* to calculate estimates for how much money companies can save with a community.
The savings, which can be realized by reducing agent-related interactions through the enablement of self-service, can be calculated by multiplying the cost of each interaction by the volume of interactions each month, then factoring in the percent the community has reduced it. One example Dr. Petouhoff studied has 3,000 support instances a month, at a cost of $8 each. That means the monthly cost these interactions have is $24,000. The company in question* has reduced support interactions by 20% through the self-service of their community, so they’re saving $4,800 a month. Multiple that by 12 to find that they’re saving $57,600 a year.
3,000 interactions/month x $8/interaction = $24,000
$24,000 reduced by 20% → 24,000 x .2 = $4,800/month
$4,800 x 12 = $57,600.
That’s quite a bit of savings for one company in a year just from support cost reductions!
Dr. Petouhoff examined another company to find the amount of money saved by having a community create a social Knowledge Base (KB), instead of hiring a formal KB author to create a structured KB. The company in question was creating 10 new KB articles a month, and they were paying the author of these articles ($25/hour). Assuming that each article took 3 hours to write, they were spending $750 a month on KB articles. That’s equal to $9,000 a year.
$25 x 10 x 3 = $750/month
$750 x 12 = $9,000/year
With a social, community-based KB, the community writes the response or best practice, then the community manager certifies them as “answered” and belonging to the social KB. This process eliminates the need for a formal KB author, meaning you free up contractor dollars or employee time to focus on other issues.
SELF-SERVICE SUPPORT. QUANTITATIVELY AND QUALITATIVELY IMPACTING YOUR BOTTOM LINE.
There you have it. Enabling self-service support drives real value by freeing up your agents to focus on more technical issues. It also improves customer experiences and satisfaction by empowering them to answer their own questions quickly, easily, and comprehensively. By making the support experience positive for your customers, you’re giving them a reason to come back to you again and again.
For self-service support to truly be effective (and reduce agent-related support costs), it has to provide customers with the answers they need quickly, easily and consistently. If it doesn’t have the most current, up-to-date information, your customers will still be forced to contact an agent.
The good news is you don’t have to provide this alone. By leveraging a customer community, you’re providing your customers with the tools they need to find the answers to simple questions all on their own. This is good for your support team, good for your company, and (most importantly) satisfying for your customers.
Interested in learning more about how a Get Satisfaction customer community can help you acquire more customers, drive product innovation, and deliver excellent, low-cost social support? Call 877-339-3997 to schedule a demo.
About Get Satisfaction
Based in San Francisco, Get Satisfaction provides an online community platform connecting companies with customers to foster relationships that unlock new value for both sides. Companies of all sizes and industries—from Kellogg’s, P&G and Intuit to Sonos, and SugarCRM—rely on Get Satisfaction to deliver online communities that modernize customer support, accelerate sales, differentiate their brand and inspire new innovations. Get Satisfaction’s community platform offers the fastest time to value for companies ready to embrace the way today’s customers want to engage.