Social Support: The Emperor Has No Clothes? When the Board Doesn’t See Your Value – The Social Customer

Photo: Curt Gibbs/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Photo: Curt Gibbs, ExperienceLA on Flickr

So you’ve added support forums to your website, you’re tweeting your heart out, you’ve even started to chat with customers. Your forums seem to have taken on a vibrant life of their own after your initial seeding and your community is happily answering each other’s questions. Right at the moment, as leader of your company’s social support strategy, you’re feeling pretty good about yourself and your team’s achievements. Inevitably it comes around to that time of year when budgets are discussed and you’re summoned to the board room to recount your achievements and defend your spend for the coming year.

You recount in great detail how your support forum has had 50,000 posts over the past twelve months with over a million reads, your face aglow with anticipation at the acumen that will accrue to you and your team for this splendid achievement. You even note that overall calls to the call centre are down. It’s then that something peculiar strikes you; no one in the room seems to be cheering. No hands are being punched in the air in the same way that you would expect if this was a sales meeting and great numbers had been announced. In fact, could it be that some of the faces even look a little skeptical?

Then someone asks the dreaded question, “so how many calls to the call centre has the forum actually prevented?” You um and ah because this is a rather fundamentally difficult question to answer as there isn’t really a convincing way to correlate posts with prevented calls. Another VP asks you how many solutions were provided in the forum hoping to get some idea of how many calls might have been prevented. Again, you don’t know because support forums aren’t designed to provide this sort of information. In fact support forums aren’t designed to provide support at all. They’re places for people to come and discuss things and have been co-opted into the job of support.

Unconvinced that your community efforts are having a positive impact on call volumes the board doesn’t authorise the budget you were hoping for and although you can still continue with your current social initiatives you’re curtailed in any further development.

So how can this all too common scenario be avoided? You know that your community is providing you with value but how do you prove it? Companies need to start to think about how they use community support in a way that’s more easily assessed.

The first stepping stone is to develop systems that lend themselves more fully to collecting the right data for supporting a customer from the get-go. This enables better problem resolution within a community query.

The second step is to know when a problem has been resolved and for this aspects of support CRM need to be integrated with community solutions so that cases can effectively be closed.

The third step is to have a good enough system of categorisation of problem types such that resolved community problems can be correlated with call centre call reasons to see whether there is any trending impact.

If these alterations to community are in place it is eminently possible to develop a strong defense for the financial benefit derived from your community in terms of call savings.

This approach should be coupled with customer surveys to prove that the community improves customer satisfaction and as such probably provides greater retention and improved brand equity but these should be secondary arguments to the intrinsic value of your community doing support for you. I guarantee that if you walk into the board room for the next budget review with these figures in your hands you’ll exit a happier and richer department head.

Published in The Social Customer June 2011

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