In the quest to save a few bucks, many companies turn towards customer powered support. These are the forums you see where customers help other customers with their questions and problems. Execs talk about how they’re “leveraging the power of your customer base”. I’ve even talked to one person who said their customers knew more about the product than the staff so the customers were perfect for providing support.
Customer powered support doesn’t work. At least, it doesn’t if you want to provide a great support experience for your customers. Here’s why.
It doesn’t work at a small scale.
Only a small percentage of people will answer questions in a community forum. That’ll lead to burnout with those volunteers and then you’ll have customers not getting answers at all.
I’ll make one exception on this reason. If you’ve got millions and millions of customers (especially free ones like Google forums), then you can consider it. But even then, do you hear anyone raving about how they had a great support experience using those forums?
It requires customers to work for free.
Customers aren’t even getting paid to answer those questions from other customers. That means they don’t have to worry about responding fast or in a clear way. They don’t even have to answer if they find the question too tough!
That cheapens the support. It’s even worse than outsourcing to the lowest costing call center.
You lose control of the support experience.
Two things here. First, you’ll lose the personal touch from interacting with the customer. That means you’ll lose that relationship with them. When customers are helping customers, there’s no room for you to be part of that interaction. And you want to be part of it.
You’ll also lose the quality of the support. The customer answering the question might get it right or might get it wrong. If they offer up the wrong answer or communicate poorly, the customer is going to blame you for not having a higher quality of support.
It causes confusion.
As a customer, are you contacting the support team? Or do you need to submit a ticket somewhere else? How soon will you get an answer? What if it’s an emergency and you need an answer right away?
With customer support forums, the entire support experience becomes cloudy. Remember, a great support experience is one that’s fast, clear, and concise.
Own your support experience.
You owe your customers more than a crappy customer powered support experience. They’re paying you. If you want to keep them paying you, give them the best support you possibly can.
Rachel Andrew says
When we first launched Perch we used Tender for support, which was essentially just an open forum and the product seems to assume a customer led support methodology. This was a nightmare, we found that while customers would help each other out, the advice was frequently misleading and then we would have an angry customer believing someone from the company had given incorrect advice. Our current system has a mix of public and private. Actual support with our product we deal with by private ticket. We do have forums and we encourage customers to use these for things that aren’t really technical support, but more website implementation issues (our product is a CMS).
This balance works quite well on the whole. Customers do help each other out with suggestions for implementation, and advice on more general web development issues and the forums can be searched for advice and ideas. We also answer the majority of forum threads ourselves. However any real issue with the product or situation where we need to get some private info out of the customer can happen in a ticket. I think there is a place for community forums for some types of products, but it should be an addition to not a replacement for real support.
Chase Clemons says
Neat balance there Rachel! It’s cool to see the split between what customers usually help with and don’t help with. General advice and ideas makes perfect sense. A customer in a similar situation could give advice on how best to implement something. Then leave the product issues for the real support team.
Thanks for sharing that!
Adam Pennacchio says
I completely agree with you Chase. Personally I don’t like community powered support for all the reasons you listed above. I’d also point out that every support ticket is another chance for you to touch your customers. And every interaction gives you an opportunity to strengthen that relationship and turn customers into loyal fans. That being said, I think having a balance b/t private & public support works for some businesses. Customers appreciate the chance to learn from other users. Adii wrote an interesting post on SVBTLE about how reluctant they were to add forums at WooThemes. But they eventually did and it ended up completely cutting out all complaints they were getting about support.
Chase Clemons says
Thanks for the comment Adam! Now I have to go find that post from Adii. It’s not one I’ve heard about before now. Thanks for the tip!