Today, big businesses are saving millions in traditional sales and support costs by using virtual agents and building massive online support communities. But they are also finding just as much success in using their blogs, peer-to-peer forums and even Twitter to deflect support calls. And that’s good news for small businesses.
Today’s customer expects to find answers online. As a result, more and more companies are investing in online customer support options. Well managed online support should be a place where customers can post questions and find answers 24/7 – without having to wait on hold for a customer service agent. The best case scenario for a business is when that support becomes peer-to-peer. In other words, when customers start helping other customers with support and buying questions. When customers can help other customers, that saves you time.
Building a peer-to-peer support community is exactly what Best Buy did. With the help of some employee oversight to ensure the answers were correct, Best Buy created an online community where customers could share stories and help each other with their recent technology purchases. In addition to the decrease in support calls, they saw an 18% decrease in overall customer complaints. Customers enjoyed being able to quickly search and find answers to common questions without having to pick up the phone. In 2009, 2.5 million people visited the forums making 79,000 posts and 95% of those posts were handled by another customer!
What’s more, of those customer interactions, 30% of the conversations involved only 12 “super users”. And this is not uncommon. Typically every community has a small percentage (around 1%) of creators or “super users” doing most of the posting. These are the users who help build loyalty and drive the voice of the community (or in the case of Best Buy, help to answer the most tech support questions). About 10% of your community audience will be “editors”. These are people who will contribute a comment or two, but rarely start their own post from scratch. And finally, 90% of your audience falls into the category of spectators or “lurkers”. This means that they are merely observing most of the time, and rarely actually post.
What does this break down of online users mean for your business? It means that if your product warrants enough support chatter, the key to making an online support system work for you is to identify and then provide incentives your most passionate customers who are most likely to contribute to the online conversation (super-users).
Providing incentives does not mean give money. In fact, once you give customers payment for chatting about your business online they are no longer genuine ‘super users’. However you must make them feel appreciate and special so they continue to contribute.
For ideas on how you can encourage customers to chat about your business, along with case studies on what other top companies are doing online, check out the 3rd Edition of Low budget Online Marketing for Small Business.
Are you already using online communities to promote your business? Great! Share your comments and advice here.