Lead by Collaboration

What would you think if I told you that your customers would prefer to retrieve service responses from an expert within their online community rather than your staff? Or that you could save service dollars by opening up your support network to the masses? If you’re skeptical, I don’t blame you. Allowing the groundswell to dictate our products and services’ dos and don’ts is not the ideal. Or is it?

The first step towards this was motivating our customers to visit our content worthy websites for all their questions and concerns. This worked great for allowing them to retrieve answers on call and saved you money on support calls. Some organizations then thought why not move the support center overseas; the calls will be answered regardless. But what about the quality of those responses and exchanges and potential delays on more complicated questions? Were we on track to losing touch altogether?! I think so.

Helping Others

Enter online support forums, where people are more willing to trust each other than a company (groundswell, 2011) and they will actually spend time helping each other. Amazing. Why would you not tap into this goldmine? Worried about quality? Negativity? While there are important steps to take to ensure success, you’d be surprised at what your customers can build for you if given the opportunity. If your company has a diverse lineup of technical products and services, or complicated support requirements, you might want to think about extending the reach of your support system. Let’s look at Dell, for example. They had an online support leader, Jeff, aka “Predator”, who logged over 473,000 minutes, or 123 working days/ year, supporting Dell customers. Did I mention he doesn’t work for Dell and he does this because he “actually enjoys helping people” (groundswell, 2011)? This brings up an important reason for online participation that we should include in our corporate strategies; psychic income. This is one of the multiple psychic rewards including altruism, or good feelings, validation, or getting a sense of belonging. People like Jeff are out there waiting to prove they have all the answers, so why not let them? At Dell, between 20-50% of consumers retrieved an answer from a support forum and from 4 million posts, 1 million could be considered answers (groundswell, 2011). According to Henry Jenkins, a Media Studies professor, this is a “participatory culture”, where consumers do far more than just consume; they create as well. (groundswell, 2011).

Let’s Build It

Now, how do we get our customers to create and really build something for us? Let’s look at Wikipedia. Do you trust its content? Do you participate in its content? Since a collaborative encyclopedia provides answers to so many of us and so often, why not tailor one to your own company? Now, I’m familiar with using a Wiki for an organization, as more of an internal repository, but opening it up to the masses is another matter. There are so many aspects to consider, but maybe it’s worthwhile if your company raises a lot of questions or has multiple, complex support categories. If you have existing, detailed content that would engage your customers, a reliable panel of interested experts and are willing to patiently supervise the Wiki’s growth, you might be ready. Look at Yahoo!Answers. As at July, 2007, it held 350 million “answers” and counting (groundswell, 2011). They use a unique points system which helps distinguish the experts and promotes their credibility, another type of reward. This is definitely a good idea, since I’m not sure I would trust all the Yahoo!Answers I’ve read…ahem.

Are You Ready?

So, are you ready for a collaborative experience? Let’s see if it adds up.

1. What problem are you trying to solve? Or what is the support that you would need to provide and how can you motivate participation? If your customers are passionate about a cause or product, you could engage them with discussion.

2. Are you ready to participate? You have to build up the participation to start it off. Without activity, there will be no content and without that, no traffic. Do you see where I’m going with this? Considering that 22% of online consumers participate in online forums, this might be worthwhile.

3. Have you googled yourself lately? Is there an existing community that is already on its feet? If so, don’t be scared away by its experts and negativity. With some slight monitoring, you could use this to your advantage as its already a living community.
If you support, listen and talk you will be surprised at how you are perceived and how your credibility will soar.

What about a non profit organization? How would a support forum differ in that sector? Really, we can apply the same planning and strategy noted above. Look at Tourette Canada, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of Canadians affected by Tourette Syndrome  and associated conditions. They have an active forum that is a place to exchange ideas, obtain help and talk about anything related to Tourette Syndrome, support for people with Tourette Syndrome and information about treatment options relating to Tourette Syndrome (Tourette Canada, 2016).

In the forum, the administrator, aka “Steve”, provides extensive responses to concerns and is sure to get involved in a thread if he sees any misconceptions. He clarifies how a diagnosis will help a child gain access to support in school to a perplexed father and he posts about the latest groundbreaking research to engage the members. Two mothers of 6 year old girls connect over their daughters recent tics and change in behaviors and suggest medical treatment centers to one another, while “Gary” posts that he wishes he would have had access to such a forum when he was younger. This is an impressive, living, breathing community, with 4,573 threads, 20,652 posts and 2,037 registered members for a poorly understood and complex disorder that affects 1% of Canadians (Tourette Canada, 2016). They do have rules regarding posts including a specific medical message policy, no self promotion and general posting etiquette. They do not allow advertising on the forum and as such, request a membership to assist with the forums operation. The Tourette Canada forum seems to have credibility, content and a good balance on patience and policy (groundswell, 2011). Certainly the administrator has built up a lot of that content, but remember…once the thread is out there, it’s searchable and will drive traffic to the site. Perfect!

Lead the Way

To get an online community going, you’ll want to start small but plan for the future. Your forum might expand quickly so be prepared for that. Find the niche experts you need and motivate them to participate on your forum to help boost that rich content you really need. It would be beneficial to make a plan to drive traffic to your site, by advertising, or paid search engine listings. Make sure you build a reputation system so that the experts can get that psychic income and competition they strive for. And finally, let your customers lead you! They are going to provide so much detail and opinion that you will find yourself revisiting your strategy and starting new ventures. Let’s collaborate!

 

 

References

Charlene Li, J. B. (2011). groundswell. Forrester Research, Inc.
Dell. (2016, 03 18). YouTube. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/DojGXi57jB8
Tourette Canada. (2016). Tourette Canada. Retrieved from https://tourette.ca
Tourette Canada. (2016). Tourette Canada Forum. Retrieved from http://www.tourettesyndrome.ca/index.php
Tourette Canada. (2015, 02 27). YouTube. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/O6_BkBYBplI
Photo by Nicholas Swanson https://unsplash.com/photos/d19by2PLaPc

 

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