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Adi is a social business blogger and community manager that writes for sites such as Social Business News and Social Media Today. Away from the computer he enjoys cycling, particularly in the Alpes. Adi is a DZone Zone Leader and has posted 1070 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Social Media and Customer Service

01.18.2013
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Determining the return on investment of social media is one of those issues that has troubled social professionals (ok, mostly marketers) since social networks took things mainstream. Nowhere is this more so than in e-commerce settings, as marketers struggle to come to terms with last click wins attribution and therefore fitting in social media into their sales funnels. If other channels are claiming the glory, it leads many to wonder just what it is social media is doing. Of course it’s too big to ignore, but without that clear purpose it causes many of our social media communities to meander and not achieve the successes they deserve.

Have you thought about using your social communities for customer support? The following will provide you with an example or two of companies that are doing just that, and they’re measuring the value of those communities in dollars and cents.

Lets begin though with a look at how customer service is usually done on e-commerce sites. Most sites take a very hands off approach. That’s not to say that companies don’t care about their customers, but rather that they use the data they have on each of us to try and predict the problems we’ll have and either head them off at the pass, or provide support documentation for us to help ourselves. Very few offer actual people to talk to.

Of course big data is often a wonderful thing, and I’m sure many of us will have bought things having been recommended them by Amazon’s algorithms, but it does rather underplay the power of a human brain, especially when buying complex things, as is often the case in B2B settings.

That’s just the scenario Cisco found themselves in and they created an online support community to help customers help themselves. Cisco estimate that this support community diverts approximately 1 million support requests away from their traditional support channels each year. That generates over $120 million in savings each year. Whilst it’s likely that you’re not the same size as Cisco, I’m sure you’d still like a piece of that pie, right?

I’m going to get onto how you can build such a community in just a minute, but first lets talk about how you measure the ROI of this kind of community. You need two distinct measures.

Social ROI

First off you need to measure the customer support offered by your community. How many problems are solved by your customers? How many requests have they diverted from your usual customer support channels? Measure that and you’ve got your social ROI.

Financial ROI

You next need to convert those successful outcomes into cash. This can be as simple as determining how much it would have cost you to solve those same problems using your own staff rather than a customer doing it for you. Multiply that by your social ROI and you get an overall ROI for your community. I’ve made this simplistic on purpose, as this is only a blog after all, but you get the idea.

How to build a customer support community

Ok, so now we’re ready to start building your community. It’s critical that you do this well as for every Cisco like community there are dozens more with tumbleweed blowing through them. You need to approach this methodically and not take the build it and pray approach. Here are some steps to get you off on the right foot.

  1. Build your launch team carefully – You know Roger’s Adoption Curve? The one where you go with early adopters first before crossing to the mainstream? It’s the same with your support community. You’ll need to get the best people on board to begin with, both inside and outside of your company. The best members of your community act as a lighthouse to guide other members. Cisco have a Hall of Fame for instance, that lists their best members. Choose these wisely to begin with and you’re off on the right foot.
  2. Use gamification wisely – There will be a natural desire to compete amongst your customers, but you need to make sure they’re competing in the right area. Your community won’t thrive if people are worried about their post counts, but if you can gamify the successful solving of customer problems, that could achieve some real results. Produce a leaderboard of the best solvers, complete with ratings and points.
  3. Amplify their efforts – As well as providing a forum for solving each others problems, you also want to use your community to identify the advocates for your brand. By turning your stars into brand advocates you create a marketing voice with much more authenticity than you possess internally. So give them a blog or perhaps grant them access to your other social media channels.

Of course this isn’t a sure fire recipe for success, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll be replicating the tremendous results achieved by the likes of Cisco, but it will give you a good chance.

If you’re already using online communities for customer support I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments section.