Many customer support and e-business executives are scratching their
heads over this question: what’s the best way to integrate online
customer forums into our formal customer support activities?
We love the fact that customers are ready and willing to share their knowledge and their experiences, to lend helping hands to one another. But we worry about the fact that their advice may be misleading, causing more harm than good.
In our formal customer support processes, we’ve designed well-thought-out escalation paths. Customers should be able to navigate or search quickly to the problem or issue they’re having, find the answer and resolve the problem themselves, and diagnose or troubleshoot, if necessary. They should only need to consult our support professionals if the customers can’t resolve their issues on their own. This self-help approach is not only the most cost-effective one; it has also proven to be the most satisfying to the majority of customers.
But customers tell us that they often prefer the insights they get from learning from other customers’ experiences. They find relevant short cuts and tips. They often find another customer who has faced the same issue in the same context. It’s much easier to follow that person’s advice than it is to try to explain your context to someone who may not have experienced the same issue.
The current best practice is to combine the best of both of these worlds. Let customers decide whether to follow your formal self-help escalation path, to see what other customers have done first, or to ask for help from other customers before, or in addition to, asking for assistance from your company’s subject-matter experts.
What we’ve discovered in our customer co-design sessions around customers’ ideal customer support processes—how they’d ideally like to get answers and resolve problems or issues—is that the decision about whether to rely on other customers or on the company’s own experts has nothing to do with whether or not they’ve paid for support. The decision about where to go for help is based on who they trust to give them the right answer in the most convenient way.