Customer satisfaction with software rose 2.6 percent, to an all-time high score of 78, in the most recent American Customer Satisfaction Index. Smaller companies like Adobe, Intuit, and Symantec took a leadership position, up 3 percent to 79, and Microsoft was close behind, after a 3 percent improvement of its own to 78.
Across the board, the high-tech industry has been seeing gains in customer satisfaction in the past few years, largely because the technology field has long been one of the most enthusiastic and successful adopters of CRM technologies.
Companies typically invest heavily in product development, sales, and marketing. When it comes to service, the main driver for high-tech companies is simply to solve technical support issues as quickly and efficiently as possible. That often involves creating online knowledge bases and self-service tools, but the latest must-have for these companies is a presence on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Tech companies are not only monitoring, managing, and responding to customer comments on these sites, but they also occupy a leadership position in creating and managing internal knowledge bases, where customers can look for answers to their tech support questions on their own and customer communities for Web-based peer-to-peer product support.
When faced with issues, 57 percent of customers will first turn to Web searches for answers, and 91 percent will use online knowledge bases, if they are reliable, according to U.K. marketing research firm Coleman Parkes. The appeal of this form of social customer self-service is that it lets users and IT technicians share, collaborate, and get technical support from one another 24/7.
In addition to improving customer satisfaction, online support forums also provide a financial benefit to a company. According to Gartner, by 2014, organizations integrating communities into customer support will realize cost reductions of up to 50 percent, primarily from call deflection.
They also present to prospective customers the appearance that the company has a loyal and devoted following that is willing to go the extra mile to ensure that other users love their products as well. In addition, these communities flow vital product information back to the tech companies.
Adobe, for example, earlier this year began turning to brand advocates in its social communities to provide feedback on new versions of its software. It found that these advocates are seven times more likely to share their product reviews on Facebook than the industry average. That's free publicity the company can immediately use to its benefit.
Additionally, this content has reportedly influenced a 54 percent lift in page conversions on Adobe's Web site. And banner ads, email landing pages, and search landing pages have seen a significantly higher number of click-throughs when customer quotes and star ratings are included.
Based on the success of the program in North America, Adobe recently expanded it to six international markets.
HP found similar results with the Expert Day program it linked to its consumer support forums. Three times a year, Expert Day engages hundreds of HP enthusiasts around the globe to gather on the company's forums for 24 hours to answer any questions that community members post to the forum boards.
Due in part to exposure from Expert Day, traffic on the forum continues to increase each time it's offered. Expert Day's popularity is growing too. On the English language forum, Expert Day participation grew by more than 50,000 customers between the April 2011 and January 2012 events.
During the January 2012 Expert Day, the English Customer Support Forum saw a 532 percent increase in user-accepted solutions when compared to the number of accepted solutions recorded on an average day.
Many companies are finding social media plays a critical role in customer service, with as many as 60 percent of U.S. firms using social customer support channels, according to industry analyst firm ThinkJar.