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Social Support for Software
Vendors unleash a new round of community forums for their customers.
For the rest of the April 2009 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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For more of the April 2009 edition of CRM magazine, please click here.

For Blake Kadatz, vice president of marketing for Vancouver-based marketing firm Antarctica Digital, participating in a social community requires faith. “The motto is, ‘By sharing your knowledge, you hope that others will reciprocate,’” Kadatz says, explaining that, when he finds a creative way to do something, he usually thinks to share it with the community. Why? Well, because when he’s in a slump himself, he wants to be able to turn to the community for help. It’s all about give and take.

This give-and-take idea also benefits the host of the community. A well-managed forum can free up time and energy required for other customer service measures. Other benefits include the camaraderie among users, a stronger brand, and the generation of market research. For these reasons, it’s no wonder that software vendors are jumping at the chance to engage their users by hosting community forums.

These communities continue to blossom. The Act! by Sage Community site, for example, had more than 8.9 million page views and 266,000 searches in its first year, according to the company. Sage says that the community has helped generate a 15-point increase in the Act! brand’s customer loyalty rating as measured by the Satmetrix Net Promoter score. (For more on the Net Promoter score, see "On the Scene: Can You Hear Me Now?")

Other vendors are climbing on board, too. With the My Oracle Support site, Oracle has added another community to its portfolio, allowing users and developers to exchange code, discuss projects, and even swap documents. Marketo, a marketing automation provider, entered similar territory with the January launch of its Success.Marketo.com. The new microsite includes not only a discussion forum, but also a knowledge base and support dashboard for Marketo users, says Phil Fernandez, the company’s chief executive officer.

Fernandez says that the rationale behind the microsite speaks directly to his company’s mission. “It was a part of [our] founding vision to try to understand how [to] bring community into an enterprise,” he says. Not only are Marketo users—such as Antarctica Digital’s Kadatz—posting campaign ideas, discussing trends, and sharing software techniques, but they’re also helping Marketo’s development team with its product offerings. “We now have customers suggesting product ideas and voting on them,” Fernandez says. To power the site, Marketo turned to Web 2.0 customer support platform provider Helpstream, which blends traditional service with community functions. When a user posts a support issue, for example, that issue can be looped into the user’s CRM record in an integrated CRM system. (See this month's Rising Stars for more on Helpstream.)

“The key with a community is to ignite critical mass,” Fernandez says, “If a customer goes and there isn’t activity [she’ll] quickly abandon it.” That, he says, is why Marketo emphasized participation to its employees, and they’ve eagerly responded. For that matter, any time a customer does something on the community site, the appropriate Marketo representative will get an alert to go respond—and a quick response is critical, Fernandez says.

Zoho, a company consistently on the cutting edge with free and low-cost solutions, has its Zoho Marketplace—essentially a location for its users to buy and sell Zoho Creator applications to one another. Zoho serves as the intermediary, letting site users negotiate prices and transactions in their own manner.

“Free” is a compelling factor in these communities. John Purdy, a field account executive with technology company CDW, says he uses the Act! by Sage community site nearly every day. The fact that the site is run mostly by users, but that paid Sage employees contribute frequently, gives the community value and substance, he says.

When Purdy encountered a recurring error message while reinstalling Act! on a replacement computer, he immediately turned to the Act! by Sage community. He queried the problem and quickly discovered that he wasn’t alone: Several people had encountered the same problem. He found a list of steps to solve the issue—a resolution reached without the vendor’s involvement, but made possible by the vendor-sponsored community.

Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationcrm.com/subscribe/.

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To contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com
Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationCRM.com/subscribe/.
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