Collaboration Meets Community Platforms
Enterprises are combining peer-to-peer and Web self-service capabilities to improve customer service and lower cost.
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While social media and microblogging sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr have amassed millions of users, they're not the only social communities organizations are eyeing.

Even before today's most popular social networks picked up steam, companies such as Jive Software and Lithium Technologies were creating enterprise-class social networks and communities. Similarly, Microsoft SharePoint, Yammer (which was acquired by Microsoft last year), Tibbr, IGLOO, and Salesforce.com Chatter sought to socialize enterprise interactions, essentially modernizing the corporate intranet.

Today, enterprise social networks are becoming the nerve center for sales, marketing, customer service, and research and development departments. More companies are blending social business platforms with customer and partner service capabilities, thanks to recent product developments from social community platform providers.

Last year, Jive Software released its Jive Social Customer Service Solution, which blends external customer communities with internal social networks, case escalation, social media monitoring, and gamification. Not to be outdone, Salesforce.com, during its user conference last fall, launched Chatter Communities for Service and Partners, which blends Web self-service and peer-to-peer interactions.

These developments are a boon for cost-conscious executives as they reduce costly email and telephone support interactions. Plus, customers benefit as well—the more subject matter experts who can rally around a customer case, the better the chances for a speedy resolution. Not surprisingly, organizations are changing the way they view social communities.

"In our original survey over four years ago, companies were very focused on using social [media] for outbound marketing. In the next round of surveys, the focus shifted to internal collaboration and building a knowledge-sharing culture," wrote Michael Fauscette, group vice president of Software Business Solutions at IDC, in a blog post. "Last year, as companies matured in the use of social tools, the focus shifted yet again to integrated activities such as drawing customers and partners into the network, solving customer issues, and getting customer and partner feedback."

Customer Service Meets Collaboration

Although traditional telephone support is still the most prevalent point of customer contact, adoption of online customer service channels is growing. In a survey of 7,440 U.S. online adults conducted in November 2012, Forrester Research found that 67 percent of consumers use online help and FAQ sections, the most commonly used online customer service channel, an increase of 10 percentage points since 2009.

From December 2009 to December 2012, the number of people who used online customer forums or communities increased from 23 percent to 32 percent, which indicates "communities are starting to get a lot more use that's not only in high-tech," according to Kate Leggett, principal analyst at Forrester Research and lead author of the report "Understand Communication Channel Needs to Craft Your Customer Service Strategy."

Another area of growth is live chat, which increased from 30 percent adoption in 2009 to 43 percent in 2012. The use of screen sharing, or cobrowsing, grew by 5 percent, from 25 percent to 30 percent adoption among customers. In February, Salesforce.com debuted Service Cloud Mobile, a set of technologies that span mobile customer service communities, live mobile chat, and agent cobrowsing on mobile devices. These technologies give retail customer support agents, for example, the ability to share a customer's iPhone screen in-application (upon permission) and to suggest products the customer might like, or help resolve a purchase issue.

On the community side, a gamer using Mobile Service Cloud Communities may seek peer-to-peer support from a connected community of gamers who share experiences and advice for leveling up. Communities are "not only for trying to find a fix to your problem," Leggett says. "They're also for information sharing, storytelling, and education.... Because of mobility, I think customers are gravitating to communities if it makes sense for their particular interaction."

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