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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A Case for Collaboration and Mobility

Ask.com, which originated as Web search engine AskJeeves.com in 1996, needed to effectively field questions submitted by 100 million visitors to its global Web site each month. As one of the top 10 ranked U.S. Internet sites, the company wanted to keep up with traffic without giving up its personalized sense of customer service. Ask.com not only operates as a comprehensive search crawler for links to articles, images, and video references, but it also offers a homegrown Q&A community for site visitors to ask and answer questions through a peer-to-peer capability.

Ask.com had invested in the way it surfaced information to site visitors, but "what sort of got left behind was how we were engaging with customers [who] needed our support services," comments Eric McKirdy, customer relations and support manager for Ask.com. "It wasn't really matching our value proposition and brand that we were pushing forward as a Q&A engine."

Ask.com turned to cloud-based customer engagement solutions provider Parature last year and implemented the Parature EasyAnswer autosuggest feature and automatic search engine indexing. The knowledgebase solution enables Ask.com to automate support with personalized responses to customer inquiries. Average customer resolution times dropped from eight hours to 1.5 hours, and as a result of self-service deflection afforded by EasyAnswer and the Q&A community, Ask.com reduced the volume of questions submitted to its online help desk by 60 percent.

Because 15 percent of Ask.com's overall traffic to its search engine and community comes from mobile devices, the company deployed Parature for Mobile so iPhone users will receive the same information as nonmobile users, according to McKirdy. "Otherwise, you end up marginalizing a segment of your users who feel like you're not there for them."

Know Thy User

In the case of Ask.com, blending self-service support and a strong knowledgebase allowed the site to create a personalized customer support experience for its mostly consumer-based community. For AvidXchange, a software-as-a-service provider of automated invoice processing solutions, the use of a community powered by Telligent streamlined the support process for its B2B customers.

"We deal predominantly with accountants, so we [wanted to] provide an area where they could go back and forth and post different questions, whether it was about our software or not," comments Tom McDonald, director of client services for AvidXchange. Before AvidXchange turned to Telligent, it managed support through "Outlook and subfolders, which was an impossible way to grow," he explains.

By leveraging Telligent's community-based software, AvidXchange was able to develop a comprehensive Community Center, a support network allowing customers to scan a knowledgebase, post questions for peers, and access step-by-step instructions to support issues complete with screen shots. One of the biggest challenges was convincing existing customers to "accept a new way of doing support with us," McDonald notes.

However, because the Community Center offered invaluable assets, such as product release notes, it has become a versatile venue and single source of information for AvidXchange users. The online community is integrated with a case tracking system, which allows users to submit enhancement requests via the community forum. To date, 80 percent of AvidXchange customers use the Community Center for support purposes. Time to resolution was cut in half, to 15 minutes, and AvidXchange saw a 60 percent reduction in tracked support cases from email and telephone.

AvidXchange first envisioned its community as a platform to improve support and to offer documentation to its customers. "We didn't really anticipate all of the other ways we would use it," McDonald says."What really blew me away was that the people we were hiring [as a result of our growth] loved to go on there [and] post content that pertains to their work. We're changing our own processes because of the Community Center."

Streamlining Workflows

The benefits of a community as a center for knowledge are unparalleled in the enterprise. According to the Harvard Business Review blog post "Social Media Can Play a Role in Business Process Management," by Mark Pearson, managing director of the operations consulting group at Accenture, online communities "can support transparency by memorializing informal discussions that may be highly pertinent to a process, but might not normally be captured."

Community-building software can be used to gather input from stakeholders to improve internal and external business processes. Pearson cites KLM Royal Dutch Airlines as an example, which uses social media to identify fans and followers on Facebook and Twitter, and awards personalized gifts to passengers at the gate based on their preferences.

"It's all about reducing the friction for customers to find what they're looking for," suggests Alex Bard, senior vice president and general manager of the Salesforce.com Service Cloud. "The integration of communities into the overall business process is critical in order to really recognize ROI. There's a financial ROI, certainly, but I also think about it in terms of the customer satisfaction metric."

An integral aspect of running a successful community is enabling people to understand who, in fact, they are having a dialogue with, Bard adds. Oftentimes, an employee buried deeper behind the walls of an organization, such as someone in research and development, can provide a wealth of knowledge on particular product or service issues. A community allows sales, marketing, and customer service to tap into a broad brain trust, which was one of the factors fueling the launch of Salesforce.com's Chatter Groups and Communities for partners and customers.

Creating a digital venue for customers and employees also worked for Dell's TechCenter, an online community powered by Telligent. Dell was able to increase traffic to Dell.com by 30 percent as a result of integrating its community platform with its global site. Because a majority of TechCenter users are highly technical IT administrators, they can join solution areas such as networking and systems management to interact directly with product engineers and other members of Dell's technical team, according to Jeff Sullivan, Dell's senior marketing manager for communities and social media.

Regarding employee training, collaboration among enterprise teams also helps address the "classic bell curve of agents," as Steve Kraus, senior director of product marketing for CRM solutions at Pegasystems, puts it. Collaboration tools make best practices shareable, and supervisors have more insight into questions being asked, content being used, and answers that top agents are delivering to scale them across the contact center, he says.

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