Community Engagement Creates Happy Customers

As the availability of customer service contact channels increases, customers are engaging with nontraditional, digital service options as often, if not more so, as their service agent counterparts. Last year—for the first time ever—Web self-service surpassed telephone service as the No. 1 customer service channel among U.S. adults. As current consumers adapt to self-service and communication channels broaden further, self-service and customer communities will only increase as an avenue for customer resolution, especially among Millennials, whose desire to solve problems on their own will bolster self-service portals and brand loyalty.

In the contact center, a move to self-service can create growing pains. Customer service organizations accustomed to traditional service channels might balk a bit at a more informal, networked approach to serving their customers. The good news is the shift to self-service pays off: self-service and communities give customers greater access to information that is immediate, insightful and—in some cases—emotional, building connection and creating customer loyalty.

At Bluewolf, we've seen companies that leverage cloud-based communities as part of their self-service strategy reap huge benefits. Bluewolf's recent industry report showed that 42 percent of companies using communities reported cost reduction and 74 percent reported productivity gains, vastly outperforming those not utilizing it, who numbered 23 percent and 51 percent in the same categories.

Creating Better Service Communities

Making the shift to a more agile, customer-obsessed enterprise with cloud-based communities starts with determining what drives your organization by asking questions like, what are the goals for the community you're creating? How will users interact with it?

Unlike service agents, who often have no choice but to work with complicated systems, consumer users will quickly abandon interactions that are confusing or don't provide immediate value. It's imperative that your portals and communities are easy-to-use, include accessible and accurate content, and are mobile-enabled. Below are four steps that will help you create sustainable and beneficial self-service portals and communities:

1. Invest in the user experience. An example is Facebook's community, which delivers value to its members through its effortless user interface and user experience; its participants, not the provider, create the value of its current user experience. An excellent, easy-to-use user interface/user experience creates the positive first impressions that drive successful on-boarding and a sense of ownership. Of all the users of a knowledge base, customers have the least tolerance for a poor user experience. While agents have to navigate the knowledge base every day, customers are likely looking up something for the first time. Bring to the creation of your community the same level of intention you would to deploying an initial Salesforce org or to launching a company Web site.

2. Appoint a team of community champions. A community provides a central place for its audience to engage. Dedicate a team of individuals who are responsible for continually driving engagement from the community members. Don't sit back and think engagement will grow organically—it may, but it will take too long. Consider including a collaborative communication component to communities. Whether your strategy is focused on internal audiences, external audiences, or both, effective communication is the best way to drive greater levels of engagement.

3. Make content king. If self-service is one of your strategies, content is as important as user experience. If you're creating a self-service portal, ensure that content is accessible and integrated into the community. Don't build a community or self-service portal as a stand-alone product. Expose your audience to valuable information that will drive ROI as they use it. It is often beneficial to create pathways to promote and increase the visibility of knowledge that has proven helpful in case resolution. Make sure every knowledge article has an expiration date and periodically review all content and update when necessary. Allow agents to flag cases that require self-service content, thus alerting the knowledge team and proactively showing customers the knowledge they need to help themselves.

4. Remember that mobile self-service is the new standard. Consider ways to enable mobile case management. With smartphone usage in the U.S. nearing 80 percent, mobile is becoming customers' preferred medium for support. Mobile self-service is quickly becoming the hallmarks of forwarding-thinking leaders in customer service. No matter what industry you are in, or what your community use case is, your organization needs to plan for how your consumers will use it on the go.

Finally, I often hear that companies are hesitant to implement communities and self-service portals because they fear any negative customer feedback posted publicly—but knowing how to handle negative comments can become an asset for your organization. Never delete or remove negative customer contributions or feedback, as they are your front-line indicators of future dissatisfaction. Resolving negative feedback within communities can turn a customer from a possible detractor to a visible promoter. With luck, one day they'll do the job for you, solving other customers' issues and promoting your service brand.

For more than 30 years, Bob Furniss has focused on helping companies improve customer experiences. As the director of Bluewolf’s Service Cloud practice, Furniss leads a team of consultants focused on improving the contact center experience from both the customer and agent perspective. Connect with Furniss on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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