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When I first began publishing research on customer communities as a self-service channel in 2004, few companies had a community, and most were afraid of the “free-for-all” nature of discussion forums, fearful of what customers might say. Today, communities are a critical channel in supporting customers (and partners), allowing expert customers to answer other users’ questions and weigh in on any issue based on their own unique experiences.
According to a multi-member study I conducted in 2014, support communities are handling on average 19.1% of total support volume, i.e., the total number of customer questions asked across all assisted and unassisted channels. What’s more, based on post-session surveys, members say that 42% of questions answered in a forum deflect an assisted support phone call or email.
One of the remaining challenges with communities is integration to the rest of the support stack. Companies rarely integrate community activity into multi-channel or CRM tracking, meaning if a particular customer is extremely active in the community, when that account is up for renewal, the renewal sales rep has zero visibility into this activity. Also, support techs have no idea that a customer calling with a problem has spent an hour researching the problem via the community, and already tried known solutions. When companies buy standalone community platforms, they are creating an island of information. While that information is hugely valuable, the fact that it isn’t integrated to any existing knowledge or interaction-tracking systems means the information is not being fully leveraged.
I’ve been saying for a while that this industry is ripe for consolidation, and the announcement today that Verint Systems is acquiring Telligent from Zimbra indicates the consolidation has begun. Verint, a longtime TSIA partner, has always been ahead of the curve. With roots in the contact center quality monitoring space, they have made strategic investments and acquisitions over the last decade+ to pull workforce optimization, knowledge management, multi-channel interactions, voice and text analysis, and sophisticated survey capabilities, all into a single platform. Adding Telligent’s rich customer and employee community capabilities into the mix proves that communities are now a required customer channel, and should be part of the integrated customer support technology stack.
I see some exciting potential in this acquisition, for example:
According to my 2014 Knowledge Management Survey, only 31% of companies are harvesting the most useful content from community discussions to use in the knowledgebase or other assisted or unassisted support channels. With Verint’s best-of-breed KANA knowledge platform, I expect to see some automated sharing of hot topics and discussions between Telligent’s communities and KANA knowledge.
Companies struggle to understand the voice of the customer, often ignoring the problems and suggestions voiced in online discussion forums. Leveraging Verint’s powerful listening platform to analyze community discussions to identify product and service issues will allow companies to be more responsive to customers, and have a much deeper understanding of customer sentiment.
Staffing for forums is a big topic. 56% of B2B companies have an internal SLA for how quickly questions are answered in the forum, with an average SLA time period of 21 hours. This means staff must be allocated to moderate community discussions, and chime in with an answer when other customers do not. I receive a lot of questions about how to schedule this, and how to fit it into the already overburdened tech support schedule. Leveraging Verint’s workforce optimization technology, community activity (i.e., number of posts, SLA times, etc.) can be factored into scheduling algorithms, incorporating forum moderation into employee schedules.
Customer communities may already be important today, but their influence continues to grow. Here’s some data from my 2015 Social Support Survey on which age demographics say that online communities are either something they occasionally use for support, or that the community is their preferred channel for support:
(Click image to enlarge.)
100% of respondents age 18-25 say online communities are their preferred channel for support. A third of those age 26-36 say they prefer to use communities for support, and over half say they occasionally use forums. With the millennials graduating college and becoming system administrators—often the primary customer contact for B2B companies—having a successful online community isn’t a “nice to have,” it is an imperative.
Congratulations to Verint Systems for bringing Telligent into their omnichannel strategy! I look forward to seeing the integration points and early success stories of joint customers. And as always, thanks for reading!
Post Date: August 17, 2015
John Ragsdale is the distinguished vice president of technology research, for TSIA. His area of expertise is in creating strategies for improving the service operations and overall customer experience by leveraging innovative technology. Ragsdale drives TSIA's highly regarded technology research agenda, delivering insightful, thought-leadership research and analysis on the most pressing business issues facing services leaders to enable them to better plan and execute their service strategies. He is also author of the book, Lessons Unlearned, which chronicles his 25-year career inside the customer service industry.
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