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Customer satisfaction goes beyond fielding customer phone calls and on-site visits. You must also be able to provide social support through a variety of online channels, including email, online discussion communities, and social media. When your customer has a problem with your technology, the majority will first try to solve their issue themselves via an online search. For many organizations, providing social support can seem like a lot of work, but in the long run, it can lower your operational costs, increase customer satisfaction, and allow your support team to better assist your customers

What is Social Support?

Social support is an important piece of the customer satisfaction puzzle, and refers to the act of ensuring that your customers have access to the right assistance and receive quality service as part of a supportive social network. There are two primary ways companies can offer social support:

Community: Online support communities and discussion forums.

Social MediaSupport interactions via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

So which method should you choose? The answer to that question ultimately comes down to what your customers want. At TSIA, we’re able to survey you and other service practitioners to get a good idea of industry best practices and preferences on the business side, but we don’t have a way to survey your customers, that is up to you. Don’t be afraid to start a conversation with your customers to find out how they want you to reach out and support them. It’s important to not make assumptions about what you think they want, and by opening up the lines of communications, their answers might even surprise you.

Where Are Your Customers Receiving Their Online Support?

In TSIA’s recent Social Support survey, in which participation was open to anyone and everyone, we received some very interesting responses that gave us a detailed look at the current state of social support within the technology industry. We specifically included some consumer-related questions in an effort to get a broad idea of how customers are choosing to receive support.

preferred customer contact channel  

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In our survey we asked participants what their preferred method of support was. Most people preferred to find the answer themselves online.

We found that a staggering 90% of consumers say that when they need support for a product, they start with a Google search. With so much free information out there that could either lead your customers to the right solution or potentially lead them astray, it’s important to make sure you maintain at least some level of control over what solutions your customers are receiving. One of the best ways to do this is to become a provider of online support through your own community, and index that content so it appears in the Google search results.

Who Owns the Customer Discussion Community Within Your Organization?

Over the years, ownership of online discussion communities has shifted from being a primarily marketing-driven initiative, to support. In some cases, there’s a joint-ownership between support and marketing, which I feel is the smartest option. 

While your support team has the technical know-how, marketing tends to be the keepers of appropriate language, style, and branding that best represents the ideals of your company. Marketing should at least have some say of what is being said within the community, since any responses are a direct representation of your business and must align with your company’s brand and message.

Why You Should Invite Marketing Into Your Support Discussion

If one of your support techs goes rogue on a phone call, it could damage that customer relationship, but will hopefully stay with just that one customer. If this discussion happens over email, it could potentially be forwarded to others, but the damage could still remain minimal. However, if a support tech said something inappropriate via social media or an online forum, millions of people can see it, and once something is out of the box, its really hard to put it back in. This is why it is important to work with your marketing and PR department to ensure that you and your support techs are maintaining an appropriate tone in online correspondence. After all, the main job of marketing and public relations is protecting the brand and maintaining a certain style and make lists of words and phrases to use and never use. There’s your brand to think of, and whatever you say reflects on your company.

Don’t Wait Too Long to Support Your Customers 

When a customer posts a question in your forum, or reports a problem via Twitter, you should never keep them waiting too long on the answer, but what does “too long” mean? According to the social support survey, many companies have an internal service level agreement (SLA) in place to prevent unreasonable wait times. Average SLAs for community posts range between 12 and 24 hours, which gives community members time to chime in before an employee is asked to post a response. 

Unfortunately, providing timely responses to customer inquiries can be seen as an impossible task for companies that lack the proper staffing, resources, and bandwidth. While a phone call can assist one customer, responses to questions posted on online forums can potentially help more people with similar issues, without them having to even talk to a tech. Pushing more traffic to the online community can free up your phone support techs for more in-depth questions and can lead to lowered operational costs, so it’s worth it to bring in some additional staffing to monitor and moderate the community.

Public vs. Private Support Forums

A question many B2B companies struggle with is whether or not it’s best to have their support community viewable to the public or registered members only. I realize that depending on your industry, this might be a sensitive issue as you have to be protective of intellectual properties, but the answer is simply doing what you feel is best. Our survey results have shown that the majority of cloud-based companies tend to opt for open access, while on-premise companies tended to have closed access. My recommendation is that if you must maintain members-only access, be sure to index your community content with Google. If 90% of your customers are already searching the internet for a solution, indexing your content with Google will ensure that your page will show up in the search as the place to go for content on the subject, but won’t necessarily show that content to non-members. It’s important to establish yourself as the most credible source of information and it’s up to them whether or not they want to take the next step to register and learn more or not. 

Be sure to check out my on-demand webinar, “The State of Social Support: 2015” where I go into more detail about the topics mentioned above as well as how to use social media for customer support and monitoring customer engagement online. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email.

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John Ragsdale

About Author John Ragsdale

John Ragsdale is a distinguished researcher and the vice president of technology ecosystems for TSIA. His area of expertise is in creating strategies for improving the service operations and overall customer experience by leveraging innovative technology. John works closely with TSIA’s partner ecosystem, identifying leading and emerging technology vendors whose products help solve the key business challenges faced by TSIA members. He is also author of the book, Lessons Unlearned, which chronicles his 25-year career inside the customer service industry.

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