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Building a support community

If you’re a software company, chances are you already have a community of practice that could be sharing knowledge about your product or service and solving each other’s problems? They could be discussing your SaaS products in Slack, Facebook, or some enterprise social network or other. When groups of people get together to talk about your product or service they uncover neat ideas on how your product can be used in innovative ways. For B2B software companies, whose products are highly configurable, support communities are a valuable resource for customers. When they have access to the stories of how other people like them are using the same product, they discover more efficient ways of using it, unlocking more value for them and increase the use of features they may not otherwise have explored on their own. We like to compare what we’re doing to someone else, just to know we’ve got it right.

Benefits of support communities

24×7 help – Your support team may have clocked off, but your customers could be finding answers any time, at a time that suits them.
Browsability – The structure of sub-forums and categories provides a browsable taxonomy. With thoughtful management, that taxonomy can grow as the community needs it to, helping your customers discover things they didn’t know to go looking for.
Deep engagement – Forums are an efficient many-to-many platform of communication, but they also allow for one-to-one and one-to-many conversations that add to the overall knowledge of the group. When your own team members participate in the community, your customers feel heard and you’ll likely see an increase in customer loyalty.
Owned platform – When you own and manage your own customer forum, you can ensure security and accessibility. Depending on your audience and customer base, you may be able to implement private sections for partners or VIP customers.
Searchability – If relevancy and quality are being maintained as part of a broader knowledge management program and you’re indexing your community in search engines, the content inside your support community can drive traffic to your brand, providing potential customers with reali insight into how well your solution works for others.

Growing an active community

Communities don’t just happen. They need cultivating with appropriate governance and management.

Purpose is paramount

Clearly define and communicate the reason for the community’s existence. Support communities are often transactional—a customer has a question they need answering, and they may not come back. You’ll need to work hard on building an engagement model to keep your expert customers on board and volunteering their time and know-how. ServiceNow, BMC, and Zendesk are a few examples of software companies with successful support communities.servicenow community

Prime the intrinsic motivators

Community participants are volunteers, and those who provide answers in a support community are even moreso. Look to ways you can build relationships between your company and your customers, and recognise those who go on to contribute to the community. Recognition via badges can work, such as what this HP member has earned for his hours of volunteering support answers, but so do the more traditional tokens of thanks—a personal thank you, a piece of company merchandise with a hand-written note, or a charity donation.

Measure the outcome and share the impact

Be sure to share the impact with your team members, so they understand how much their contribution is helping customer outcomes. For customers, you can provide feedback on how their answers have helped others and what product improvements have happened as a result of their sharing experiences.

 

Communities are organic in some respects, but a good community strategy with effective communication and management can see the volume of support requests coming into your inbox dramatically reduce, while creating strong advocacy from your customers. Your team’s day to day knowledge management efforts will provide your community with the relevant and validated content it needs to deliver useful answers.

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