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Article 5 min read

Cultivate community for a better customer experience

By Jeff Titterton, Chief Marketing Officer, Zendesk, @jefftitterton

Last updated October 2, 2019

People are talking about you—and, let’s be honest, you might not like what they’re saying.

Customers will always be discussing your products and services out in the wild—conversations between real human beings, from power users sharing their knowledge to folks just ramping up seeking tips and tricks. Even if you don’t always like what you see, you definitely need to be part of the conversation.

Creating the space for those conversations and joining them ensures customers remain at the center of everything you do. Because elevating the voices of many customers—their use cases, ideas, and opinions—in an open, transparent way is about as customer-centric as you can get.

A robust user community is a powerful combination of support, social networking, and communications that streamlines the customer experience across the board. Here’s how it can start driving results immediately.

Provide support that’s scalable and transparent

Many of our customers have deployed a community forum to help scale support with crowdsourced and expert input. Contributions from a ready and willing set of peers meant customers didn’t have to contact support through traditional channels, freeing up traditional channels while still providing the experience customers are looking for.

With a structure that includes participation from external moderators—community superheroes who are motivated and incentivized to share their knowledge and engage others—and in-house support agents, an open community forum won’t turn into the Wild West; conversations are steered in a productive direction, and more complex needs can be escalated to the right people if needed.

A lasting, always-on self-service resource

The community is also a lasting, always-on resource, serving as an extension of your self-service.

A help center is often the first stop for industrious users in need. While it contains the literal truth about your product and its newest features, it’s realistic to expect customers will be using different versions, have different customizations, and therefore encounter problems that lie in a support gray area. The open dialogue in a community fills this gap, with a bonus: it helps ensure your content stays relevant across different use cases and contexts. The community won’t be shy about letting you know if a self-service article is inaccurate for their use case or doesn’t fully answer the question, which only makes your customer-facing content more helpful. In this way, community members are key partners in helping your business curate self-service content, ensuring it remains relevant for a diverse range of users and others who join the community in the future.

An always-on support channel means customers can post questions and answers on their own time, picking up threads and dropping out of them as needed. They can also tailor their own experiences, asking and responding to as many or as few questions that may fall outside of the realm of traditional support queries. For a grocery delivery service, for example, questions about recipe ideas may not be applicable for support agents. But you may find community members will gladly jump in.

Zendesk Gather community forum software

Create a better product by listening to your customers

As we know, off-brand channels or even your own social media handles can be a breeding ground for slanted or bad advice, and can make it difficult for customers to provide feedback. From the business perspective, when people take to social channels to express frustration or request a change to your product, their comments could get buried in other channel noise and be difficult to sort through. Owning a channel for those conversations and stakeholders, on the other hand, provides a dedicated venue for in-house monitoring and action, and improves the overall experience.

While it’s not realistic to expect every feature request to be included in upcoming product releases, a community forum pushes you to be open and transparent even when you don’t adopt a suggestion, turning what may otherwise be a negative experience into an opportunity to build trust with your community.

If you do adopt a suggestion, being a part of the conversation from the start ensures an operational imperative: leverage the best ideas, to create the best product and experience possible, wherever they come from. This was the case for Zendesk customer Wrike, where the team used crowdsourced support to improve their product. Because they owned their community channel, it was easier to pull insights and engage users about their feedback.

Considering the experience beyond support

Customer experience is bigger than customer support. You should think customer experience platform when offering support. Every touchpoint, from the user experience on the website to interactions with sales to how easy (or difficult) it was to sign up for a newsletter or demo, all have an impact on a customer, or would-be customer’s, experience. Working hand in hand with other support channels, a community combines the best of person-to-person support with more tailored, personalized experiences at scale, whatever those experiences may be.

We’ve seen community deployed to foster learning and development, as an arm for external communications, and even as an opportunity to talk shop and network with people in the same industry. At InVision, a digital product design platform, the long-term goal is continuing to engage users on different topics. The community managers are working with the marketing team, for example, on using the forum to spark conversation about industry topics, blog posts, or other content that is published on the site.

“Our theory is that it would bring more people in, and it would create this self-perpetuating community where people go there for the content,” according to Sean Kinney, Senior Director of Support at InVision. “We’ve started to step that up, and there’s still more we want to do.”

Your community can be a change agent as much as a consumer pulse point. You could commission a huge market research team to extrapolate what customers are thinking and feeling—or you could take some time every day to dip into the community and find out yourself. Having this info is the first step—next is using it drive better practices, products, and experiences for your customers.

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