Use Peer-to-Peer Support Channels to Improve Customer Experience
There's likely not a day that goes by that you don't ask a friend or colleague for help with something. Whether it's asking someone to review a document, or do something as simple as pick you up a drink while he's grabbing lunch, there are countless ways we, as human beings, demonstrate daily that we're wired to depend on others for help.
These small, day-to-day interactions might seem inconsequential when it comes to improving your organization's customer experience, but in fact they're not. Your current and potential customers rely not just on your organization, but on a much wider audience to inform their purchase decisions.
Think about the last time you bought or leased a car. I'm guessing you didn't just drive down to the local dealership and write a check for the first car that caught your eye. Instead, you probably surveyed your friends about what they liked and didn't like about their current vehicles and scoured the Internet for the latest reviews. After you purchased your vehicle, your quest for information likely didn't end. You then turned your search for information toward maintenance, ways to maximize gas mileage, etc. In short, a consumer's quest for knowledge and information never ends.
In How Customer Support Organizations Must Evolve, Jeremiah Owyang (Altimeter Group) argues that companies need to start thinking about customer support in new ways, and part of that means finding ways to let people, who are not employees of the company, support each other.
In many cases, customers as a collective know more about the product set than a support team or product team do. Microsoft and other tech companies have developed a thriving community of customers that self-support each other in their developer forums. Companies struggle letting go of answering questions about products, but should instead use the right collaboration and knowledge capturing tools to allow customers to self support each other.
"Collectively, customers know more"
It's humbling to acknowledge that your customer base might know more about your products or offerings than your company does. Conversely, this reality also can be empowering and hugely beneficial for your company's customer support experience.
At Microsoft, we have found that success in community and in creating a better customer experience means knowing who the influencers are, and engaging with them frequently. For nearly 20 years, through our Microsoft Most Valuable Professional Award Program, we have recognized technical leaders in the global community who have a propensity for sharing their knowledge and helping people maximize their technology investments. Our MVPs aren't Microsoft employees. They are the people you probably go to when your computer doesn't work, when you don't know what kind of software to buy, or when you're looking for the best product around, based on experience.
Because of their deep expertise, they're also the ones influencing the future of technology, and we not only want to engage them, we MUST engage them. These individuals have objective feedback, which has the potential to critical in nature, but in the long run helps us make our products and solutions better. While some of the feedback can be hard to hear, if we don't listen and react, we will miss out on opportunities to further innovation.
"Use the right collaboration and knowledge capturing tools"
Owyang points out that collaboration and knowledge capturing tools are key to helping customers support each other. Today, with explosive growth in social media channels and online properties, you needn't look any further than your Web browser to begin identifying and leveraging tools that facilitate peer-to-peer support.
For example, customers increasingly turn to online forums for assistance with questions on any range of topics, whether they're health or lifestyle-related, technical or academic in nature. People flock to these forums because they expect answers to forum questions quickly, and from numerous sources across the globe.
Of course, there can be skepticism about whether or not you can trust a faceless "expert's" opinion on your question or situation, which is one reason why forums, though popular, aren't always viewed as the most credible source for peer-to-peer support.
Therefore, there is a role for your company to play, even as it lets customers self-support one another. At Microsoft, we host hundreds of forums related to our various software offerings, and while we fully support the open exchange of knowledge on the site, we do rely on Windows support engineers and Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals in the community to moderate the sites for quality-control.
"Allow customers to self support each other"
You might not be aware of anything your organization is doing to prevent customers from self-supporting each other, but is there anything you're proactively doing to make it happen? Ironically, in order to take a more hands-off approach and facilitate self-support, your organization actually needs to invest in creating a greater presence in the community, especially the online community. Creating spaces for people to share their experiences and voice their opinions keeps your company more engaged with its key audiences, but also provides channels for self-support.
Explore ways to create virtual discussions about your company and its offerings. Perhaps this means establishing a Twitter account, a corporate blog, or a Facebook group to facilitate conversations and provide places for customers to share their views, ask questions and make connections. If an online forum makes sense for your business, create one. Engage with the "power users" of your products and services, even if these individuals are not always on your side. In so doing, you'll actually build more bridges and create new avenues for customers to meet each other's needs and depend on one another.
When all this happens, you'll have created a real community, and in turn, an improved customer experience.