More than 90% of customer service discussions about brands, services, and products are taking place on forums. What’s your strategy for enhancing these customer service experiences?
When you think customer service, what do you think? Do you think long lines waiting to speak with a “customer service representative”? Do you think about automated phone systems that take forever to navigate and run you in circles? Do you think of obnoxious support tickets that make you feel like a number, rather than a human being? Or – and this would definitely be interesting – do you think about forums? Maybe you should, since more than 90% of discussions about brands, services, and products are taking place on forums.
Ask yourself, who cares about having a great customer experience more than anybody? The answer is you, the customer… but it feels like most companies just don’t GET that. Well, it’s high time that changed.
HP’s customer experts are enhancing the customer experience
To better show you what I mean about the customer being the expert, we’re going to use the computer company, Hewlett Packard (HP), as an example for a moment. I was invited by HP to attend their recent HP Social Support Summit in Orlando, Florida (notice: HP provided transportation and lodging for this event). At the Summit, I was able to interview HP Forum experts from around the world and also sit down with key HP executives to discuss how they’ve been able to build an engaging customer community.
HP has an online forum that is almost entirely manned by HP customers, and there are plenty of customers there that can – and have – answered tough customer inquiries and resolved many technical issues.
So why is this? Why do these customers who are experts in HP products give their time to hang around on the forums and answer any questions you, or others like you, might have? Simple: They’ve been in your shoes and they know how it feels to need expert-level advice in order to resolve an issue. The remarkable thing about all of this is that helping out a fellow customer has proven to be positively contagious!
Corporate support of community engagement creates greater customer loyalty
It’s clear from the time, effort, and energy it takes to develop and maintain the infrastructure for all of this to take place that HP fully supports what’s happening in the HP forums. Running massive community sites like this isn’t cheap, and remember, none of this is paid. All of the HP support content is free. Interacting with the HP community is free. And the solutions from HP experts are 100% free. It’s not just wishful thinking, but part of a real, focused corporate strategy at HP.
We want to be where our customers want to be supported, regardless of where the customer has chosen to get support. [Our] leading motivation is the customer and delivering on [forum] expectations is a big opportunity. Communication with customer…can’t just be at the time of purchase, it needs to be an ongoing process.
-Enrique Lores, Senior Vice President of Sales & Services, HP
HP is committed to delivering on that exceptional customer service experience by recruiting the perfect people to participate in the social community support. But in order to get this level of customer engagement, it’s not enough to just throw up a simple online forum and expect great things to happen. A clear strategy needs to be developed in order to guide those participating in the process.
The customer experience strategy behind the HP Forums
Fortunately, HP’s strategy isn’t complex. It’s a recipe that any organization looking to drive greater customer community engagement can follow:
Give people the right tools and get out of the way, service experience magic will happen
- Offer industry-leading operations
- Enable differentiated customer experiences
- Grow the number of services for customers
- Get the right technology to do the job
- Enable the right people to do the task
- Offer the right training to deliver the experience
HP’s commitment to this strategy of creating differentiated customer service experiences that matter to customers comes down to enabling the product experts to act, provide plenty of useful training and materials for people to grown and learn, then recruit and incentivize the right people to perform the positive service actions that they want.
“I found several really easy questions that I knew the answer to so I answered. Then I got addicted. Barring technical difficulties, I spend anywhere from 1-3 hours a day answering questions now.”
-Frank Silva, Forum ID: Lasvegaswireman
When a customer is so passionate about a product or service that they dedicate their time and knowledge to assist other customers for free on a forum, there’s hardly a higher compliment for a company. A positive service and a positive customer experience, one perpetuated by already satisfied customers, culminates to create something so much greater for all other customers who these “expert customers” interact with.
Full time customer service forum volunteer?
Steve, who is known as WB2001 on the forum, is online on the forum as I write this article. Chances are that when you read this, he’ll be online again. Steve is an HP customer, and a pretty happy one too. Steve is retired, lives in Florida, and is knowns as the computer guy in his retirement community. Steve builds computers for people in need and donates it to them out of the goodness of his heart. This is just who he is.
Steve also is driven to make the HP forum a better place for HP customers, who like him, use HP products and want to get the most from it. Steve will regularly spend 30-40 hours per week on the forum answering customer questions and helping train other HP experts to become more familiar with HP’s product line.
People helping people makes a better community
This type of customer community engagement that takes place means that when a customer visits this forum and receives help from another customer, especially on multiple issues, the customer who was helped often feel inclined to stick around on the forum in order to start helping others who have the exact same issue that they themselves had when others come along and ask the same question. All of that may sound confusing, but it really isn’t. The basic principle is that the helped become the helpers. It’s the creation of experts through kindness and experience.
In the case of HP, they recognize how much of a wonderful impact these expert customers have had for their business overall, tracking the positive feedback these experts receive through their own leaderboards. They then thank these individuals by reward the most vigilant helpers with invitations to special events, free products, as well as other real and virtual swag.
Remember that not all experts wear a nametag and receive a paycheck written by the particular company they’re an expert in. They’re everyday people like you and I, who truly and simply want to help people have a rich, rewarding experience. If you’re a customer, there’s a tremendous amount you can learn from forums, and if you’re a business owner, there’s even more to be had if you can leverage the surprising power of forums to grow your brand.