I’m going to give you a challenge – start trusting your customers, start believing that they can help with customer service.  Stop trying to control your community members  – step back, educate them, and encourage them. Stop customer service agents answering every query and watch what happens.

A common myth around online communities when using them to help out customer service is that people want instant gratification. Now, add that to the nervousness companies have these days when they don’t instantly answer customer service questions, and before you know it, you have an online community in which customer service agents are there to directly answer questions.

Trust your customers

It is at this point companies have utterly missed the point of an online community and peer to peer help. Customers are fantastic at helping each other out. In fact, they’re amazing at it! The members of your community use your product every day. They will have encountered more problems and more issues with your product than most of the people that work at your company, than even those who designed the product itself. In short – there is no one better to judge what is wrong with your product than those who use it day in day out.

In fact, I’m betting that your development team can’t keep up with your customers’ use of your product. Your customers will find bugs, and problems with your service and how it works, including customer service, on a daily basis.

Ok, so doesn’t it stand to reason that these same people that use your product intensely, the same ones that find issues with the product and service, are going to be the same people to find ways to solve and get around these issues? The community members are not only the best people to explain how the product works, but how to get best out of it, how to fix issues – and they do this from a customer perspective. And what’s amazing is that when they use this approach, the answers stay in the community and can be found through search engines.

Have a think about it, wouldn’t you rather have these people doing customer service than your customer service agents.

Why would customers want to help in your community?

Let’s think about the reasons that these helpful members take part in your community. These are the people that know your product and service inside out and they love to share their knowledge with other people. They want to discuss what they know and how you can improve on it with other enthusiasts, and most importantly with you. And when they then show up at your community, and because of your own fear and nervousness you have customer service agents answering questions they know the answer too, you take away that ability for them to shine. You start filling a gap that wasn’t there.

And this is a missed opportunity of major proportions, it has a ripple effect throughout your whole business. These people look at this community and see their knowledge is not needed, or perhaps even wanted. They know that the brand they’re enthusiastic about doesn’t want them to share their passion and probably isn’t listening. Similarly, because these communities are often moderated to remove ‘incorrect’ or even incomplete answers. Again, you take away the ability of your most valuable customers to correct or add additional information.

Your most prolific product users get less and less chance to interact and will consequently get less involved with other topics within the community. They won’t be involved in other projects the company might be running and could use help with or feeding back to you those bugs, and service issues, so you are aware of them. They won’t be giving you ideas for new additions to your product. They won’t be helping out with spreading the word about your company, or be involved in marketing activities, or writing about you, or talking on social media about. And they certainly won’t  help with the development of the product itself. Thinking of the bigger picture – all these opportunities will fade away because you no longer give a way for the most engaged members to feel valued.

We have seen all of this happen in communities and more. But if you take away the chance for your customers to interact with you and others in a community, if you don’t allow them to make mistakes and get things wrong, and if you don’t allow other customers to jump in and correct these mistakes, you end up cutting the founding legs from out under your community and its members.

Chill out and create real customer service

Relax, create a space for people to use their own voice, let them fill the gap, and watch the magic happen.

Get involved with your community, work with these users, give them additional information, open up about your company and your processes, look for ways to get your customers involved in what you do and you will see they will become the most valuable asset of your company bar none.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vincent Boon

Vincent Boon

Founder

Vincent is Standing on Giants in-house community guru, futurist and troubleshooter. The source of our methodology and a fiery advocate for genuinly customer-centric business models.