(This is the second part of the article series Conversation: Customer Support in a Web 2.0 World. Today’s post focuses on the use of blogging and other Web 2.0 tools in customer support.)
Using Blogs to Engage in the Support Conversation
Business blogs are becoming more common, and they can be leveraged very nicely for product support. The biggest potential with support blogs is to proactively share information with customers about upcoming releases, new functionality, and product plans. Customers can subscribe to blogs, so they can become a quick and easy way to get the word out when a fix to a common problem is available. Some organizations with this type of blog are the following:
- Novell, used strictly for support with multiple authors and categories
- Dell, used for general company info, customer feedback, and directing specific inquiries to the support site
- Macromedia, which uses blogs as a quick way of getting hot topic information out to their communities on a daily basis as well as a way to get customer feedback on upcoming product features. Macromedia includes links to both employee as well as customer blogs on their site.
Blogging can be a very powerful tool for customer support to use with its customers. There are a few areas which should be addressed up front, before starting a support blog.
It should be decided how many authors will be part of the blog and who will do the writing. It is best to choose authors who have good written skills in addition to a passion for communicating with customers. A product support blog can be written by one author or could have many contributors. It is great to get product development engineers involved in guest posts on occasion, as this is great for customer trust.
It is optional to allow comments on blogs. However, the only way a blog can be used as a conversation is when customers are allowed to leave their feedback or questions. That said, it is recommended to refer customers with immediate technical issues to the proper support channel. It is also important to respond to customer comments.Get engaged, be open, and invite feedback and even assistance from your customers!
The best blogs are often those which are the most simple in structure. Blogs with too much information in the sidebars can become confusing. Likewise, support blogs should not be the medium for the marketing department to advertise constantly, although they can be carefully used to educate customers on new offerings in a relevant manner.
Blogs are a great way to keep the personal touch in conversations with customers. Including photos of bloggers, as well as the right amount of personal information, helps customers put a face with the company and encourages interaction.
Other Tools for Engagement
Microsoft has created many different communities which incorporate the use of blogs, forums, and wikis. Sean O’Driscoll did a wonderful presentation on this at the SSPA Best Practices Conference. One of their developer communities, Channel 9 incorporates video casts, wikis, forums, as well as a “playground” to engage customers in conversation.
Large communities such as the one outlined above are a great place to find create a strong customer-to-customer support forum. In this case, a majority of customers “lurk”, or only read the online material and don’t actually write any of it. Another idea is to create small communities where customers are more likely to contribute. These “neighborhoods” could be around specific product lines or even better, around the needs of your customers to help them more quickly solve problems in a way that is relevant to how they do business.
Tagging and Context
Customers are looking for fast ways to find what they need on a product support site. Technology available to implement search results is becoming more commonly based on communities. For example, Lithium has technology using the “wisdom of crowds”, where crowds may know the best answers. It is how the community votes that will influence the order and content of search results.
Other technology, such as that from Baynote, creates new keywords for articles as it tracks the terms and phrases customers are using to find their results. They are tagging articles using this “wisdom of invisible crowds”, hence creating community-guided support with little effort from engineers
Start the Conversation
Social media has pushed customer service and support into the spotlight. Customer expectations are high and budgets are strained. Making the most from each customer interaction is critical to understanding customers but also to creating a great customer experience. I think the last point of the Channel 9 Doctrine speaks volumes about this very topic. I encourage you to take it as your own as you begin to engage in the Web 2.0 support world:
“Commit to the conversation. Don’t stop listening just because you are busy. Don’t stop participating because you don’t agree with someone. Relationships are not built in a day, be in it for the long haul and we will all reap the benefits as an industry.”
(Note: This 2-post series was first published in the SSPA News.)