How to improve self service with community-generated content


Looking to improve your web-based self service?  Kate Leggett explores  how community-generated content could help customers to help themselves.

Companies need to embrace community-generated content. Your customers and prospects are talking about you right now.

Think of examples such as Amazon, where consumers are not shy at voicing their opinions on products and services. You need to be part of this conversation. If you are not, you won’t understand what your customers say about you.

There are many reasons why you should invest in community content:

  • It can help with product support by allowing customers to help one another via user-generated content for knowledge bases, wikis and discussion boards.
  • It can help with product development. Your customers can vote on proposed product enhancements or suggest pervasive issues to fix, and in this way influence your roadmap. The result is a product that is more in line with customer requirements.
  • It can help pinpoint the weaknesses in your company structure, such as, for example, a poorly performing customer service department, and allow you to proactively address these organisational issues.
  • It can help you during a sales cycle. Communities allow you to identify enthusiastic customers and you can use them to persuade prospects in purchasing your product.

A site that I think does a wonderful job at enlisting community contributions for product ideas and direction is Dell’s Ideas Storm site. This forum allows community members to post product suggestions, vote or comment on them. At the time of writing, this community had contributed over 10,000 ideas and had posted close to 80,000 comments. What is very comforting is that Dell listens to their customer voice as many of these suggestions are tagged as under consideration by their product management.

These community contributions translate into profits for Dell, because if customers receive the features that they are most passionate about, they will ultimately be more likely to purchase.

Another site that does a good job is the Starbucks site. Starbucks also uses a discussion forum to gather product and service ideas from their customer base. You can see their popular, top of all time and recent ideas. You can vote and comment on ideas. There are almost as many comments from baristas (coffee servers) as there are from customers – ideas about recycling, environmental friendliness, product and service improvements. Starbucks listens and responds to these comments. And every time they take action on any of these ideas, they make their coffee, pastries and service experience more appealing to their customers.

It doesn’t stop there. Community content also allows you to understand the demographics of who uses your products and this information can give you cross-sell or up-sell ideas. You may even be able to glean actionable information about your competitors.

Community content can also have a real, quantifiable, return on investment (ROI). For example, it can help you reduce the cost of creating content for your corporate knowledge base – and in translating your knowledge content into all the languages that your customer base requires. It is very easy to calculate the internal documentation and localisation costs for generating this content and compare it to the almost-negligible costs of harvesting community-generated content.

In addition, a robust customer-facing knowledge base offering can also help reduce the need for customers to call in for answers, ultimately containing contact centre costs. Forrester research quotes a cost of $6 (£4) or higher for a simple call and $0.25 (0.16 pence) for a self-service interaction which means that ROI gains are quickly realised.

It ensures that pervasive product defects are addressed, lowering the cost of support calls and patches. It is easy to calculate the number of patches before and after leveraging community advice on product direction and issues to be addressed.

Community content also ensures that the majority of product questions that customers have are addressed. What is the lifetime revenue cost of an unhappy customer who repeatedly doesn’t find the answer that he is looking for and defects to a competitor?

Communities have positive qualitative and quantitative impacts on companies. They allow customers to influence the relationship that they have with companies by shaping buying behaviour by their recommendations, reviews and ratings, and by influencing product roadmaps and strategies. Communities help companies reduce costs by identifying pervasive issues that matter to them and by generating self-help web content. And companies will have a greater success in creating a loyal customer base if they listen, respect and act on the voice of their communities.


Kate Leggett

Kate Leggett is Director e-Service Product Strategy, KANA

Published On: 7th Jan 2009 - Last modified: 9th Nov 2017
Read more about - Technology


1 Comment
  1. Great article Kate. Everyone needs to be doing somethiing in this space – and now. The biggest hurdle we find is that management has to manage differently withv these new tools for customers helping each other. Managers have to listen in different ways and change has to work in real time, not just through a project mentality. Most companies don’t have the publishing skills they need and so have to learn a new approach. But boy is it effective!

    Peter Massey 8 Jan at 12:15 pm
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