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In the past, brands offered customer service primarily through phone support. But over time they have expanded options, now offering customers the opportunity to get support on a large array of popular channels.
Still, many brands overlook one of the most impactful and cost-effective ways to meet their customers’ needs: self-service channels. On these platforms, customers can quickly and easily get the help they need without interacting with a brand representative. It’s a win-win. And this growth isn’t slowing down. In fact, the Harvard Business Review reports that “81% of customers attempt to take care of matters themselves before reaching out to a live representative.”
One of the most effective channels for self service is a brand-owned online community which includes some of the most popular self-service tools like forums, knowledge bases, and blogs. In this blog, we’re taking a look at what the customer self-service communities of top brands have in common, and how you can use the power of communities to deflect calls and boost customer satisfaction.
We’ll start with the basics. Self-service tools enable consumers to find, answer, and resolve issues on their own without having to engage a brand directly. FAQ pages are a popular type of self-service portal that brands use to deflect support volume, but dynamic, self-service engagement channels, like messaging with bots or posting a question on a community, are even more powerful.
Self-service has gained popularity recently for a few reasons. One, of course, is that it’s far more efficient for brands, who can reduce customers’ reliance on their contact centers. But another, perhaps more important, reason is that customers often prefer self-service.
Thus it’s no surprise that Gartner predicts that 85% of customer service interactions will start with self-service by 2022, up from just 48% in 2019.
One driving force behind this trend is that online search engines have fundamentally changed how people seek information, by providing easily accessible answers to questions ranging from the routine to the most obscure. The ability to find information in just a few clicks has made people more impatient with channels that require them to wait for answers, such as phone and email. It’s also made them more confident in their ability to find answers on their own.
The bottom line here? Self-service is growing very rapidly, and brands that don’t take advantage may be left behind.
There are several types of customer self-service, but the main categories for you to know are knowledge bases and AI chatbots.
The first form of customer self-service is a knowledge base — that is, is content created to provide helpful information for consumers. Knowledge bases include FAQ pages, blog posts, educational videos, infographics, manuals, and most importantly, online brand communities. Consumers looking for information can access these resources using search engines like Google, or on a brand’s website through search bars, menus, and internal links.
Advances in AI and machine learning have improved the ability of chatbots to handle information requests and resolve common issues without requiring an agent to get involved. For example, chatbots can help customers look up information such as pricing, availability, order status, and more. They can also resolve common product/service issues by pulling answers from a brand’s knowledge base resources or providing a pre-written response from the brand.
Chatbots can also assist customer service agents by gathering information before the agent enters the conversation, improving efficiency and lowering handle time. If you’re interested in implementing AI-powered chatbots for customer self-service, get started by checking out our eBook: The Bot Balancing Act.
A well-rounded customer self-service strategy should feature a combination of AI chatbots and knowledge base resources, but many brands overlook online brand communities despite their potential to be the most powerful and versatile self-service option.
Compared to other customer self-service options, online brand communities stand out in several ways. While chatbots and knowledge bases have a fixed, finite amount of information to share, online brand communities aren’t limited in the same ways. By their very nature, they have unfixed, unconstrained amounts of information — the knowledge, creativity, and problem-solving skills of hundreds or even thousands of people. This is vastly more than a basic bot or knowledge base can hope to cover. Furthermore, these discussions are publicly available for others to access in the future so the same question doesn’t have to be repeated. As things change over time, users can update their responses or add new comments to the discussion, keeping the information relevant and up-to-date.
The ability to do this semi-anonymously also gives people a way to ask questions without fear of judgement, and other users with the same question may feel comforted by knowing they aren’t alone. This can also help people feel more connected to the community, making it more likely for them to contribute content in the future, which creates a virtuous cycle of knowledge building for future users.
There are also several mutual benefits of using an online community in conjunction with an AI chatbot. Communities add a significant amount of more detailed questions and solutions when compared to traditional documentation produced by the company. The specific conversations of peer-to-peer engagement and solutions map well to the 1:1 interactions that support agents have with customers. If the goal of implementing an AI chatbot on a community is to solve problems before the customer gets to an agent, it’s crucial for the community to always be on and growing knowledge. Chatbots can help users find a specific thread or answer, which creates a better user experience and makes it more likely they’ll stick around to engage.
We’ve discussed some of the reasons why online brand communities are superior to other forms of customer self-service. If you still aren’t sold, let’s explore the top three benefits of community customer service for your brand:
While both AI chatbots and online communities are capable of providing highly personalized customer journeys, the key difference is that online communities don’t necessarily require a user to interact in order to get a personalized answer. Most users can get highly relevant, unique answers for their questions simply by browsing old forum threads which may be more appealing than initiating a conversation with an agent or chatbot.
Furthermore, information from chatbots typically comes directly from the brand (unless it’s pulling from community conversations), whereas a community provides input from multiple users with varying real-world experiences. There’s measurable value in the trust, validation, and expertise that community members outside the brand offer.
Additionally, depending on the size and engagement level of the community, people may even be able to get answers faster than with other channels. For example, by leveraging crowd-sourcing within its large community including 20,000 unique visitors a month, Schneider Electric was able to resolve 90% of questions with answers provided by other users. With Khoros, Schneider Electric is also able to keep response rates under 24 hours, offering peace of mind to users in their 10 most-engaged forums.
Online brand communities help organizations deflect call volume by outsourcing support to other users, which improves customer satisfaction and helps the brand save resources by boosting agent productivity. Customers benefit by avoiding the frustrations of phone support: long wait times, frequent transfers, having to stay on the line until the issue is resolved, and more. Brands benefit from increased agent productivity, as they’re able to focus on resolving issues that truly need agent help instead of getting bogged down by simple requests. As a result of increased agent productivity, brands are able to handle the same or greater volume at lower costs.
By using their Khoros-powered community, telecommunications provider Optus was able to exceed their incremental call reduction target by almost 60% while delivering a 230% increase in operational expense savings.
Additionally, after partnering with Khoros, Microsoft grew their community activity by 600% resulting in reduced response times, increased solution rates, improvements in customer satisfaction, and more than $1 million in cost savings each month through call deflection.
An online brand community is the perfect way to increase audience engagement and brand advocacy by giving your customers a space to interact with each other. In fact, a survey of over 200 enterprise brands and 1,000 customers revealed that 75% of consumers find value from interacting with other customers in a brand’s online community.
Beyond seeking and providing help, a brand community lets customers discuss shared interests related to your product or service. For example, users of Khoros customer Fitbit’s online community discuss their favorite time to work out, share tips to exercises at home, and issue challenges to other forum members.
By keeping their audience engaged, brands can improve customer retention, which can lead to revenue increases. Research suggests that even a 5% increase in customer retention can increase profits by more than 25%, and the likelihood of selling to an existing customer is 60 – 70% compared to 5 – 20% for new customers.
Are you interested in creating an online brand community to support customer self-service?
If so, learn how Khoros Communities can help you create a branded, interactive community for your customers to engage with each other. Our innovative and easy-to-use platform can help you reduce support cost, accelerate resolution, increase brand loyalty, and improve the overall customer experience. Schedule a demo today to get started today!