What makes a great Customer Support Forum?

evcom

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Apr 27, 2018
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I think customer support forums are a great way to connect with customers and keeping them engaged with the product. Customers helping customers is another interesting aspect of support forums. I guess one main factor to succeed with a customer support forum is, to provide support within a reasonable time and with helpful content. But what else makes a good customer support forum? What functionalities are vital? And is there any forum software that does this particularly well?
 

Zelda

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I want to thank you for posting this. It provides me the opportunity to express the importance of good quality customer service, support, and satisfaction.

I believe a customer support community should not compete with any of its members and accept all good help whenever possible. That is to say, you may not be a member of the official staff, but if you know a working solution for a fellow customer, you should be welcomed to do so. The company or organization should not attempt to discourage peer support. On the contrary, the community should be inclusive regarding friendly tips and suggestions among fellow customers and agents.

The staff needs to remain friendly and speak directly and clearly. The better your customers understand what you are saying or asking, the smoother all interactions will be for everyone.

It would help if you did not assume anything. Your customer may have no knowledge concerning your products and services or advanced understanding. Still, your public replies should attempt to address both. Doing so can be helpful, not only during the current transaction but for other customers or agents who stumble upon your responses. It is also an opportunity to promote your company's assets.

Patience is more than a virtue; it too is an asset. You may, from time to time, encounter the same questions from multiple customers. From your perspective, this is the umpteenth time someone has asked this. But from each of your customers, this is their first time reaching out to you about this particular issue. Suppose you identify a common question or problem. In that case, this is your opportunity to recognize that perhaps this is something you can be doing to improve your product or service.

Feedback should be welcome. People will always wish to be heard and know they have been heard. Even if the feedback is not something, your company or organization plans to adopt. It would help if you still made a continued effort to acknowledge that someone took the time to provide feedback.

Equality should be your policy. Your customer support staff should not treat anyone differently. This includes but is not limited to age, gender, sexuality, race, skin tone, ethnicity, point of origin, faith, or lack thereof. No customer should be made to feel 'less than' or 'greater than.' You should continuously demonstrate that you appreciate all your customers who you are supporting equally.

A support team should always discourage negative comments and behaviors. Since your community is on the internet, no matter how professional and polite your staff and the rest of the community are, you are bound to encounter troublemakers. These troublemakers may too be customers. They are entitled to the same level of support as everyone else, but not at the expense of anyone else.

Lastly, to be human is to error. Regular internal review of your community and that of your public-facing staff should be thoroughly reviewed. You may have someone on your team who is very knowledgeable but is not a people person or has grown weary of answering simple Q&A. Your community must always reflect the best your company has to offer.
 

Nev_Dull

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I agree with most of what Zelda said. I would add a couple of things.

Grade of service. A good customer support site should have policies about how quickly every question gets replied to (by a real person), and it should stick to that without fail. That doesn't mean the issue has to be resolved in 10 minutes. Having someone respond to clarify the issue, offer some common resolutions, and let the customer know they will work on finding the answer is key.

Choose your customer service staff very carefully. We've all read the posts here about bad experiences people have had with some forum software support staff. In general, programmers and engineers are bad at customer service. The best CS reps are those who are good with handling people and who have no ego.

I believe a customer support community should not compete with any of its members and accept all good help whenever possible. That is to say, you may not be a member of the official staff, but if you know a working solution for a fellow customer, you should be welcomed to do so. The company or organization should not attempt to discourage peer support. On the contrary, the community should be inclusive regarding friendly tips and suggestions among fellow customers and agents.
I don't fully agree with this. peer support can be excellent. It can also be wrong. While you don't want to discourage expert users from helping others (if for no other reason than it lowers support costs) you want to ensure there is clear division between peer support and corporate support staff. Liability is a real thing. A peer support solution may work but may also void warrantee or even be dangerous.
 

Zelda

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I don't fully agree with this. peer support can be excellent. It can also be wrong. While you don't want to discourage expert users from helping others (if for no other reason than it lowers support costs) you want to ensure there is clear division between peer support and corporate support staff. Liability is a real thing. A peer support solution may work but may also void warrantee or even be dangerous.
I believe there is a middle ground along this line of think.

If, for example, your support forum is supporting chainsaws, peer-to-peer support would indeed be terrible and perhaps a dangerous idea. But suppose your support community was focused around, for example, the apache web server. In that case, I believe peer-to-peer support can be a valuable asset.

But I thank you for highlighting and commenting on my initial thought process. I believe you have done a fine job of pointing out something that should be carefully considered when managing a support community. The company or organization must weigh the pros and cons of community involvement.
 
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zappaDPJ

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As someone who has run customer support forums for many years I could probably write a book on it. Suffice to say the replies from both Zelda and Nev_Dull have pretty much nailed it. I'm sure I could add a few peripheral bits and bobs which come from experience but I save that for another time.
 

Zelda

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Any particular add-ons aimed on support forums?
In my opinion, no.

You want your support site to be as basic and as simple as possible. Your customers are coming to you looking for support, and the last thing they need or want is more things to be complicated or flashy, drawing away from the issues that matter. You, yourself, do not want to be supporting your support site if you can help it. All your attention and focus should be directed to supporting your customers with your products and services. At most, you can perhaps change the basic colors and remove the copyright notice (while adding your own).
 

enivid

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Sep 11, 2011
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In my opinion, no.

You want your support site to be as basic and as simple as possible. Your customers are coming to you looking for support, and the last thing they need or want is more things to be complicated or flashy, drawing away from the issues that matter. You, yourself, do not want to be supporting your support site if you can help it. All your attention and focus should be directed to supporting your customers with your products and services. At most, you can perhaps change the basic colors and remove the copyright notice (while adding your own).
Interesting opinion... How about marking issues as assigned to someone? Or marking them "In Process" or "Closed"? Or maybe assigning some problem type, e.g., "Program Bug", "Usability Issue", "Documentation Deficiency"?
 

Zelda

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Interesting opinion... How about marking issues as assigned to someone? Or marking them "In Process" or "Closed"? Or maybe assigning some problem type, e.g., "Program Bug", "Usability Issue", "Documentation Deficiency"?
Some of those are found natively in community forums software or can easily be simulated without modification. Have you heard of Woltlab? Their own support site does a basic decent example. You can do this with other forum software. I only mention them since they have a working example. But some of that is best utilized in standard ticket support.
 

evcom

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Apr 27, 2018
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I also think that a support forum should not be cluttered up with too much distracting information. As far as features are concerned I use the "Mark as solved" functionality. Using tags to facilitate search is another good idea I think.
 

Zelda

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Beyond the forum community, I would humbly suggest if you plan on offering ticket support, osTicket. They offer both a free and an affordable paid product.
 
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