By Josh Davis
The users of your applications and/or services are part of a community. They’re bonded together with one common trait – being your customers. A private forum or message board for this community allows them to interact, collaborate, and share new ideas and issues with each other.
However, you as the vendor or service provider need to be involved in this forum as well. This isn’t like a Ron Popeil rotisserie infomercial where you can just “set it and forget it”, as he famously says. Forums can help you improve your products and services, increase efficiency and make your company better, and even make your users happier… but it does take some work.
Here are a few of the specific areas forums can help your business excel:
Surface Bugs and Potential Enhancements
Issues are going to arise and people are going to talk about them… a LOT. Topics that users find interesting or have an opinion about naturally float to the top in terms of amount of participation in the thread. This gives you the opportunity to identify and recognize problem areas within your application and issues your customers are having, AND address these cross functionally and with your development team, if necessary. Without a forum, you’ll hear about these on a much smaller scale or not at all, which potentially leaves your customers more likely to end up in a churn report.
Compilation of Best Practices
Let’s face it – your support team may not know everything. This holds especially true if your customer is dealing with a newer support team member that doesn’t have particularly strong domain expertise. They may be left wanting a different perspective after their exchange with support about how companies like theirs utilize particular features or realize certain benefits and ROI. Forums provide a user with the avenue to do exactly that. At the same time, the forum provides you with the means to collect these best practices and publish them for both your internal team and across your user community.
Discover “Work Arounds”
A related topic to the above, but also quite the opposite, is a work around. These are particularly common for SaaS-based products and services because of their multi-tenant architecture and the resulting one size fits all model. Because no business that uses your software is exactly the same, they’ll have slightly (or significantly) different processes than other customers and will look to automate that process through your software. Oftentimes the solution to do so is not an obvious one and therefore will need a workaround that a power user has already discovered and is willing to share.
Identify Power Users and Brand Advocates
It doesn’t take long to understand who your power users are because they’re constantly in the forums helping other users with configurations, identifying these workarounds, and answering questions. Similarly, you’ll figure out who your brand advocates are. They’re the ones that are in the forum promoting how great new features or enhancements are and quickly jumping to your defense to help dismiss users that make unwarranted negative comments about your solution to the rest of the community. Identifying your power users and brand advocates can help you achieve a multitude of other benefits in it of themselves, but that’s a blog post for another day.
Reduce Internal Support Resource Strain
All of the above benefits of a forum we covered can help lessen the significant burden on your internal support and account management teams. When your users leverage the experience of other community members, they’re contacting your team less and allowing you to invest more resources and people in other areas of your business.
All in all, forums can have some great benefits to your business, but you can’t just set them up and forget about them. You need ensure that you can commit the internal resources to realize the potential impact, from continually improving the experience for your users to the way you operate your business overall.
Have you implemented forums for your customers? If so, how have they worked out and what benefits have you seen? Feel free to share in the comments section below.
About Josh Davis:
Josh is the Channel Marketing Manager at Kronos SaaShr, and is responsible for driving the marketing strategy and plan aimed at increasing the growth of existing channel partners in addition to the recruitment of new channel partners.