Employing social business forums as a supplement to customer service has generated a lot of interest in the business community recently. There is, however, some confusion as to what the potential advantages are and why the commitment should be made. While many executives don't quite understand how to define their efforts, they still feel an urgency to engage.

With regard to social media implementation, profit must ultimately be the defining motive. To justify new endeavors, transformative improvement in profitability is necessary. Consequently, key performance indicators for businesses engaging in "social" shouldn't be measured by fans, followers or the number of views a YouTube channel accumulates. Rather, efforts should be measured in terms of market share, revenues, and profit.

Fortunately, there's a growing number of case studies where forward thinking business leaders have successfully incorporated social business tools into their customer service operations. Moreover, many of these efforts are generating measurable improvements to their bottom line. For the purposes of this article, we are illuminating the synergies collaborative social business forums have shown to generate. More specifically, those of customer-driven support communities.

Social business forums are the venue from which customer-driven support communities grow. They are inexpensive to implement and, compared to other customer service practices, relatively simple to administer. Most importantly, social business forums are proving to be surprisingly beneficial to their corporate owners, often generating many unanticipated benefits. For example, the list below describes some of the advantages reported by organizations that have deployed social business forums.

The Benefits

For companies with costly customer service operations, customer-driven support communities (social business forums) frequently generate dividends that far exceed expectations.

  • Significantly reduce customer service caseload: social business forums have proven to be an excellent place for customers to seek and offer solutions to each others problems resulting in lowered call volumes, quicker resolution times, and higher satisfaction rates for customers.
  • Enhance and increase customer engagement: the ready availability of a dedicated, well managed community forum presents a remarkably efficient and expeditious way for customer service employees to interact with customers.
  • Source new ideas: By soliciting customers for their input, stakeholders can access priceless, real-time business intelligence that might be too difficult or costly to obtain by other means. Such forthright and unencumbered customer input can often produce valuable product innovations, revenue opportunities, service improvement suggestions, and cost savings solutions.
  • Expand customer support resources: By providing an accessible venue with searchable content, customer-driven support communities often provide information that's otherwise difficult to isolate or too new to be properly documented by vendors. Moreover, business forums are available beyond business hours allowing customers 24x7 access, 365 days of the year.
  • Create segmented user groups: To improve the effectiveness of customer support efforts, user groups can be segmented by product or service and supported by specialized online support. Moreover, segmented user groups can also provide highly effective peer-to-peer support further reducing operational costs.
  • Free content marketing: In online business forums, each time a customer or participant asks or answers a question, provides a solution, or expresses a useful opinion, that material is preserved as searchable content. Over time, this will dramatically impact the SEO value of your site, company and brand.
  • Increase sales and brand loyalty: Customers active in support communities have proven to purchase 40% more from companies that provide well managed online support forums. Further, customers active in online support communities are more likely to recommend products to others.1

Not only do social business forums provide vital, quantifiable customer service metrics like "question/answer rates" and "deflected call rates", but fostering peer-to-peer (customer) interaction has shown to generate extremely valuable customer contributed content that can be re-purposed indefinitely.

The bottom line? Well managed online support communities enhance customer experience, deepen brand loyalty, and reduce costs!