We’re very passionate about what we do. And we’re passionate about what we don’t do. Some people seem to think that UserVoice’s feedback forums are a tool for customer-powered support, where your customers theoretically answer each other’s questions. This is not what UserVoice is designed for. UserVoice’s feedback forums are designed to allow you to easily collect prioritized ideas from your community to inform your roadmap.

UserVoice feedback forums never have and never will be designed for customer-powered support. Why? Because we don’t believe customer-powered support works.

We think the power of the crowd is tremendous when used right, but using it for support is blatantly harmful for most companies. The money you theoretically save on support staff is eclipsed by the money you lose in the degradation of your product and relationship with your customers.

Here’s why customer-powered support doesn’t work:

Very few of your customers are going to participate. A tiny percentage of your customers are willing to spend time helping each other – they have more important things to do! You’re going to end up doing a lot of the work yourself, no matter what. Would you want to mow the neighbor’s yard because he won’t?

It creates distance between you and your customer. Your customers are trusting you with their money and/or time. If they think you don’t care, they’re going to jump ship to your competitor. If you called a customer support line and they transferred you to another customer, would you be happy?

You’re not learning what’s wrong with your products! By interacting with the customers who are having issues with your products you can figure out what you need to improve and build a better product. If you’re not talking to them directly, it’s a lot harder to get a clear picture of what needs improvement. Do you figure out how to improve your product by waiting until the bad reviews come out?

Most support issues need to be private. We believe in transparency (see <a>our values</a>), but we also think that the majority of support issues don’t belong in public. Certainly anything including a customer’s login or credit card info has to stay behind closed doors – and with customer-powered support, you have to hope your customers realize they’re posting publicly. Not to mention some customers just plain won’t post their issues at all if they’re going to be seen by the public, and instead will just stop using your product. Do you really want jakejake225 seeing that you ran into a bug when you were visiting wart-removal.com?

It requires the customers to have an intimate knowledge of the product. With a rapidly-evolving web product, that’s very unlikely. Do you know how to find recently shared Google Docs? Oops, too late, they just changed it.

Don’t get us wrong – customer-powered support works fine for some large companies with stable products. If you have millions and millions of active customers, there’ll be a few in the bunch who want to answer community questions. If you have a lot of customers using a legacy product that you no longer support, crowdsourced support is a good way for customers to get assistance with those products. But for the majority of companies who are trying to grow a happy customer base, crowdsourced support isn’t just impractical, it’s a bad decision. You need to provide fantastic, direct, one-on-one support for your customers.

That’s not to say that traditional one-on-one support is always great. In fact, it’s often bad. Which is why we’ll be spending our next few months on this blog addressing how to provide great support. We don’t and won’t provide crowdsourced support, but perhaps we can still help you provide amazing support and make your customers happy.

-Update: How to know when you are the exception that needs and can pull off customer-powered support