This is part of our ongoing series on Scaling Customer Service, based on our Customer Service Scaling Timeline. This month we're covering Stage 6.

self helpMore than a year ago we wrote about how we feel that customer-powered support doesn’t work. We were a little overzealous with our title; even in that post, we mention that customer-powered support can be useful for some organizations.

When you reach a certain customer base size, scaling a regular support organization can become difficult to impossible. This is especially true with free services which have many casual users (Google, Facebook, etc). If you’re on the road to becoming one of these organizations, it’s time to examine how you can provide better customer service by getting your customers involved.

How do customer-powered support communities work?

In addition to traditional support features such as knowledge bases and ticketing software, you have one or more forums where your most passionate and helpful customers can help other customers.


How do you know that it’s time for a customer-powered support solution?

  • Your userbase is extremely large (as only a small percentage of them will help each other).
  • You’ve followed the progression of the customer service scaling timeline, but you still can’t keep up with customer requests without outsourcing.
  • You have a very passionate, involved userbase.
  • Your product changes are slow or very well-documented, so your customer-powered support community won't be thrown off.
  • You have the resources to devote to making this community a success (it’s not as simple as it seems).

If you don’t have a passionate customer base, this will all fall apart.

volunteer sign inPut your ego away for a moment and think about this. Do your customers already help each other out? Create content for your company without you asking? Post how-to videos for your product on YouTube? If these folks aren’t already passionate enough to contribute to a forum, you won’t be able to force them. It’s ok if your customers aren’t like this. Many won’t be (especially in B2B companies). Just don’t try to force them to be.

The frequent contributors to your forum are doing you a huge favor, and you really, really can’t take this for granted.

Reward them with titles, special insights into new launches (which will also help them do great support), swag, etc. Google recently spoke at Social Media Week about how they keep extremely close contact with their Top Contributors, even going so far as to fly them out to California for a thank-you event at the Googleplex. That’s worth more than money to people who love your business.

This is NOT an excuse to stop doing good support.

The best customer-powered support communities are supplemented by other support materials and channels. They’re also constantly monitored, improved, and iterated upon. This is not something you can turn on and leave. In some ways, it requires much harder work than regular support (just fewer employees). If you throw up a forum and ignore it, you’ll spend less on customer service…but you’ll generate a lot of furious, frustrated customers.

Is your company ready for customer-powered support? Don’t just dive in – there’s a lot of opportunity for failure. Try the more established tactics from our timeline before you make this major move.

Sign photo courtesy of funky_abstract.
Volunteer photo courtesy of rkeefer.