Dana Sullivan Kilroy is a communications professional with more than 20 years of experience delivering compelling content. Her work has appeared in national, award-winning publications and sites, including: The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Fast Company, Inc.
Guest Post by Ravi Shukle Want to find an easier way to provide customer support for your business? Want to build a passionate community that constantly supports its members and helps each other grow and use your product better?
You do! Great – well the good news is that the resource has been right under your nose the whole time and it involves simply creating a "forum" community, which is basically a message board where people who use your product can ask questions and share tips about using your product. Today we are going to be taking a look at the key benefits of creating a forum messaging board for your business and how you can use it to engage your customers and provide great customer support.
How online forums can help boost your customer support
What is a forum?A forum is simply a virtual community where users can go to "chat" topics of key interest. Topics are centered around your product, customer support, latest developments and even testimonials. The truth is, when it comes to your business, you can create any topic for discussion as long as it helps the user achieve an end goal. A forum then allows you to categorize these topics, making it easier for your customers to find the information they are looking for, or to engage with topics of key interest.
What problems can forums help to solve?
When your customers, both new and existing, need support, the first place they turn to is your website or social media channels. While visitors to your website and social channels can presumably find answers to their queries, it can also prove to be a drain on your resources when your answering questions on the same topics over and over again. That's where forum boards come in. Having a forum allows you to address the most common queries in your business all in one thread or conversation. So instead of customers sending your support team the same query, they can simply search for the issue and find the solution based on your previous responses helping you to save precious time in the process. The secondary problem a forum board helps to solve is its ability to change with the times. So unlike traditional FAQ lists or even blog posts used for support, a forum board allows you to create new topics and solutions in real time with little effort. This means as you begin to notice key trends in customer behaviour, you can then address these concerns or queries, in real time, by creating and answering the queries in a new thread or topic. This also applies to real-time feedback. Rather than carrying out countless surveys or going through heaps of customer data, a forum allows your business to get direct feedback on what its key areas of growth and improvement are, based on the conversations and topics that are being created. Your business can then use this information to take action and improve your products and services, in line with customer expectations. Lastly, one of the key benefits of creating a forum is its ability to identify your most passionate fans and customers. Through a forum, you are able to easily identify and recognise your most loyal customers by the number of questions and topics they have engaged on. This makes it easier to reward and recognise these users on a day to day basis.You will also find when building your forum, more and more users will jump in to help others, thereby adding value to your community and strengthening loyalty at the same time. A good tip here is to identify the most passionate users of your forum and even promote them to admin so they can help manage the number of queries and topics that come in each and every day. This helps to ensure you have the most passionate users helping, and lets the customer know you value their input and expertise. By commenting every day, your customers also help to improve your businesses SEO as every time a key word is used it helps to give you that little extra boost in Google.
Companies using forums the right way
One company using forums particularly well to grow their community and improve their customer support is Apple. Apple has created a discussion forum where its users are able to post questions and concerns they have about their Apple products. Apple has excelled in their ability to make this process as simple and as streamlined as possible for its users. They have achieved this by clearly identifying their key categories and products with icons which has made the experience of posting a question or finding a query a pain free process. Not only has Apple been able to clearly identify each product category for support but they have also made it clear for users looking for help whether the question has been solved or not. We can see this in the example below as solved queries are marked with a green tick. Lastly, I mentioned a great way to grow your community and add value on your forum is to recognise your top users. Apple has also adopted this approach by highlighting top users in their very own category labeled “Top participants." To keep bringing these users back to the forum, they have also rewarded members with points based on levels. We can see this below in the form of the orange circles.
What you need to consider before creating a forum board
While creating a forum message board may be a simple process, there are still many factors your business needs to take into consideration before launching. Here are some of the key areas your business needs to take into consideration:
- Creating a forum board opens up your business to potential spammers.
- You will have to moderate all topics before they go live on the forum to ensure quality is maintained throughout, with regard to topics and content.
- You may need to continuously update the forum with new and interesting discussions to keep the community going.
- You should be ready to delete harmful or untrue comments or even ban users who share content that proves to be harmful to the community.
- Ensure all conversations are also monitored so that conversation is in line with the topic / thread.
- Be willing to invest the time each and every day to grow the community and discussions to help it build momentum.
Taking these points into consideration before launching your forum board will ensure you are able to grow a passionate community over time, one that helps to add value to your customers as well as increases the traffic to your blog, website, products and services.To learn more about how forums work, I checked in with Jane at ShortStack. Jane leads the customer support team and has helped to pioneer the use of forums for ShortStack customers.We will be diving into the key benefits of using a forum messaging board for your business and reveal the #1 reason why most businesses fail when it comes to using forum boards.
Q1: How did ShortStack come up with the solution to create a forum message board for its users?Jane: “Our users are smart! We wanted to create a place for ShortStack users to communicate with each other. We thought forums would be a good idea. Users can share their knowledge, pose questions and even show off their campaigns.”
Q2: Why are forum boards so important for communication?Jane: “Forum boards are important for communication because they help to build community. They allow users to interact with each other. Even though we provide dang good support - I might be biased :) - the forums allow users to get a different perspective on some of their questions. Also, there are requests we receive via support that are outside of the scope of our help desk. These types of questions are perfect to pose on the forums; you never know who might answer them!”
Q3: What are the common myths about forum boards?Jane: “I think the biggest myth is that people think that forums are only for super technical questions! We have been posting some common questions and the answers on our forums to help get them going. Half of these questions are questions we often receive from beginners. I have even linked some of our most experienced ShortStack users to some of these more "basic" posts.”
Q4: What do you feel is the biggest benefit to using a forum message board?Jane: “Instead of only being able to communicate with our support teams, ShortStack Forums are opening up new doors for our users to take advantage of - allowing them to tap into information regarding not only ShortStack, but social media and online marketing in general.”
Q5: What would you say is the #1 reason most businesses fail to succeed with forum boards?Jane: “I haven't seen any "failures" that I can speak to, but I would imagine that if a company were to set up forums and then not take the time to monitor them, there would be a danger that people could offer inaccurate or problematic fixes. The takeaway is that if you're going to set up forums, make sure someone is checking in on the conversations every once in a while to keep an eye on the information that's being shared.”
Q6: What are some specific action steps people can take today to get started with forum boards?Jane: “Well! They can sign up for a [free] ShortStack account at www.shortstack.com and then check out our forums: forums.www.shortstack.com. Post a question, respond to one, or just read some discussions! People who are interested in learning some best practices about social media campaigns should find some helpful advice there, too.”
Q7: What keeps people engaged when using forum boards?Jane: “Other forum users! When people begin communicating with one another, then there is more incentive to continue posting. It's like any other form of social communication, when people participate the community is so much more robust and helpful.” To see how a forum works, simply login with your ShortStack account here to view ShortStack's brand new support forum and then join in the conversation!We would love to hear from you about how you use forums! Ravi Shukle is the Guardian of Customer Happiness who loves to help businesses create happy customers for life through customer service. He writes a monthly column with customer service tips for ShortStack.
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