The Power of Communities

By Al Hahn
Executive Director
The Association of Support Professionals

Two companies finished among the top five scoring entrants in ASP’s 2020 Best Support Websites competition. This was notable in that they won awards along with Ivanti, NetApp, Nutanix, Progress, & Red Hat. Republic Wireless and PowerSchool both performed extremely well in our competition with their communities as the primary focal point of their self-service support websites. although Republic is a small company and PowerSchool is a medium-sized company, they scored higher than almost all the large and medium companies in the 2020 competition.

Republic Wireless did not surprise us as this was the third time that they have won our award in three consecutive years. For PowerSchool, however, this was their first appearance in our competition. They kind of appeared out of nowhere and took an award in their first outing. Quite impressive. What is most notable about both of these companies is their heavy reliance on their communities. ASP has been touting communities for at least two decades, but we still encounter non-believers. Republic calls their overall strategy “Online first”, and KCS is integral with their approach but, it is their community that is the center of their support. Likewise, PowerSchool uses KCS and most of the other current support tech, but their Community is the central focal point of their support.

The essence of Communities is for users to help other users. This provides leverage over support costs that are more critical for smaller companies. Product users are providing support at very little cost to the company. Users often have insights that can be difficulty for support folks to achieve. After all, they are using the product every day. They sometime know about shortcuts to achieve results faster. They also know about things to avoid that can be difficult or troublesome. A major advantage of Communities is in lowering support costs. That is not to say that Communities are free. Far from it. They need management and attention and often action. If a post sits for too long without a response, support should provide an answer, ask for more information, or provide a suggestion. Depending on the customer base, this requirement can be 5×8, 7×24 and anywhere in between.

The most significant challenge to get a vibrant Community going is to get many users involved and to have fast, accurate responses to posts, hopefully from many different users. This can take similar care to having an infant in the house. You probably want to solicit some friendly customers to help you get it established. You can use gamification to provide recognition to those who frequently respond to posts. You can consider free training, early access to product releases, special logos, swag, paid expenses to user meetings, and other incentives.

While none of this is new, what I suspect is new is the fact that Communities encourage more use of the product and involvement with the vendor. Community members tend to be considerably more loyal. In this era of subscriptions, both of these factors are critical to companies in order to succeed and even to survive. It is all too easy to switch products today. Improving usage, involvement, and loyalty are not small things. Communities have become much more strategic and powerful in today’s business. Are you taking full advantage of yours?

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