I chose to write about the benefits of a support community (for your business) because I recently shared some thoughts about Support Community ROI calculations. After completing that ROI 101 blog, I felt that I needed to spend more time on the topic of support communities in general. Specifically, on their impact on your company’s bottom line. Please know that this blog is written from a company’s perspective, not from a customer centric view. This blog is also not about the overall benefits that an online community can bring to your company. There are some awesome blogs about that, here is one from Salesforce.
This blog focuses on the specific net income impacts of a support community.
5+1 Benefits of a Support Community
A support community is uniquely advantaged. It has a lot of measurable KPIs that help you associate revenue, cost deflection and customer satisfaction metrics to its existence. I prefer to focus on those first 5 bullets in this list below. There is no denying the fact, however, that a support community can and often does influence your product roadmap and innovation. I will spend some time on each and every one of these benefits in more detail:
- Call and support case deflection
- Customer retention
- Upselling/ Cross-selling to existing customers
- Shortening the sales cycle
- Increasing customer advocacy and loyalty
- Drive Product Innovation
Call and Support Case Deflection
The most basic of all benefits a support community can bring to your company is averting incoming customer service questions. No matter which channel these might come in on, unless they are social media or community self-serve solutions, they will cost you a pretty penny. If you want to know more on this topic, read my ROI 101 blog. A single article on the community might provide a solution to a dozen of your customers over its lifetime. Sometimes even more. Higherlogic has a good article on this topic. Some customers see as much as 50% of their customer care cost deflected by engaging with customers on communities and providing them up-to-date support content.
Ask any sales person, customer retention is expensive. Based on a 2015 study For Entrepreneurs found that it is 9x cheaper to retain existing customers than acquire new customers: costing $0.13 to acquire any additional dollar of revenue. The median cost for a SaaS company to acquire a dollar of new customer revenue is $1.18. Other research suggests that close to 92% of customers with good customer service experiences are willing to renew.
Your chances to be in the higher end of that spectrum increase significantly if you have a support community, that provides good quality customer self-help content, such as videos, how-to guides, documentation and training. Satisfaction with your customer support is only one aspect for a renewal. Another one is the value the customer gets out of your solution. If your customer engages in a community, they are more likely to have a deeper understanding and better implementation of your tool, than your average customer who does not participate in the community.
That same For Entrepreneurs study also found that it’s 4x cheaper to upsell existing customers than acquire new customers: costing just $0.28 to acquire an additional dollar of revenue. Higherlogic’s research showed that existing customers could be worth 10x their original purchase price. By engaging your customers in a community, they will have a deeper understanding of the product they own. That usually leads to better adoption and therefore get better use out of it. They will also learn from peers about ancillary products, features or extensions that you or a partner company might offer. This is another way to increase their customer value to you as a business.
Shortening sales cycles
There are lots of studies out there that speak about customers’ buying journeys. Same goes for articles on how much time future customers spend researching your company and your products before even speaking to your employees. My current favorites are Gartner’s “57% of the purchase decision is already complete before the customer even calls the supplier” and Sirius Decisions’ “67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally.”
So, let’s think about these facts for a moment. How does your support community factor into these statistics? Well, public communities have a few characteristics that we should keep in mind.
- They are (usually) public, so you can easily find it and read up other customers’ questions and concerns.
- They are (usually) transparent, as the community reflects the values of your company, your employees and clearly shows the tone of voice you take with your clients.
- Support communities also provide public documentation of your products and sometimes even training materials. These help future customers evaluate their learning curve and expected use of your product before committing to the purchase.
So all in all, a support community will make or break your sales case for you. They will see if you are mean to your customers on the community, or if your product documentation is poor. They will also get first hand feedback of your products and services by simply reading other customer’s questions or comments about their experiences. So yeah, a support community can break or make your sales cycle.
Increased customer advocacy
Customers who love your product are the best spokespeople for you. A recommendation or review from a peer is many times more influential than anything you can say about yourself. Aside from these general truths, Gallup’s 2014 study found that fully engaged customers (such as community members) represent an average of a 23% premium in terms of share of wallet. This means, that there is 23% of extra revenue waiting for you. You just need to activate your biggest fans in a public space like social media or a community.
Last but not last product innovation. While I don’t strictly categorize product innovation as a mandatory part of a support community, I included this chapter, because it is usually done in combination thereof. Support issues often turn into feature requests or improvement requests. Trending topics in your support queues, should definitely be evaluated for improvement or future roadmap decisions. It is also another great way for you as a company to strengthen your relationship with your customers by showing them that you care and listen to their needs and suggestions. There are many companies out there, who attribute their success and exponential growth to having crowd-sourced their product roadmap from their community. (Ex: Barclay’s Travel Community Credit Card)
Higherlogic’s study also found that gathering feedback through communities can provide a 15 – 20% lift in upsell and cross-sell revenue. That’s a lot of money to consider.
Ultimately, I think each company and support community is different. Not everything stated above is easily measurable, and each KPI will be unique to your company and your community. By no means is this 5+1 benefit list exhaustive. However, this is a great place to start and tailor your plans to your company’s ultimate business goals.
Infographics sourced from: http://resources.higherlogic.com/higher-logic-customer-success-infographic