I hate calling call centres. The Oatmeal documents our experiences with customer care pretty well in his hilarious depictions in the post “Why I’d rather be punched in the testicles than call customer service.” I remember writing a post on pathetic customer care while I was on hold. Sometimes I feel the urge to punch someone when I ask them for help and they tell me with a demeaning tone “why don’t you call customer care?” For some of us who grew tired of customer care years ago, we have our go-to guys whenever we need insight on various things. When our go-to guys cannot hack it, I-know-a-guy is usually the next thing they say and they recommend us. That is how things work. Other people use different means to get their info and many of the people I know would try out everything else first before making the dreaded call to customer care and waiting forever for it to be answered. People Google problems; ask for help on Twitter and Facebook, call-the-guy and given these options, you would expect companies to have covered their bases pretty well on these fronts.
I have purchased many things online; programs, plugins, themes, and electronics you name it. The one thing that is common to all these purchases has been their respective forums. Most times after installation, you may find a bug or have a problem with something that is not working right or even need help customizing something. In their wisdom, smart people instead of waiting to be bogged down with endless calls or emails, they decide to create a forum where people who purchase their products can converge, discuss, share, and/or report anything with regard to the product. So as I look around Kenyan companies that I am customer of, most that would benefit from having such forums still insist on call centres, the last place quite a number of us would call. Not to mention they are pretty damn expensive to run and maintain.
Well, because it has all happened before. Most of the problems that we call customer care about are not unique. I bet they are the same things the first guy who called the call centre asked. I can also bet that guys working at these call centres repeat themselves so much it gets on their nerves they probably wonder how stupid people calling call centre are. And who can blame them? And that is where forums come in. In most of the forums I have been to, I have never had to ask a question because someone else already did and got their answer. I usually search the forums, find the question I wanted to ask, read up on the answers, try them and I am set. Easy! Problems are not unique to us alone and there is a high probability that someone had the same problem before you. Forums just converges Q&A together such that you never have to ask a question that is already answered. In the same way we all have a go-to-guy for most things; forums become our go-to-places for new and old questions alike.
Building a Community
The other thing that is common to all the forums that I have been to is the community aspect. People are there to give as well as to receive. Kenyan businesses can reduce costs greatly by building a community and facilitating it instead of increasing the capacity of their call centres. A lot of the people who provide answers in forums, who share cool customization features they have created, who find solutions to bugs etc are rarely employees of these companies. You may have a question to which I have an answer, I answer it and vice versa. It is about building a community of loyal customers who share their knowledge and experiences with your products; all you have to do is give them a platform and facilitate the forum discussions when you have to. Quite a number of people in forums usually emerge as authorities because they answer most questions satisfactorily and usually in good time. Businesses can reward such members and give them a higher standing within the forum. Just showing appreciation and encouraging people to share and engage more .
Building a community will take time which is the biggest cost in this. But having built one, you will begin to see the community as a big cost cutting measure as more and more people turn to it instead of your call centres. Your forums will probably rank quite high in Search Engine rankings from questions and answers regarding your company as people discuss and share?
And just to preempt your questions; I don’t mean to infer that call centres are completely useless, all I am saying is that other alternatives should be considered and forums might just drastically reduce the backlog on call centres.
Your thoughts are welcome…