Can Communities Pay Off?


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User communities (forums) are all the rage today so they definitely hit the cool factor — but can they also save you money?

1. Only if you use them well
A community won’t produce savings if it’s not alive and vibrant. You must actively promote the community to its users, seduce super-users into participating, and at least occasionally provide answers to languishing threads. Do not expect to get benefits without a sustained effort.

2. Size matters
Large communities provide much larger benefits because of the scaling effect: if 1 million users can see a useful post (and therefore don’t have to contact support) it’s much better than if 100 users see the same post. This does not mean that small communities are doomed but the possibilities are much more impressive with a larger community.

3. You should see savings very soon
If you are a veteran of CRM implementations (condolences!) you know that patience is required before savings are achieved. With communities you should see savings as soon as the community “takes off”, that is attracts enough users to see multiple daily posts (and answers!)

4. The big win is case deflection
Most communities generate savings by deflecting cases that would otherwise go to (expensive) assisted support and most of the deflection occurs indirectly, that is, from users who find an answer already documented in a post.

It’s not easy to capture deflection and seat-of-the-pants approach abound. Try a rational approach instead: ask visitors if they found an answer and if they intend to contact support.

5. And you may see additional benefits
Some of my clients are seeing real (i.e. quantifiable) benefits other than case deflection with: early detection of product issues; additional sales linked to the community; and savings in support investment such as being able to close out email support. Such savings are typically much lower than case deflection, but every little bit counts.

Whatever you do be conservative: communities should yield great benefits without having to torture the numbers.

FranÇoise Tourniaire
FT Works
FranÇoise Tourniaire is the founder and owner of FT Works, a consultancy firm that helps technology companies create and improve their support operations. She has over 2 years' experience as a Support and Services executive. Prior to founding FT Works in 1998, she was the VP of Worldwide Service at Scopus, a leading Customer Relationship Management (CRM) vendor.


  1. I have spoken to some companies who have been concerned about creating forums, as it provides an avenue for disatisfied customers to broadcast their complaints. In practice, however, it is not unusual for the brand advocates and super users to jump in and counter negative threads. Plus, it provides company officials with an opportunity to resolve problems and regain customer trust.


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