What’s Missing from the Web 2.0 ROI Story

In 2007 and 2008, companies made huge investments in Web 2.0 technology for online communities. Some were savvy, innovative early adopters, but many jumped on a bandwagon they didn’t quite understand yet.  The situation mirrors the CRM mania of the late 90s and early 00s, when companies had an edict from above to implement CRM, so they did.  Then a couple of years later they were left asking, “So what was the business value of this huge project?”  

I think that is what 2009 is going to be for the service industry:  a lot of Web 2.0 hangovers, and a renewed push to monetize the investments they’ve already made.

I’m gearing up on this topic to publish some research in 2009 on the best practice metrics and ROI story for communities, and I’ve run into a functional gap in Web 2.0 solutions that prevents some huge potential ROI: bridging internal and external communities. Here is a an example scenario:

Customer calls tech support with a system error. The tech support engineer (TSE) does an enterprise search and finds a discussion thread in the customer forum about the same problem. In the discussion thread, a customer ‘expert,’ a PS employee, and a development employee all collaborated and solved the problem. Using IP presence awareness, the TSE can see that the customer expert, PS and development people are all online, so he invites them all into a real-time collaboration with the customer. With all the experts in one desktop sharing/web chat session, the problem is resolved in minutes.

The stumbling blocks here are in two areas: Internal vs. external discussion forums, and universal Web chat/collaboration:

  • Internal vs. external discussion forums. The leading providers of customer community platforms are currently not interested in launching internal communities. And I can understand that–if your revenue model is based on page views, you want the largest possible communities, and internal communites (of employees) do not have nearly the size/page view potential of a consumer/customer community.
  • Web collaboration. In their most recent release, Cisco WebEx included an incredible step forward in desktop sharing and web collaboration: using IP, they can see which users are online/available from a list of users or experts and invite them into a real-time chat/collab. The real kicker is that the chat is universal–WebEx supports the collaboration with the user’s choice of chat tools (AIM, Yahoo, whatever). Unfortunately, these capabilities are not available with any community platform (at least not any I’m aware of).

The current ROI for story for communities is centered on deflecting live agent interactions.  I’m certainly a fan of this, and hope companies continue to embrace this emerging self-service channel.  But we also need to look at how Web 2.0 can be leveraged to cut resolution time on complex problems by engaging experts from internal AND external communities in real time.  For enterprise hardware and software support, this model could deliver incredible cost savings, as well as have a major impact on customer satisfaction and loyalty. I don’t think anyone will offer a ‘soup to nuts’ solution for a while yet, but I sincerely hope to see, at the very least, some strategic partnerships that could enable this vision technically.  

For service management creating a Web 2.0 vision, keep in mind that you aren’t just creating ‘customer communities,’ you are creating ‘communities of interest’ for your products, and that community should contain customers, employees, former customers, industry experts, maybe even us annoying analysts. Perhaps everyone doesn’t have the same access rights, but we all have a voice and can make meaningful contributions.  And, when you introduce web collaboration capabilities, think how much larger your pool of potential experts will be!

What do you think?  What internal processes/training need to change to enable this more collaborative approach to support?  Is anyone seeing examples of this happening already?  If you have any thoughts, please add a comment or shoot me an email.  And as always, thanks for reading!

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8 Comments on “What’s Missing from the Web 2.0 ROI Story”

  1. Mike Cichon Says:

    John, this is a great blog entry; it’s good to see the community adoption and social CRM issues getting air time. At Helpstream, we hear a lot about issues like this from companies who have tried deploying their own Internet communities as well as those just experimenting with the idea. Bob Warfield also touches on this conversation in his blog post Building Customer Communities Has to Start with Customer Service.

    We think that separating communities internally and externally could be a mistake. There are times when it makes sense and other times when it’s a barrier to productivity, like in your example. As you point out, the challenge of bridging internal and external communities remains if you’re just using the Internet to deliver one tool to service reps and another to customers. But the good news is that new social web technology based on Web2.0 addresses this problem and provides the benefit of integrated communities.

    Several companies use Helpstream for self service – both internal and customer facing. Since our debut in January, we have supported internal communities with the ability to subscribe to areas of interest and expertise. We support the porosity needed to allow SMEs to migrate between internal and external communities as well. This is in support of more of a swarming type of model that enables ready access to information that has already been vetted by experts in the community no matter which side of the firewall they find themselves writing from. Why reinvent the wheel when it comes to solutions? And, when you wrap this capability in a Community application you enable customers to comment on solutions they find, or ask additional questions, and provide feedback much like you’re doing with this blog and as the folks at Forrester Research did for Groundswell.

    In any event we agree totally that the pricing model of Community applications definitely shouldn’t predispose the deployment model or deter community focus. That’s why we’ve moved past page view pricing. There are numerous Helpstream deployment models – many more than I have room to get into here. But, we will be demoing at the SSPA Leadership Conference so please stop by and see us for more.

    Presence detection is another great technology to leverage and we think it holds promise. We are playing around with it now in the labs. We are also looking at other technologies that embellish collaboration like volume text messaging ; so Service teams could instantly notify thousands of customers of a critical product issue, or collaborate asynchronously and more easily from mobile devices like the Iphone.

    Community building is not rocket science, but it takes some cultivation. Service communities hold the promise of truly making CRM a social business practice like it should be. The technology is also changing fast, so companies need a point of focus there as well to make sure IT supporting Service is nimble and capable of adapting new capabilities. The problem is that there’s just not a lot of extra resources to go around when it comes to Service, which is why tapping into the community to leverage external experts is so important.

    There are several companies we are working with that have their eyes on the goal of transcending product with service. We’ll be talking more about them on the Helpstream blog, so stay tuned.

  2. jragsdale Says:

    Hi Mike;
    I was hoping Helpstream would weigh in on this issue. I think we’ll solve this problem when more companies view Web 2 as enabling technology to transform the end-to-end customer experience, not just a new support channel.

    –J


  3. Greetings John:

    Good thought provoking post.

    We at Fuze believe that subject matter expertise knows no boundaries. Going one step further, we believe that KB content and assisted support that does not leverage expertise throughout and external to an organization provides a perspective that is too narrow and will not evolve as quickly as necessary to provide effective customer/staff care.

    The challenge is to naturally identify and leverage expertise wherever it exists, to make it easy to contribute & collaborate and to create the proper motivations to get broad community participation. Unfortunately we have not entirely solved this problem, but we are definitely simpatico with your thoughts and are making good progress.

    See you in Vegas!

    Chuck


  4. John,

    As good of an idea as it sounds, you still don’t see the vast majority of companies jumping up and down for incremental changes in self-service support, they wait until there are compelling changes with huge and blatant ROIs. Take for example touch tone IVR for self-service and the reluctance of organizations to completely convert those applications to speech recognition, because the cost and maintenance outweighs many of the benefits they already get with touch tone.

    In order for there to be a compelling reason to adopt web 2.0 approaches in service and support, I think that nimble companies that have watched the mistakes and trends will ultimately change the fundamental rules of support.

    Fuze is one of those companies that is setting the stage for the entire company to have a stake in the welfare of products and customers. For example, instead of making customer support just a call center job, companies will use Fuze to audition all communities of expertise, provide motivation and incentives for the entire company to participate in the selling, marketing, building, changing and supporting of products and services to customers. So the vertiginous pace of business changes in expertise, information, and product can be managed and adapted without tarnishing a companies brand. You won’t have agents keeping the best answers for themselves, but being rewarded for sharing them with everyone. Ultimately ROIs on a no-contact or first contact basis should dramatically change and encourage more companies to adopt going forward.

    Come by and audition at the Fuze booth in Vegas!

    Best Regards,

    LLance Kezner

  5. jragsdale Says:

    I sadly agree that many companies don’t take the plunge to try new technology unless they think it is a ‘big win.’ Luckily there are some companies who focus on innovation and are willing to try. Examples include Xerox, Cisco Linksys and Symantec consumer support–I’m blown away at the number of initiatives underway at any given time, looking for even a slight competitive edge or a way to improve the customer experience.

    And don’t even get me started about outdated IVR technology. It is one of the scourges of our industry.

    –J


  6. […] the Spring 2009 Recognized Innovator Awards, the focus will be Monetizing Web 2.0, based on a previous post. If you have ideas about specific categories you’d like to see, or if you’d like to be […]


  7. […] written before about the need for better internal collaboration tools.  The customer community vendors […]


  8. […] internal and external communities. I have written about this before, and I’m thrilled to see new vendors like OutStart who sell internal, external and blended […]


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