Adding To The Noise

A critical view of new media, new technology and new marketing.

Star Bellied Sneeches: Social Media Badges Can Save Companies Billions

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If you have never read Dr. Seuss’ book, The Sneeches, it is definitely worth your time. In this kids book we get adult insight into human behavior. The Sneeches with stars on their bellies are special you see. They were better than the plain belly sort and had parties and picnics the others were left out. A simple thing such as a star can make such a difference, which brings me to support forums and idea communities. What will people do for a star?

Ideastorm, Dell, support forum, crowdsource, customer support, social media, Groundswell, Forrester

Li & Bernoff’s Groundswell tells us that the average call to a company’s call center costs $6-$7. Technical support calls are $10-$20. Way back in the early 2000’s TiVo noticed a consumer run TiVo Community Forum on the web. With no help from the company over 130,000 TiVo owners were solving each other’s problems. One user named “jsmeeker” had posted 44,000 times in 6 years.

Other company’s like Dell have started their own community support forums. Dell has been more intentional and is reaping the rewards. One user named “Predator” had posted 20,000 times answering tech support questions that were viewed over 2 million times. Considering the cost of call centers, this one customer saved Dell over a billion dollars in support costs. Dell wants to encourage more customers like this and has implemented a reward system so the most active members can earn their stars.

Dell Community Rockstars are nominated for their exceptional technical skills and willingness to help others. They also show leadership in the Dell community. What do they get? A star of course. The fancy star badge below. To be fair they also get some additional privileges and benefits including online and offline events and get to evaluate new products and services before others.

Ideastorm, Dell, support forum, crowdsource, customer support, social media

Dell community members give thousands of ideas and tech support for this star.

What else will someone do for a star? Help with new product development. Dell has also launched IdeaStorm to leverage the wisdom of the crowd to improve their products and services. IdeaStorm simply collects customer ideas in multiple categories from products to advertising and then the same customers vote on the ideas to help Dell identify the most promising. Since 2006, people have freely submitted over 20,000 ideas and nearly 550 have been implemented. What do they get in return? Points, votes and you guessed it, a star. Dell Rockstar badges also appear in IdeaStorm.

This is all well and good, but you may be saying to yourself, “Dell is a huge, well liked company. Of course, people want to contribute to them.” Don’t forget that Dell has not always been a well liked company. In fact, it used to be referred to as “Dell Hell” and is known for not listening to its customers as called out by Jeff Jarvis in his now famous “Dell sucks” blog post. The support forum and idea community are actually what helped Dell regain its customers.

Ideastorm, Dell, support forum, crowdsource, customer support, social mediaAs customer support moves further away from the phone lines, it’s become easier for frustrated customers to express that frustration publicly on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. As a result, more and more brand customer support forums are popping up. In fact, Forrester research has found a 25% increase in customer service community usage in the past three years. For the brands that embrace this change, customer service can move from cost center to a differentiator.

What can you do? Fire Pole Marketing says launch a brand community and give them something to display. They say, “Provide them with a plaque, certificate or similar item. Simple things like online badges or a certificate work wonders.” I agree and I suggest you use a star.

Can customer support and idea communities be a star in your company?

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Author: Keith A. Quesenberry

Marketing Professor with Industry Experience

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