We aren’t really known to write calm and placid stories here in the Freshdesk Blogs. In fact, we pride ourselves on our ability to ruffle a few customer service feathers every once in a while. But after our last post on community forums, we got some roars and thunder from a couple of customers that gave us a knee jerk.
We wrote a post debunking some myths of community forums, and offered a few workarounds and best practices. So when a customer pointed out some big holes in our own community the next day, it left us reeling like we’d been punched right in the solar plexus…
But, hey – there’s always something awesome to learn and teach. So we decided to take a few weeks off our blog, and get gung ho about our forums. We’ve been filling our breakfast bowls and lunch plates with our own dog food and while it hasn’t been easy to digest, it certainly has made us wiser.
Here’s a few stats of what we’ve accomplished so far, and some things we’ve learnt along the way:
Here’s how we did it:
1) Getting all aboard the night train! (or how we got our whole team to start working on the community)
It used to be that Support was the only team involved in managing community forums. Sure, the rest of us would jump in occasionally but Support was usually the first on the scene, wrapping up things at a speed that left the rest of us dizzy. But leaving Support to be the sole bouncer at the party doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. If our community is our brand, then Support shouldn’t be the only team mucking around in there. The guys at Marketing, Products and Dev should be at the reins too…
So, that’s how we did it. We got everyone, all the way from Product Managers to Marketing, involved in Operation Dogfood. And the hackers were squashing bugs faster than they rose up on the community.
2) Ownership, ownership, ownership.
Even though, we got everyone on board easily enough, there was still a problem that we had to contend with. Everything was still Someone Else’s Problem. So, we decided to take a feather from our own caps and created a group of community owners across teams. Simply put, it was their rear ends on the line if a thread on our community went unanswered. And it worked like a charm. Turning up the heat really helped speed things along.
3) Never ever ever guarantee ETA’s(even if there’s a gun to your head).
This one’s real important. In fact, it’s become the golden rule of our community forums*. Something that should have been in Support 101. Never ever ever guarantee an ETA.
If we’ve learned one thing over the last month, it’s the mirage of feature deployment. Engineering is all kinds of complicated, given that bugs leave no calling cards. Which means even the devs building the feature can’t predict an ETA. Plus, when you start worrying about how a feature impacts all the other wonders in the product, sticking to ETAs becomes a promise that you can’t even hope to keep. So, there again, we decided to steer clear of ETAs – the babies will be delivered when the babies are ready. After all, our customers aren’t chomping at the bit for an exact ETA; they just want a solution to their problem.
*Actually the Golden Rule is “Don’t sign your name at the end of a comment. This is a thread, not a letter”. But the ETA one comes a close second!
4) Under promise, over deliver.
The biggest hurdle in our yellow brick road to happiness was our feature requests forums. Not only had we over-promised on the ETAs, but, in the heat of the conversation, we’d gone overboard and said yes to nearly every feature request in sight. Almost 98% of requested features “are on our roadmap”. And they kind of are. Except, we aren’t really working on them right now, and we have no idea when we will either.
What we’d really meant when we said ‘on our roadmap’ is that ‘this is something that we might consider “thinking about” thinking about putting into the product’. But inevitably, it always came out as a ‘Yes’(Because saying ‘No’ more than once to something makes us feel like we’re clubbing seals.). And inevitably, we end up in hot water about our long to-do list.
Our strategy? “My word is oak.”
Unless our engineers have written at least 3 lines of code, it’s always going to be a “No” or “the feature is in ideation”.
5) Include customers at every point.
There’s no fun in hosting community forums if the conversation makes sense only to the two of you. We did our best, from problem to solution, to keep the conversation flowing so that the next guy coming along was also able to know exactly how we got to the answer or better yet, contribute to it.
6) Keep things transparent – even when you can’t.
There are some things that we just can’t bring up. Some features that we’re not ready to talk about just yet. Some things (like our live chat application) that are not ready to take on a thousand plus users just yet. But playing with our cards close to our chests is only going to take us so far. At one point, our customers are going to get so frustrated with our reticence that they’re going to leave. Maybe, we aren’t ready to lie down on a black leather couch and reveal all of our deepest, darkest secrets. But we’re open about the fact that we play some cards closer to the chest.
7) The right answer is more valuable than the “almost right” one.
During our month long stint at our community forums, we realised that, while we could easily shoot out answers for feature questions and product intricacies, the same wasn’t true for complex use cases and bug reports. It would have been easy enough to give a theoretically-right this-should-work answer and move on but hey, where’s the fun in that? Every bug report saw us perched on a dev’s desk, examining the bug to within an inch of it’s life until we’d found a fix. Good enough just isn’t an option.
8) First fix, then process-ize.
As expected, dog food tasted like… dog food. Dry and mealy, we found it exceptionally hard to keep chomping through. But we made it to the light at the end of the tunnel and our community is better than ever. In fact, by the end, we were actually, kind of, enjoying it. And once we’d managed to figure out the ropes, it was easy enough to come up with a proper response structure that ensured that this wouldn’t happen again anytime soon. Soon being the keyword.
Because let’s face it. Things are calm now, but of course, eventually there’ll be another storm. There will be unanswered questions, backlogs, false positives and broken promises. But the difference is, next time, we’ll be better prepared to handle it.