Today, customer support isn’t restricted to email, phone, and chat. Each year sees new trends in the way brands wow their customers. But there’s one support channel that is powered by users themselves.
In this week’s secret sauce edition, we discuss how Mozilla leverages its community to build great products and up its customer service game. To learn more, we talked to Rachel McGuigan from Mozilla. She is responsible for managing and organizing the team of volunteers under the SUMO (SUpport.MOzilla.org) program.
Truth be told, Mozilla does not have a customer support team, at least not in the official sense — there is no phone line or email address you can use. “Mozilla Support is scaled by the community.”
SUMO is Mozilla’s community-powered program for customer support for open source products such as Firefox, Firefox for Mobile and Firefox Focus. There is a whole bunch of activities driven by this program — content creation and distribution, sharing product updates, vetting content, moderators, raising issues/bugs, and escalating critical reports to the project repository, which is answered by open-source developer contributors.
Mozilla — a Little Background
Mozilla, backed by the Mozilla Foundation, is a free-software community that has been around since 1998. Mitchell Baker, the founding brain behind Mozilla, wanted to create a web browser that drew on the contributions of users and developers from across the world. She and her team set up a process where users and open source enthusiasts came together to build, test, fix, and create some amazing products such as Firefox, and Firefox for mobile. Just like any (fast-growing) company, Mozilla had its share of customer issues pouring in. Of 296,322,215 users who visited the Firefox website in 2017, 51.5% were looking for support. So, the team extended its community-based approach to address them.
What is Community-based Support, Anyway?
Simply put, it is customer support through volunteers.
Online communities or forums are like message boards that users can use to ask questions, get answers, and share tips about your product. Most companies use it bring down support ticket count by creating exhaustive knowledge base, well organised forums. This also enables Mozilla to set a strong position on user-generated content that will be discoverable for search engines to index, this which eventually enables an updated self-service experience for users.
But most importantly, these communities strengthen customer relationships and enhance your brand narrative.
How Does Community-based Support Work at Mozilla
If you want to become a contributor, sign up, introduce yourself, get familiar with a few guidelines. Voilà, you are ready! There are three programs under SUMO.
#1 The Content Writing Program
Knowledge Base plays a vital role in Mozilla’s self-service helpdesk. Volunteers ensure that it is up-to-date so that end-users can find answers to most questions and don’t have to reach out to the support team. Volunteers also use it a lot to answer end-users on social channels by referencing these articles.
The content writing program allows users to submit articles for the Knowledge Base of the products. Volunteers write and peer review articles that cater to the new Firefox releases. There’s usually a busy buzz about three weeks before a launch.
#2 The Content Localization Program
Once the articles are written in English, both the Knowledge Base reviewers and Localizers from the 70+ languages localize the new articles. They also make sure that all the locales of the Mozilla Knowledge Base stay updated with the latest information. Each language is managed by a Localization Leader.
#3 The Social Support and The Forum Support Programs
Right after the product hits the market for public usage, volunteers (contributors) provide support to users on forums and on social channels. These Support Forum and Social Support Contributors take help of the Knowledge Base articles. They also use canned responses that are curated and managed by the SUMO community manager, Rachel.
But Why Do People Sign up to be Mozilla’s Contributors?
Ask any of those 10,554 Mozillians and you are sure to hear one answer — ‘I believe in the Mozilla mission — better, open, and accessible internet for all’. Each volunteer or contributor is an ambassador for the Mozilla project and Mozilla support. However, there is a myriad of extrinsic and intrinsic values that motivate different users to participate.
Rachel says, “Some just like to help people, some are looking for experience in their careers in a particular discipline offered with each program, and others are looking to network.”
However, if you dig a little deeper, you will see that this is the science of engagement.
For us human beings, be it offline or online, conversations are a strong indicator of our well-being. They also tend to amplify engagement, which in turn increases conversations. Beneath this is another key driver that I’d call shared values. Psychologically, shared values encourage people to spend more time and energy on a common goal. This value emerges from social psychology. Mitchell Baker tapped into one such shared value — the passion for open source products and accessible internet for all.
Managing a Large Support Community
Building on the science of online conversations and forums, Mozilla has successfully powered itself with its contributors and volunteers. When people begin talking to one another, it’s an incentive in itself to continue interacting — something similar to the conversations that happen on social channels. If these conversations are channelized in the right direction, it evokes interest in more people. Sort of like a ripple effect.
Rachel and her team sync up with the community every day once in the morning and once in the night to give face time to volunteers from all time zones. This ensures that none of the locales feel left out. They also practice the SCRUM dynamics, with stand-ups meant only for updates and handouts. The team reserves longer discussions about new projects and support strategies for weekly meeting.
The SUMO team throws in a bit of fun whenever possible, for both users supporting and users being supported. Here’s what SUMO did when they launched Firefox 57, codenamed Firefox Quantum. They did a Twitter campaign, by setting up alarms for individual users. They also use badges and titles for volunteers as a way of appreciating their contribution to the program.
Sometimes, users ask Firefox to remind them of the launch and a SUMO member would log down all such requests. On the day of the launch, they tweet at the users, announcing that the new version of the product is available.
All of this takes a lot of manual effort to execute, but that’s the amount of interest contributors show in being a part of the program.
In the past, the support community has surfaced top talent by a few methods of community recognition making it more interesting and fun for the volunteers. The forums have a “Top 10” and “Top 25” contributor title that shows the list of top people with most number of replies in the past 90 days. There are also badges for beginner-level users and power users to identify their areas of successful support. These badges and titles have no say over what they can do on the forums, but it enables the admins of the SUMO program to identify regular contributors. This kind of recognition system motivates recognized volunteer interests to encourage more regular contributing. The community is also looking for other ways to recognize a myriad of talents that the community attracts. And if you didn’t know it already, Mozilla is a not-for-profit company — another powerful driving force for people from similar backgrounds, to come together and create a strong product or community.
Challenges with SUMO
Mozilla’s community-based support being multi-layered has a few challenges. One of the biggest challenges is defining metrics. With so many volunteers contributing to different aspects of support such as social support, knowledge base, and forums, it is difficult to come up with quantifiable measures of success. Rachel says, “In the past it was a combination of a CSAT survey that is given to 20% of the users posting a question and reading a knowledge base article.”
Bordering on similar lines is the question of maintaining brand’s quality/tone. With so many volunteers signing up each day, ensuring that the brand’s voice or tone is not diluted can be a recurring challenge. Volunteers sign up from different nations, and come from different linguistic backgrounds. It is a challenge setting standards and guidelines to follow when supporting using the brand’s account, and that’s something SUMO handles well.
Here’s what SUMO does. It allows beginners to support only using their personal Twitter IDs. When beginners use their personal Twitter IDs, they’re vouched in. So, they put in more efforts to offer quality answers, in the hope of being recognized as an official volunteer. Only after two weeks of moderation, they are given access to @firefox
Usually SUMO’s official staff oversee the support responses from contributor. In their absence, assigned moderators take up that task.
Another pain point is to keep contributors updated with latest information. However, Mozilla cracks this through their in-house forums, discourse forums, emails and their IRC (Internet Relay Chat). Mozilla uses IRC extensively to cater to various communication needs.
Key Takeaways on Community-based Support
From the interview with Rachel, we learned a lot of exciting things that happen within the Mozilla community. However, if there were three key learnings for me, they would include
- Community-based support, where one customer helps another, enables brands to leverage community knowledge to survive during surges, reduce backlog and manage seasonality better. Setting up a community-powered support platform takes up time and technical investment, but once the participating users are trained, the effort put in becomes valuable. There are chances that end-users being supported are aware of the community-powered support program too, and when they do, it feels more personal and touches their heart.
- This kind of community-support also helps users to engage with the brand more closely.
- Forums are a great place to get feedback and learn about what your users think about you. When you collate this information from both end-users and support-users, you can uncover flaws in your product and enhance user experience. It is a great way to build a scalable product or software.
So, what’s your take on community-based support? Drop them as comments and let us know. Meanwhile, if you are looking for a helpdesk software to organize and and fast track your support queries, try Freshdesk.
We started the Secret Sauce series to find out more about what makes the customer service of some great companies click. We get in touch with one awesome support rep and pick their brains. We find out all about their support process, what inspires them to go above and beyond the call of duty to make their customers happy. If you know of a customer support rep you’d like to see featured here, drop us a line in the comments or shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org