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Members of your online community are your customers. They may not be buying anything from you, but they are your consumers. You provide a resource, and they use it. Many of the same concepts that apply to good customer service can be applied to online community management. I’ve collected 10 common customer service practices that I feel apply to interactions with community members and online community management.

10 Customer Service Practices for Online Communities

  • Treat your members with courtesy and respect. Treat them like people, not numbers. Always remember that you need the members of your community more than they need you. It’s the simple truth. If they bail tomorrow, your community will fail. Engage your users and ask them questions. Then ask follow-up questions. Remember that these are real people, and relate to them the same way you would if they were sitting in the room with you.
  • Get to know your members. Make them feel important and appreciated. Treat them as individuals. When possible, use their name and find ways to compliment them, but be sincere. I’ve recently introduced an Introductions Area to one of my communities. People have responded well, and it’s a great way to spark new discussion.
  • Always look for ways to help your members, even if there’s no immediate profit in it. When they have a request give it serious consideration or effort. I often have people email me questions that could have been asked in the forum. The temptation is to instruct these people to post their question in the forum. Frankly, that’s lazy. If I know the answer, I will just respond, and provide links to the information. If I don’t know the answer, I will go ahead and post the question in the forum myself. Once I get an answer, I will email the person back and provide them a link to the answered question in the forum. A lot of work to help just one person, but in asking the question in the forum I may have helped others who weren’t willing or able to post the same question.
  • Identify and anticipate needs. Listen to your members. Stay proactive and keep gathering ideas for new content and services. You are in business to service consumer needs, and you can only do that if you know what it is your members want. When you truly listen to your users, they let you know what they want and how you can provide the best content.
  • Help users understand your systems. Hard to imagine, but not everybody understands the internet all that well. Not everyone understands how to attach a picture, add a signature, upload an avatar, send a PM, or even register! I often create quick tutorial threads for processes on my site that could be difficult for certain people.
  • Provide multiple means of communication. As the community administrator, you must be available to help in any way. Sometimes a user will have a hard time registering, posting, or using some other feature on your site. That person will likely make an effort to contact you to help. If you’re not a visible leader, your community will suffer.
  • Always give more than advertised. What can you give people who come to your site that they cannot get elsewhere? What can you do to follow-up and thank people? What can you give members that is totally unexpected? I hold simple contests on my sites. For something as easy as sharing a picture or posting a story, members can have the chance to win fun prizes!
  • Never deal with a member when angry. Never argue with a member. Resolve issues promptly. Moderation can be an ugly process. It’s easily one of the biggest drawbacks of community management. Sometimes a member will do something so irritating that the first instinct is to shoot off a snippy email. Don’t. Often times the member doesn’t even know what wrong they’ve done, and you’re more likely to offend and run off your users than fix any problems. Be gentle, but simply state the facts. Tell the user what they’ve done that is not okay, tell them what will happen if they continue that action, and move on.
  • Reward your loyal members. This can be done in a variety of ways. I find that a genuine “thanks” is one of the most appreciated gestures. Also, things like badges or icons can be awarded for a certain number of posts, etc. In certain cases, you may even reward your some members with Moderator positions.
  • Build Business to Customer Loyalty. This is ultimately the grand prize for all of your efforts. If you can succeed in every area listed above, this should just come with it. Community loyalty is your lifeblood. Happy members tell their friends, and those friends tell their friends. Members will link to your website in other forums and blogs. I’ve even been offered free event sponsorship, just because members loved the community. You never know!

What do you think? What “customer service” models to do you follow in an online community?


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