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How SaaS Companies are Transforming Customer Service through Community

SaaS companies are moving away from traditional customer service models and creating product communities with a customer experience that matches customers' needs.

“Hold, please.”

We’ve all been there. You have a problem and need it fixed immediately. You call and are met with an automated voice saying you aren’t the only one with a problem, and you’ll have to wait for who knows how long.

To make it ‘easier’, they might present you with an IVR menu option that has a set listing of FAQs. It can (hopefully) answer your question — if your problem is on that list.

The problem seems to grow as the seconds, often even minutes, tick by before someone asks how they can help. 

It’s a broken system that doesn’t provide the care consumers expect. Instead, it practically ensures that the long wait times only worsen customers’ frustrations.

Consumers need and increasingly expect immediate and efficient assistance. So how are companies supposed to elevate their support game and meet this need?

The role of communities in solving customer care problems

Customer care in today’s digital age has evolved from providing support to customers to building long-term relationships with them.

Many companies — especially SaaS companies — are moving away from traditional customer service models that kept customers waiting for help. Instead, they’re creating support/product communities that provide a customer experience that matches customers' needs — a strong differentiator in many saturated industries.

They offer customers a seat at the table where they can engage as little or as much as they like. And they’re solving several problems in customer care that customers and companies have traditionally been dealing with.

Problem 1: Customers face long wait times for help

With members located around the world and searchable forums, communities effectively provide 24/7 support, leading to faster resolution times. That translates to happy customers and better retention rates: 72% of customers say they’ll stick around for companies that provide faster service.

Problem 2: Gathering customer insights can be an arduous task

Support communities provide a wealth of customer data that companies can use to identify customer pain points, improve their products and services, and create targeted marketing campaigns. Companies can get key customer insights while ensuring that, with each subsequent addition or change to the product, they’re attuned to the needs and demands of their target market.

This gives customers opportunities to have a larger voice in product features, improvements, and overall roadmap, and it can lead to improved customer satisfaction. Your community members thus become a customer-centric research and development operation for your success.

Problem 3: It’s easy to fall into the trap of caring only about net new revenue

Do companies really see customer service as an expense instead of a growth driver? Nearly 40% of customer service leaders think so. Customer communities help with customer retention — one of the most important support metrics that builds the bottom line and highlights the ROI of customer care.

Communities improve customer satisfaction and loyalty by creating a sense of belonging and engagement, leading to higher retention rates and referrals. This can help increase customer lifetime value by encouraging customers to make repeat purchases and by upselling additional products or services.

They can also help that all-important net new revenue metric — happy customers drive positive word-of-mouth, brand affinity, and help influence future business. No one will sell your company better than someone in love with your product or service who feels taken care of. Their word will be trusted over any advertising campaign you make. People trust people, not brands.

Why Support and Community complement each other

Some Customer Service or Support teams may feel that communities take away their jobs, but the truth is that they aren’t in competition.

Your customers don’t want to have the problem they have, and the marriage of community and support means that you’ve provided multiple avenues for problem resolution. Customers can pick their own journey instead of feeling trapped in an endless loop of being on hold.

And when your team doesn’t have to answer the same question 100 times, it can focus its energy on driving customer success for trickier problems and assist with issues that need more personalized care.

Best practices for launching or improving support communities

You want to create a community and the excitement can make it tempting to jump straight into the deep end without a clear plan for how to create not only a space, but a place that attracts and retains your target members. 

Not sure how to get started? When launching support communities, you need to consider the following:

From Audience to Community

Who is the community for? What are their ‘jobs to be done’ and needs? What do they need to feel safe and welcome to engage? Check out the Community Canvas that will help you break down these specific questions and also ensure you have alignment across stakeholders involved. 

Desired Behaviors

What do you expect members to do when they come to the community: ask questions, connect with others, chat with support, contribute content, or share their expertise? How do they know how they can participate in the community? Is there an onboarding process or do they have to figure it out on their own? 

Plan for how you want members to behave, and how you’ll help them do this.

Your goals

This is where we look at the desired behaviors of members and the intended impact across members and the business. This will help you know which metrics to look at in order to see what is working vs not, and how you are reporting to leadership. 

What are you looking at to determine the health and success of the community? What are your OKRs (Objectives, Key Results) and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)? Depending on your goals and needs, this could be member metrics (# active members, engagement rate) and be more specific like # of active members completing <insert desired behavior>. 

Ensure that ‘what does success look like?’ is agreed to by leadership so that you can incorporate it into your planning, reporting, and roadmap.

Friction

You know what you want members to do and you realize what metrics to look at to determine success. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. How can you make it even easier for your members to complete those desired behaviors? Is there currently friction in their process for support? Is there any friction that makes their desired behaviors harder to accomplish? 

Determine what friction you can remove or lessen. Community experience matters, and the more intuitive and easy you make the process, the more likely members will take action. 

Tech stack

Your tech stack choice makes it possible for you to meet the needs of your community members while driving towards your goals — which is why you need to understand your ideal member audience, their needs, and their desired behaviors before you choose your tech stack. 

It’s a huge misstep for community builders who might be tempted to choose a tech stack based on the tech, and not on how the tech will help their members — and your — achieve goals. Don’t be tech stack centric. It’s a trap.

Examples of real-world communities

Now that you have a guide for why this is important and what steps to take next, it’s time to see what it looks like in practice. Whether you’re looking at the tech or SaaS industry or want to know what success looks like generally, here are quite a few examples to use as a North Star: 

  • HubSpot offers ways for users to find answers to your questions, check out Communities of Practice, and join study groups to connect with fellow HubSpot Academy students. Regardless of how customers use HubSpot, there is a place for them to learn, connect, and grow. 
  • Miro offers a community that celebrates creators and collaboration and creates a space where members can work together to achieve their goals. They share templates created by community members and opportunities for members to share resources and ask and answer questions. There’s a space for Miro customers who are new or seasoned users.
  • Notion offers a similar experience to the others, with an onboarding experience that benefits users with user created templates, tutorials, and ways to get help. Whether customers are new or want to do more with the company, there are resources and activation pathways throughout the customer lifecycle.  

Looking beyond SaaS companies, the Sephora Beauty Insider Community is the gold standard for support and product communities. They make their members the stars, with opportunities to leave reviews and share UGC and tutorials while offering an opportunity for the makeup community to come together to help one another. And, like we discussed above, Sephora has capitalized on the need to also drive business impact, like revenue, offering different perks for members as they spend more money with the company. 

The Airbnb Community Center offers a community for Airbnb hosts and guests to connect, ask questions, and share experiences. This is a must-visit community if you’re wondering what your options are as a host or guest.

I challenge you to look at the current customer care you provide — or want to provide — and see if community could be an opportunity for you to improve the experience while driving deeper relationships with your customer base.

You don’t have to fight for attention when customers trust you and you have deep relationships with your target market. Your customers will know you’re there for them and understand that their connection to you will open doors for further connection and impact.

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WRITTEN BY
Christina Garnett
May 24, 2023

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