In Praise of Chat & Online Communities

How FireEye Dramatically Improved Customer Support

Over the last few years, there has been a significant move away from how we access help and support for products or services. Traditionally there would be an instruction manual and more recently a website containing the support documentation for an organization. However, in a digital mobile-first world, we are much more likely to turn to a combination of people and technology to obtain instant answers to our questions.

Advances in technology are already responsible for creating new chat and online communities. I recently spoke with John Bauer, Senior Director, Customer Support Technology at FireEye to understand how they are reducing costs and increasing efficiency by implementing a chat solution.

FireEye set out to transform customer service into a profit center by minimizing the time and effort that it takes to resolve a case. Bauer told me how when he first started there was an emphasis on email, phone and web support. Ideally, you want to leverage your web support channel because it provides the most context and is very efficient, but Bauer also advised that its chat and online communities that are the least costly and most effective.

In our conversation, he also highlighted that smaller support teams would find it relatively easy to manage their workload without the need for analytics. But, Bauer warned, as you scale, it will quickly become apparent, just how much time, and money can be saved through by leveraging analytics.

What many fail to realize is that chat allows organizations to exchange information and, direct customers to articles and documentation, and close calls quicker than the phone, web, or email.  Online communities enable customers to help other customers, monitor discussions and input as required. And it requires far less personnel to maintain community interactions than email or phone support.

The value bombs quickly became apparent. Moving away from the phone to online chat provided 30% in cost savings and 30% faster resolutions. After previously investing in around 30 FTEs for knowledge creation purposes to deliver email and phone support at another organization, Bauer only needed 2-3 FTEs to create valuable content for their online communities.

Research by the team at FireEye enabled them to learn that when a customer needed help, approximately 50% of the time they would go to a knowledgebase article, 40% go to the community, and only 10% would ever head towards documentation.

A few years ago, many companies approached the invasion of social media with an element of fear. Equally, FireEye faced the same resistance internally when looking to embrace community features. On the one hand, it’s glaringly obvious that people want to communicate directly with a human to obtain an immediate answer to their questions, but on the other, employees are fearful about negative connotations that could arise from conflict and disputes voiced over social media

Some might argue that the risk of a disgruntled customer broadcasting negative stuff about you or your company would never end on a positive note. Replying to them rather than burying your heads in the sand seems much more progressive.  You should never underestimate the power of your community either. There is something quite beautiful about the moment when your own customers jump in to tackle challenging behavior in their community. Bauer, even stated, “With communities, you will find customers whose seemingly full-time job became being a champion.”

Once again, it was analytics that illustrated the strength of the case to deliver tangible results. 30% faster time to resolve cases, 30% less effort required. Yet, discovering that 90% of visitors to their community only consumed information from their communities also proved to be incredibly valuable to FireEye.

Although a community of any kind needs people to manage and nurture it, the most interesting aspect of their discovery was that is also delivered a much higher ROI. The FireEye community was measured against call avoidance, currently at 25% of support demand; the ultimate goal at FireEye was for customers to find their own answers, through a Self-Service model, and move away from the time-consuming process of logging a case through email or telephone.

However, Bauer also warned that implementing chat can only be successful if your community responds quickly. Failure to engage with a customer within one minute will cause your abandon rate to skyrocket and stop chat adoption in its tracks. For these reasons alone, Bauer needed a platform that he could entrust with FireEye’s reputation.

Bauer told me, “You need to be committed. Starting a community is like having a child. For most enterprises, it will take 12-24 months of commitment to building community before it starts to operate organically.” We often over complicate tech solutions by investing countless hours trying to introduce sophisticated functionality. However, the secret to the successful implementation and adoption of chat technology at FireEye seems to be the use of both chat and communities to solve a problem for the customer. Maybe this is a lesson we can all learn from.

Please share your thoughts and insights by commenting below.

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