The introduction of the Internet, social media, and mobile has changed the way companies – large or small – interact with dissatisfied customers. According to a study conducted by Nuance Enterprise, 67% of respondents preferred self-service support over traditional support. Phone calls and emails have quickly been abandoned and instead, customers voice complaints online – be it a tweet, review, or blog post. How can companies diffuse the situation and avoid immeasurable damage to their brand’s online reputation? Easy – if you can’t beat them, join them.

We must evolve with customer needs. If today’s consumers want to help themselves in real time, companies must establish a simple, intuitive self-service experience that resolves issues and makes it unnecessary to contact traditional customer support. Unfortunately, the search and help functions on many websites are woefully inadequate. Customers get confused or lose confidence in the resources provided because the “Help” section of a website just isn’t capable of answering the questions they are asking. Companies need to provide a comprehensive selection of relevant answers in plain simple language, as well as organize information to ensure customers can quickly find the exact information they need. This can easily be done with an online knowledge sharing community.

An online community can be the perfect outlet for transforming an ineffective customer support experience into a powerful and engaging one. Online communities provide efficient support through improved customer knowledge; people can resolve problems at their own speed and learn as much or as little as they want. Companies can pre-populate communities with strong content that addresses frequently asked questions. Not only can content – articles, documentation, videos, and more – answer questions, but other users can share their own experiences to provide trusted, insightful answers. This level of engagement not only enables knowledge sharing, but also builds relationships. Customers can connect with others based on similar interests – whether that is a product inquiry or support issue – and even route questions to experts for immediate answers.

Online communities also give customers the one thing they crave in today’s digital world – a voice. Through community participation, customers can contribute feedback and share experiences. This establishes a level of transparency and trust between the company and the customer. Businesses can establish a dialogue with their customer base and companies can use this knowledge when developing a new product or preparing a new release.

78% of consumers have ended a business relationship due to bad customer service. It is also estimated that it costs a company six to seven times more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain an existing one. With an online knowledge sharing community, companies can successfully meet the needs of their customer base, avoid negative PR, and increase customer retention and loyalty through an effective self-service support experience.