The Case for Peer-to-Peer Customer Support Communities in an AI Era

8 minute read, posted on 05/08/2024, by VXI Marketing

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With GenAI transforming every contact center, the live agents that remain require a different set of skills. Only brand enthusiasts capable of handling exceptional, complex situations will do. Traditional live-agent volumes will be lower and perhaps less predictable, culminating in an increased need for the type of deep understanding, enthusiasm, and flexible support that peer-to-peer communities and GigCX experts can provide.

Peer-to-peer communities and GigCX solutions offer intriguing options for brands in the shifting contact center landscape. Let’s examine why.

The Need for Peer-to-Peer Customer Interaction

With its cumbersome call flows and wait times, a contact center may be the last resort for support. A typical customer with a problem or question will turn to the web for answers first; they will Google their problem or the brand website details first.

2023 customer service trends infographic: 65% prefer text-based solutions over 35% for voice-based.

If the customer chooses to consult a brand website, they’ll try to self-serve – through articles in the online help center, through a chatbot, or through a forum or community. If brand-sponsored support content does not exist online, the customer may seek answers from social media — or, through a GenAI tool or a third-party blog, where the brand may have little input or visibility.

A brand-provided peer-to-peer community enables real customers instead of agents to help other customers. Recommendations, technical answers, compatibility confirmations, tips for product use, and sneak previews are crowdsourced and endorsed by the brand, creating more trustworthy and statistically reliable resolutions. The same content can be used to fuel Google and GenAI queries.

When customers validate and expand on information provided by other users, good ideas start surfacing, and more customers can get value from the product. A peer-to-peer approach encourages connections among likeminded people in similar situations and enables a brand to meet the needs of many instead of just one customer at a time.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Peer-to-Peer Support Communities

As a source of truth and trust with low total cost of ownership, a peer-to-peer support community is a boon and differentiator for brands with fiercely loyal advocates and great customer experiences (CXs). For companies with products that people are so passionate about that they want to engage, educate, and entertain others, peer-to-peer interactions can be a boundless source of new product insights, new customers, and even new employees. But moderators are key.

Several types of community moderators are possible, including paid, in-house, permanent moderators; volunteer, superfan moderators; and paid, as-needed GigCX moderators for the most niche and technical of questions. Imagine the value of a peer-to-peer community with a button that gives users exclusive access to a GigCX expert who is excited to “nerd-out” and find a tailored answer – without distracting product engineers!

Infographic of a reimagined, cost-effective, peer-driven customer resolution flow, featuring steps from self-service web help centers to product managers and engineers.

Peer-to-peer forums aren’t for every brand, though. There are risks, such as when a product becomes highly commoditized or when users’ security, safety, inclusiveness, and privacy could be at stake. A poorly run public forum can be detrimental to a brand, even deterring prospects and customers from making further purchases. Wrong answers, dead threads, inactive communities, unaddressed complaints, low advocacy, a swell of bad sentiment, and bad product and service experiences can ruin reputations. But many of these can be addressed with a team of skilled moderators and GigCX experts connected to the larger CX ecosystem.

Communities can and do work well for immersive, entertaining, and highly personal product offerings, such as those related to gaming, technology, travel, boutique airlines, fitness and health, personal development, and relationship companies, for example.

CX evangelist Nate Brown has promoted the concept of peer communities for years. In a 2023 ICMI article, he argues that – “Yes, forging meaningful [peer] connections is difficult. But it’s so worth it. I don’t think there is anything more important we could be focusing on as CX professionals. It’s not only how we earn a future for the organizations we serve, it’s how we play a critical role in the [loneliness] cure for society.” He goes on to point out that C2C service has been a reality for many technology companies for years, as it’s “voice of the customer, perfected” and allows “co-creation for true innovation.” Brown declares that it’s time for the broader CX industry to take note.

Infographic detailing the advantages of peer-to-peer communities for companies, customers, and employees, highlighting benefits such as low cost, self-service, and creative work.

Considerations for Establishing a Peer-to-Peer Support Community

In deciding whether to launch a peer-to-peer community, it’s important to consult with brands who have launched them successfully. While the hosting platform (e.g., Khoros Communities) may dictate some of the community-related decisions, there are still many factors to consider.

Staffing considerations — The role of a moderator is a strategic as well as a tactical one. Moderation is not just about hopping in and commenting on threads; it’s about building a fun, safe and inclusive space; cultivating loyalty that generates more sales; surfacing the voice of the customer (VoC) to company decision makers; and kindling fruitful friendships among users. Ideal community moderators have a special skillset — high levels of emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and the ability to spot trends. Sure, they provide a “janitorial service” by categorizing conversations, ensuring “no post is left behind,” upholding community guidelines, and boosting engagement with SEO tagging. But the role is bigger than the sum of its parts — moderators are the face of the brand, with full power to help or hinder growth. What role do you want your staff moderators to play?

After-hours considerations — Unlike traditional customer support, communities do not need 24/7/365 inhouse, professional, moderator coverage. Could volunteer moderators can play a role in your peer-to-peer strategy? With minimal Khoros permissions, they can remove spam or trolls, move posts, and tag other users (including paid moderators). Do you know how to harness superfans for community management?

Escalation and overflow considerations — GigCX solutions (such as Limitless GigCX, a VXI partner) also rely on active, enthusiastic community members. An integrated GigCX support solution can provide flexibility for extraordinarily complex inquiries and for peak periods. Could your brand use top community members as needed to help others with advanced, complex issues? GigCX is very cost-effective, as brands pay for each resolution rather than by the hour or by salary.

Since 2021, VXI has managed an AR/VR gaming community boasting 51 support specialists and 12 peer community moderators. Moderators fuel excitement, connect users, share insights, create engaging content, manage the gamification and incentive program, and ensure prompt responses to every post. Using a client-approved playbook, they focus on community growth (e.g., increase superfans, increase overall traffic, convert lurkers into casual users) and the achievement of predefined targets (e.g., quantifiable peer resolution rates, repeat visitors). The forum drew 3.2 million visits in Q4 2023!

The health of a peer-to-peer community can be improved by measuring interaction levels, rate, and speed of responsiveness, repeat visitors, peer resolution rates (PRR), overall traffic, and audience proportions (superusers vs. casual users vs. lurkers). By outsourcing to an experienced community and CX partner, you can build a cost-effective, outcomes-based, thriving community that helps prospects, customers, and the brand alike.

Infographic presenting 5 tips for creating a successful peer-to-peer support community, including gamification, user-friendly interfaces, and monitoring community health, illustrated with an image of a senior couple using technology.

Capitalize on C2C Communities in Parallel With GenAI

In the age of Copilot and GenAI, the role of the contact center is changing. But the need for revenue growth through brand-to-customer and customer-to-customer connections remains.

Many companies seek to save money by leveraging GenAI. However, in the short-term, GenAI’s reliability for resolution and depth of responsiveness can be questionable. In many cases, AI results link back to traditional sites and communities. In a cost-conscious environment, harnessing self service and peer-to-peer support communities can boost company and customer goal achievement.

Contact VXI to determine whether a peer-to-peer community or a GigCX solution could be added seamlessly to your CX ecosystem. Our CX accelerators, community experts, and contributors to this blog – Lauren Kindzierski, Amanda Pollitt, and Anna Holland – would be pleased to provide advice and share their experiences.

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