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Monday, May 27, 2013

Building community: Assigning a rating badge or similar marker to frequent contributors in forums

For every organization, there is a need to connect with their customer base. When customers feel that the company cares about them, and is able to resolve their needs, they are more likely to continue using the software product and doing upgrades. For this, they expect that they when they have a query or an issue or a complaint, somebody is there to listen to them, and if a solution is required, to explain to them the next steps. If there is no solution available, but you are able to explain this to the customer, in a number of cases, they are fine with this.
However, it is expensive for a company to hire people to man their support structure - whether this be direct phone support, online chat support, or for reviewing the user forums and replying to posts. What would be ideal would be if you could build an online community where when a customer asks a question, another customer could respond to that question and satisfy the needs of the person asking the question. In such a case, the person asking the question does not care whether the answer has been given by somebody working for the company, or by another user.
In fact, in a number of cases, the users tend to have more information than the support staff. Support staff need to be trained on the software, and they do not tend to be regular users of the software for their requirements. On the other hand, when you get a customer, they are already more comfortable with the workflows that the person seeking information is using, and would be able to explain things in a much better way. There may be workarounds that the customer has developed which the support staff has no idea about and which would work for the person asking the question.
However, building a community is not easy. Why would a person want to be there in the user forums, and why would they want to share their knowledge with other people ? Well, people have different motives, which could be about an innate desire to help other people, which could be about craving recognition from other customers, or could be from a desire to share something new that they know about, or etc. The organization should do its best to encourage people to get into this mode, and one of the easiest ways of doing this in a non-monetary way is by having a system of merit badges.
It is fairly easy to design a system whereby the profile of the user can have additional elements displayed such as merit badges, which are awarded based on a logic system setup by the support staff. It could be based on the number of contributions, about likes from other customers, about the number of solutions suggested, or typically many organizations design a system which uses a combination of all of these to design a merit badge. When a person sees a merit badge next to their name, for a number of people, there is a sense of satisfaction, and this can be a mighty factor that inspires them to continue their participation in these user forums.

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