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H E L P S T R E A M
community-driven customer service

The ROI of Customer Support Communities
A Comparative Analysis of Different Approaches

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Background
The evolution of online business communities has been rapid over the last five years. As with the
early stage of any emerging market, understanding the return on investment (ROI) of online business

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communities has undergone a tremendous amount of change. Initial implementations of communi-
ties for customer service have been done as standalone applications with no integration into other
customer support systems or business processes. Current generation solutions offer fully functional
online communities that are tightly integrated with traditional case management and knowledge base
capabilities. The purpose of this paper is to explore the relative ROI benefits of different approaches
to implementing customer service communities.

Introduction
Understanding ROI is critical when evaluating any customer service community. The results of an
ROI analysis can be used to determine whether to deploy a customer service community, how much
an organization can afford to invest in their community initiative, and how to go about improving
an existing customer service community effort further.
This paper examines the relative ROI of various approaches to implementing customer service
communities. It delves into the challenges of accurately measuring ROI of traditional business
communities, the components that make up ROI, some typical results that can be expected, and
how to go about calculating the ROI of your customer service community.
In order to explain the relative ROI of various approaches to customer service communities, this
paper will describe and present examples of four different customer support models. The data used
to calculate the relative ROIs for this paper was gathered, where possible, from companies deploying
these various customer support models. Where actual data was not available, estimates were made
from data gleaned from publicly available case studies.
Much of this data was collected automatically by the Integrated ROI Waterfall Report in
Helpstream’s community-based customer service software. We believe this data is unique and
more accurate for calculating true ROI as only Helpstream offers a solution that seamlessly
integrates both data and business processes across community, knowledge base, and case manage-
ment. This paper will discuss how calculating ROI in traditional, standalone business forums or
communities is difficult, largely due to the problem of matching Incidents to one of these channels.

Types of Customer Service Communities
The evolution of online communities for customer service has been rapid over the last five years.
As experience with communities in the service function has matured, a lot has been learned about
the most effective ways to deploy communities in order to maximize their ROI. This paper looks at
four different customer support models for comparison. There are a number of variations to these
four models, but these capture the range of benefit and cost characteristics that are useful when
assessing ROI potential.

1 • THE ROI OF CUSTOMER SUPPORT COMMUNITIES
H E L P S T R E A M
The four models of customer support this paper explores are:
◆ Traditional Case Management & Knowledge Base Model

◆ Standalone Forum with Case Management & Knowledge Base Model
◆ Integrated Community & Case Management & Knowledge Base Model
◆ Integrated Business Process & Community & Case Management & Knowledge Model
A description of these four models follows.
Traditional Case Management and Knowledge Base
It’s important to start from a base case that has no community and represents the traditional model

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of case management (or what’s often called “assisted resolution”) together with a knowledge base
for deflection. This enables us to understand the baseline ROI for a customer service system before
community has been added. In this model, customers are encouraged to search the knowledge
base or “KB” prior to submitting a case in hopes of finding the answer to their problem before

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they have to ask.

This is often referred to as “self-service” or “deflection” because whenever the customer can find their
answer in the KB, it is usually very inexpensive, whereas when a customer service representative
(CSR) must become involved via case management in resolution, the costs skyrocket. Typical indus-
try figures for the cost of assisted service are usually in the range of $20-40 per incident. For some
highly complex incidents, there are documented instances of a resolution costing hundreds of dollars.
Industry averages for deflection are in the range of about 40%, meaning that a successful KB
implementation can lead 40% of incidents to self-service so that no CSR needs to be involved. The
principal cost is the authoring of the KB content. Authoring costs are dependent on the complexity
of each individual KB article and the hourly rates employed. For purposes of this ROI discussion,
we’ll assume a cost per article of about $40, so an article costs about what two assisted service
resolutions would cost. Any article that solves more than two problems has a net positive ROI.
Later, we will compare the ROI of investing in more KB content versus community participation.
The differences are striking.
Independent Community with Case Management and Knowledge Base
The first attempts to bring community to customer service have involved independent and
un-integrated forums. There are definite benefits to forums or communities even when un-integrated,
but there are problems with an un-integrated approach.

2 • THE ROI OF CUSTOMER SUPPORT COMMUNITIES
H E L P S T R E A M
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Having multiple options with little guidance or linkage between the options creates confusion for
customers, who see websites that have a grab bag of tools available for resolving their problem. The
community, knowledge base, and case submission are all presented on an equal footing in the Web
portal. Customers don’t know where to start, and very often wind up just trying all three.
Customer service professionals have a hard time knowing where to spend their time as well. The user
interfaces for each tool are different. There is no way to conveniently move as the situation calls for
between each of the tools. Many times incidents that start out in the community may need to be
transformed into cases when they don’t get good handling. The traditional monitoring and workload
balancing tools available to agents for cases are absent with these community tools, so the agent never
knows where the balls are dropping without constantly checking multiple silos.
One of the biggest limitations of the model is that it’s almost impossible to measure ROI accurately
because it is extremely difficult to accurately track what happens to an incident when customers are
presented with disparate tools to solve their problem without double counting, undercounting, or
otherwise misunderstanding what’s really going on.
The problems with determining ROI from an un-integrated model include:
Difficulty Identifying Which Community Threads are Incidents
A lot of community activity is unrelated to incidents and requires no possibility of assisted service.
Un-integrated systems are left with manual monitoring to identify which threads need attention. To
compute ROI, some community vendors recommend approaches like manually reviewing all threads
for a week and classifying them according to content. This is a hopelessly manual task that produces
one data point for one week of activity after a great deal of effort. The vendor would have you believe
this result is representative, but it isn’t. Once you see real time results from integrated reporting,
you will see that community data is just as noisy as any other kind of customer service data, and the
metrics need constant monitoring that is impossible with this kind of system.
Difficulty Identifying Whether the Incident Was Answered, and Where the Answer Came From
Here again, a lack of integrated reporting makes it impossible to get real answers to these critical
questions. Vendors recommend that customers monitor submission of new threads and delete any
submissions that come from accounts that also submitted a case on the same day. First, going
through that process by hand is painful, and setting up an integrated reporting solution to do the
same thing is expensive and still produces low quality data. Second, it completely disallows the
possibility that the account may actually have more than one problem in the same day.
The question of determining whether an answer was obtained is also a sticky one. In one case, the
vendor relied on a random survey in the forums that asked whether the visitor’s question had been
answered by the forum. The assumption was made that the percentage responding positively was
representative.

3 • THE ROI OF CUSTOMER SUPPORT COMMUNITIES
Difficulty Understanding How to Improve Community Customer Service

H E L P S T R E A M
Gathering accurate ROI information is essential to understanding the value of community to your
customer service and business. More importantly in the long run, being able to have accurate real
time assessments of the ROI components is essential to being able to continuously improve your
community customer service. Manual audits are difficult, time consuming, and expensive, and are
unlikely to be done often enough to be of value beyond an initial rough guess at ROI. Customer
service is a metrics-driven business. Imagine trying to run your knowledge base or case management
operations without any effective reporting.
While difficult to accurately measure ROI using this model, attempts have been made and some

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estimates are available. We assume that even a standalone community does have some marginal
ROI benefit over having no community. For comparative purposes we have used the limited public
information available later in the paper when we present the relative ROI benefits of the four
customer support models described in this paper.

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Integrated Community and Case Management and Knowledge Base
In this model, the customer starts from “federated search,” which is integrated into all answer
sources. If they do not see the solution in the search results, they are then presented with a choice
of either asking the community their question, or submitting it as a case. The integration is in the
form of:
◆ Federated Search: One search box for all sources of solutions.

◆ Integrated Reporting: Real time reporting that can accurately track an Incident across all
modules and assess the key ROI metrics along the way.
◆ Integrated Resolution for Agents: Agents can convert community threads to cases or vice
versa, and they can assign any result from the federated search as a solution to a case.

A great deal of value can be added to any community effort in customer service by choosing a solu-
tion that fully integrates community with case management and knowledge base. Integration makes
everything immediately easier for the customer because there is a single search that accesses all con-
tent, and because it becomes easy for any agent to respond with a solution from any of the modules.
For the customer service organization, integrated ROI reporting of the kind that was used to prepare
this white paper makes it possible to track an incident through each of the three channels. Such
information is essential to gaining an accurate understanding of ROI, as well as in directing any
efforts to improve ROI.

4 • THE ROI OF CUSTOMER SUPPORT COMMUNITIES
H E L P S T R E A M
Here is a typical Helpstream Waterfall ROI integrated report:

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Integrated Business Process and Community and Case Management and Knowledge Base
The most effective approach to applying community to customer service available today involves the
integration of business process with the other three modules. The role of business process is to give
an incident enough “bake time” in the community to ensure there is a fair opportunity to resolve the
issue, while at the same time ensuring that the customer’s service level agreement (SLA) for receiving
service are respected. Such a system will start the incident out in the community, but it will auto-
matically escalate the incident to a case if there has not been a resolution within sufficient time to
guarantee the SLA.
Because the entire process is integrated, it becomes easy to seamlessly manage the workflow of taking
an incident through search, into community, and if necessary, on to case management for assisted
service. The benefits of such a system are dramatic. Deflection soars to extremely high levels for two
reasons. First, the community gets an opportunity to work on many more issues than it did when
the choice to bring a problem to the community was voluntary. Second, the content in the commu-
nity available to search becomes much greater because so many more issues are exposed to the com-
munity, rather than those issues residing as cases where they are exposed only to each single customer.
This drives up the success rate of search, and it further skews the mix of where successful answers
come from to the community side.

5 • THE ROI OF CUSTOMER SUPPORT COMMUNITIES
H E L P S T R E A M
In effect, this model enables demand-driven just-in-time content served up by the community.

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Key ROI Benefits of Customer Service Community
Call Center Deflection
Customers who don’t find the answer online will call your call center, which is the most expensive
way to deliver support. Even if they don’t call, they will email or open a case via your web portal.
Closing those cases is a 1:1 interaction with the customer that does not benefit other customers
with the same problem.
In general today, very few users want to call for phone-based support. It’s the last resort, and if they
do call, the risk to customer satisfaction is at an all time high. Measuring call avoidance without a
completely integrated community, knowledge base, and case management system is extremely hard
to impossible.
Deflection is typically categorized as direct and indirect. Direct deflection occurs when a customer
asks a question of the community rather than opening a case. Indirect deflection occurs when a
customer finds the answer to their question and does not have to ask.
Some companies suggest measuring direct deflection by manually auditing threads and counting
how many result in an answer. This is subjective at best and extremely time consuming and
expensive at worst. Because of the effort required, it often only gets done once or infrequently.
Helpstream automatically tracks direct deflection by counting the number of times a customer sub-
mits a community question and marks an answer within the thread as having solved their problem.
Typical values for direct deflection range from single digit percentages to as high as 60%.
Successful communities always have a lot more indirect deflection (the question was already
asked and the answer is available in the community) than direct deflection. The ratios can range
from 2:1 to over 10:1 depending on how many customers need to have the same question
answered and how easy it is to find that answer through search.
Overall deflection including both direct and indirect should be in the range of 40-60% for a
successful community customer service initiative. Before community, the typical deflection
mechanism was through the knowledge base, and deflection rates have tended to be about 40%
for the best practitioners . With a well integrated community and knowledge base, deflection
rates can reach 60-80%. Given a typical cost per case of $20-40, the savings from so much
deflection is a significant source of ROI.

6 • THE ROI OF CUSTOMER SUPPORT COMMUNITIES
Crowdsourcing Content

H E L P S T R E A M
Writing good content for a knowledge base is an expensive undertaking, and one you are never
finished with. It’s very hard to predict what content customers will need, so project scopes creep
up to very large efforts to write about anything and everything. Communities have two wonderful
attributes:
First, you can get a lot of valuable content from your customers, a practice known as “crowdsourcing”
content. Second, you get “just in time” content. Many KB articles lag considerably behind the rate
at which communities can be updated. Their requirements are for much more polished and formal
communications, whereas a community is a more informal and immediate channel.

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Community content can be taken and refined to produce more KB content based on what are the
most popular threads. If we assume an article takes two hours to write and review (often they take
longer, but let’s be conservative) and factor in an appropriate hourly rate (say $20/hour), the savings
from community can be significant. A recent six month sample of Helpstream’s Support Community

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resulted in a content authoring savings; resulting in about $8 per registered user of the system.
Imagine trying to tell the CEO you want to allocate $8 per registered user to invest in writing
knowledge base articles. The reality is we would never have achieved the high deflection rates we did
because we never could have afforded to write enough content to substitute for the community at
those kinds of prices. But the cost of not having the content available is reflected by the much high-
er cost of handling a case. Each of those $8 content creation costs would have resulted in a $20 case
management cost if the content had not been available.
How can you ensure adequate content coverage for your KB without a community?
Top Line Selling
Customer service communities are excellent places to engage your customers in selling and marketing
activities. A customer is often happiest when they’ve just gotten excellent service. In addition, they
are more likely to be engaged when participating in the community than when receiving email or
other marketing communications.
Consider using your customer service community for the following purposes:
◆ References: Allowing prospects to view customer interaction in the community is an excellent
way to deliver references without disturbing customers. Provide places in the community that
are accessible to prospects (perhaps after registering) where customers discuss best practices,
ROI, or some of the beneficial ways they’re using your company’s products.
◆ Referrals: The community affords an ideal opportunity to identify net promoters. Use your
community’s reputation scoring to identify the most vocal and knowledgeable participants.
Focus your referral efforts on these customers.
◆ Up sells: Customer activity in the community often signals an up sell opportunity. Provide
visibility to community activity to the sales people who are concerned with key accounts so they
can see what problems may be solved through additional modules or other up sell opportunities.
Conduct regular searches for community activity around common subjects that match your up
sells. Make sure appropriate information is available in the community about the up sell and that
the information is presented to those in the community associated with the up sell-related activity.
◆ Driving Traffic: Use the community to drive traffic to your corporate website and lead
generation landing pages, and to increase the SEO associated with those pages by linking to
them. You know that traffic coming from the community will be better qualified than most
of the traffic visiting those pages.
Empower your sales and marketing people to gain a true 360 degree view of customers by giving
them access to the community in order to generate more leads and sales and further increase the
ROI of your community.

7 • THE ROI OF CUSTOMER SUPPORT COMMUNITIES
Building Community

H E L P S T R E A M
Building a community can be costly and time consuming. There are two principal reasons for this:
First, communities are often built around the needs of the business and not enough care is given to
the needs of the customer. Customer service communities are focused on solving the needs of the cus-
tomer. As such, customers feel highly incented to visit such communities. The investment commu-
nity often asks whether a business idea is an aspirin (a cure for an immediate and pressing problem)
or just vitamins (something you should take, but don’t always remember to). Customer service com-
munities definitely offer aspirin for the headache that is troubling your customer today, so they’re
more interested in showing up than they might be for a brand-focused fan community. Not many

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brands can generate the level of interest needed to build and sustain the latter kind of community.
The second driver of high cost in building some communities is engagement. There is a popular
“Rule of 10’s” that calls out what to expect in terms of participation in a community. The rule
basically says that given a community of 100 participants, 1 out of 100 will submit new threads,

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10 will comment on the thread, and the rest will watch. Such ratios require several thousand
community participants before enough critical mass of thread starting and commenting is reached
(that’s still only 20 active thread starters, and 200 commenters) to sustain the community. Until
that critical mass is reached, internal participants (employees or consultants of the community owner)
have to take up the slack.
Dell Computer, for example, started with 40 community moderators and was eventually able
to reduce that number to less than 10 as the community grew. This is pretty typical for large
community initiatives, and the cost of hiring 40 moderators, even on a temporary basis, would be
quite expensive. Several community software vendors do a big business selling these expensive
services to help you jump start your community.
However, a well implemented customer service community need not be a prisoner to the Rule of 10’s.
Helpstream’s support community has registered engagement levels of 2-7% of customers starting
threads, which is dramatically higher than the 1% experienced by most communities. Achieving
those higher levels requires an integrated experience where proper use of Federated Search and busi-
ness process can guide users to try community rather than being passive. The savings from the high-
er engagement levels include not just the deflection, but also the reduction in the need for modera-
tors to “prime the participation pump.”
Customer service can be the on-ramp for all of your community building needs.
Voice of the Customer
Gaining access to the “voice of the customer” is a Soft ROI that informs decisions within your
company that will eventually lead to hard ROI through increased sales or further cost savings.
Sure, there can be immediate hard ROI in the form of savings on focus groups and other means of
gathering the voice of the customer. Being able to use the community to poll and discuss feedback
with customers is an ideal avenue for this. It empowers a greater number of your customers to
participate than most other options. Customers love being able to use community capabilities like
“Idea Storms” to influence your decision making to deliver a better product to them. And, exposing
your entire organization to your customer service community is the key to building a culture of
customer satisfaction.
Within customer service, one manifestation of the voice of the customer comes from better analytics.
Can you tell what areas your customers need help on the most? Can you tell where the gaps are in
the self-service content you’re providing? Analysis of community behavior patterns integrated with
usage analysis of the other channels, and especially the knowledge base, can answer these questions
and help inform how you invest your scarce service resources to head problems off at the pass and
deliver better self-service.

8 • THE ROI OF CUSTOMER SUPPORT COMMUNITIES
Customer Affinity/Loyalty/Satisfaction

H E L P S T R E A M
There is considerable evidence that online communities foster customer affinity, loyalty, and
satisfaction. Customers love the opportunity to be in contact with other customers of the same
products. They want the connection, the fellowship, and the opportunity to learn from their peers.
At one point in 2005 Dell Computer tried to shut down their community , but there was a great hue
and cry from customers who felt this was a signal Dell didn’t care about them as much. As a result,
Dell backed away from turning off their community and maintains a thriving community today.
In this day and age where content counts for a lot, the content provided by your community can be
a useful way to increase your customer affinity, loyalty, and satisfaction. Providing that content by

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means of a customer service-driven community simply ensures that the content that does the most
good for customers is being driven by the customers themselves, which only makes sense.
Other Customer Service Costs Savings

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There are a lot of customer service cost savings that community contributes to aside from deflection.
Typical examples include:
◆ Faster Dissemination of Expert Knowledge: Customer service is often about getting an expert
to help the customer. When that happens in the form of a case, it only helps the one customer.
Experts are scarce, so why not disseminate their expertise via community where it can help many?
◆ Better Training for New Customer Service Reps: Many times the only way for CSRs to get
the knowledge they need is through the knowledge base. This can be tough for the CSR who is
looking things up for the first time on a call, and tougher still on your customers who quickly
realize the person helping them doesn’t really have the answers. Start new CSRs out in the
community where they have plenty of time to formulate a cogent response, and where they
can draw on information not only from the KB, but also from the community.
◆ Decreased Need for Triage: A lot of level 1 support centers around triaging obvious and
easily handled cases so the real experts don’t have to deal with them. A successful community
does that triage for you.
◆ Decreased Need for Future Capacity from Other Channels: A successful community
encourages deflection, which reduces the need for future capacity from other channels.
For example, you may not need to expand the office space available for your customer
service representatives, or buy a newer higher capacity phone system for them.
◆ Business Continuity: Suppose the phone switch in your call center goes down? Perhaps the
call center itself is offline due to a natural disaster of some kind? Maybe it’s just a matter of your
call center’s business hours versus when your customers need the answers. There may be some
event associated with your company or products that is causing a huge spike in incidents that
has overwhelmed the call center. The community can provide a measure of business continuity
and spike protection so customers can get answers when your call center is unavailable.
◆ Long Tail Costs: There are all sorts of potential costs that you can’t afford to invest in because
they affect too few customers. Or perhaps you’ve made the investment and too few customers are
benefiting. Long tail costs include investments in multi-lingual support for languages seldom
used or investments in improving the knowledge base content for legacy products that are no
longer growing. Communities can tackle some of these needs very cost effectively to ensure that
when your customers need this kind of service, you have an answer.
Be prepared for a community to shift your case management workload away from quick and easy
responses to common questions and over to more difficult questions that aren’t already answered in
the community or knowledge base. This is not uncommon as the community takes care of a lot of
the easy stuff. Try to get the more complex questions back into the community as well, so that they
can benefit multiple customers instead of just one.

9 • THE ROI OF CUSTOMER SUPPORT COMMUNITIES
Key Costs of Customer Service Community

H E L P S T R E A M
The key cost drivers of a customer service community initiative may be broken down into one time
startup costs as well as ongoing costs to continue delivering service via the community.
Startup Costs
◆ Software Licenses for Community or Complementary Software: If you do not select a
software-as-a-service (SaaS) option for your software, there will be large up-front license costs
for the community and any complementary software. Complementary software would include
reporting or analytics (some community vendors do not include this in their offering, but
Helpstream does), or software to help integrate data from other software, such as your case

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management or knowledge base. Helpstream requires no software licenses as it is a SaaS
service, and there is no complementary software required for integration or reporting.
◆ Hardware: On-premise solutions will require hardware to host the community software.
◆ Project Management Costs: Most organization will use a project manager of some kind to

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oversee the community startup. That project manager may be part of the professional services
engagement of the community software supplier, or may be an internal resource.
◆ Integration Costs: Customer service software often benefits from integrations of various kinds.
This paper has talked about the virtues of integrating community, case management, and knowl-
edge base to provide a seamless and integrated view of how customers use the various channels.
Such integration can be quite costly if it isn’t built into the software. Other integrations include
single sign on, integration with reporting or analytics (if these aren’t part of the community
software package), and integration with the CRM system so sales and marketing can link drill
down and see what a customer or account is doing with the community.
◆ Best Practices and Community Design Work: Some effort will be required to select the
appropriate best practices for a particular community initiative as well as to design the overall
layout of that community.
◆ Internal IT Startup Resources: Some internal IT startup resources may be needed to help
out with integration or to set up any hardware and software needed for an on-premise install
of community software. SaaS community solutions will require much less IT support.
◆ Data Migration: It may be desirable to migrate data from another system, for example to go
from a standalone community to a customer service Integrated community such as Helpstream
provides.
◆ Reporting Setup: Some budget should be allocated for any custom reports that have to be
created. If the community software vendor does not offer suitable out-of-the-box reports,
custom reports will have to be created.
◆ Moderator and Administrator Training: It’s a good idea to invest in some training for both
the moderators and the administrator or community manager who will be responsible for the
community.
◆ Marketing Rollout: Communities benefit from being launched like any other initiative
involving people. Reserve some budget to get the word out to your customer base that
you’ve launched a new community and they should come visit it. Doing so will accelerate
your community reaching critical mass.

10 • THE ROI OF CUSTOMER SUPPORT COMMUNITIES
Ongoing Costs

H E L P S T R E A M
◆ SaaS Subscription Fees: If you purchased a SaaS community solution, such as Helpstream, your
startup costs will be much lower and a monthly subscription fee will cover much of the rest of
the costs from the community software vendor.
◆ Software Maintenance: If you’ve purchased an on-premise community solution, chances are
you’ll have to pay for software maintenance on the order of about 20% of your perpetual license
cost per year.
◆ Reporting Updates: Plan to upgrade your reports at least once a year to reflect new information
and metrics you’d like to report on.

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◆ Ongoing IT Support: If you integrate your community customer service system with other
solutions, a certain amount of IT support may be required to keep the integrations running
smoothly. Be sure to allow for that. In addition, any on-premise software will require help
from IT people like data base administrators (DBAs) to keep the software running smoothly.

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Those costs are built into a SaaS solution’s subscription fees, and are generally less.
◆ Community Manager/Administrator and Moderators: Be sure to build in the ongoing
cost of a community manager and any moderators. Often, moderation can be done part-time by
agents. They’re already trained to be customer-facing, and it takes an agent no more time to
respond to the community than to respond to a case. The difference is that in responding to a
community, the answer is valuable to many, whereas responding to a case makes the answer
available only to the customer that filed the case.
◆ Super-User Programs: There are always a few customers that go out of their way to contribute
to the community, and their actions inspire others to follow, as well as making your community
more vibrant and productive for all. Be sure to create some programs to identify and reward
those super-users that go above and beyond the call of duty.
Those are the typical startup and ongoing costs for a customer service community. Now let’s take a
look at some sample ROI calculations based on real experience with Helpstream’s community-based
customer service.
Example ROI Calculations for a Customer Service Community
We’ve analyzed four scenarios for comparison of the ROI of the different community approaches.
Each example is based on real companies using communities (or not in the baseline case) for
customer service. Those examples include:
◆ B2C Web 2.0 Company: This case is provided as a baseline that shows what can be achieved
by a traditional case management + knowledge base approach. The company uses Helpstream,
and has not yet deployed community, but plans to soon.
◆ B2C Network Devices: This case is based on the metrics provided by another community
software vendor for their ROI case for a company that makes network devices like routers for
consumers. In this case the metrics are for an independent community that is not integrated
with either case management or a knowledge base. Customers have the ability to select commu-
nity or knowledge Base directly on the company’s web site, and they can also submit cases.
◆ B2B Marketing Automation: This is a SaaS marketing automation software provider that has
deployed an integrated community, case management, and knowledge base based on Helpstream.
They’re also using the community for Idea Storm generation using 3rd party software.
◆ B2B Application Software: This is an application software company that has deployed a
support portal which includes integrated business process, community, case management,
and knowledge base.

11 • THE ROI OF CUSTOMER SUPPORT COMMUNITIES
H E L P S T R E A M
For comparison of the different models, here is a summary of the deflection rates, ROI from just
deflection, and overall ROI which includes the ROI of Idea Storms:

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A number of interesting conclusions can be drawn from the data. Any kind of community offers
significantly more ROI than the traditional case management + knowledge base systems employed
by the majority of customer service organizations today, and the breakeven payback can be extremely
rapid. The more sophisticated integrated models offer extremely fast payback just from the benefit
of deflection.
The model also tracks KB versus community contribution to deflection, and the statistics are
interesting:
◆ KB deflections/article each month range from 1 to 3 deflections per article per month.

◆ Community deflections/thread each month range from 5 to 9 deflections per thread per month.
Community content is evidently 3x to 5x more effective in deflecting cases than KB articles.
Given that much more effort is typically invested in writing KB articles than in responding to
community threads, any investment in creating content should favor responding to community
threads over creating more KB articles.
This explains why the Integrated Business Process model produces so much more ROI. It principally
does this by encouraging the creation of a lot more community content, which makes available more
content that is much more likely to satisfy a self-service need than resulting in a case being filed.

i “Gold in Them Hills: Computing ROI for Support Communities,” joint Lithium and FT Works white paper.
ii “Where for art thou” Community ROI, Sean O’Driscoll
iii “Support’s Perfect Storm”, Ragsdale’s Eye on Service.
iv The Rule of 10’s Makes the Internet an Early Adopter Amplifier, Bob Warfield
v Customers Mourn Loss of Dell Community Forum, ZDNet.

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