Lithium Helps Companies Rev Up Customer Support by Deputizing ‘Superfans’

9/29/11Follow @wroush

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the usual black to red. “But we don’t tell him anything,” says Fong. “Someone else notices, and says ‘Hey, how come your name is red?’ He says, ‘I don’t know, actually.’ So there is mystery and intrigue. So he starts answering more questions. As he becomes more trusted and helps more people out, he starts achieving higher ranks. His name is not just in a different color, but bolded. He has an icon or title that no one else has, like ‘Logitech Adventurer.’

“He gets privileges like the right to post videos or images or links. When he votes on something, his vote counts 10 times more than the average person. He may be invited to be an expert blogger on the site, or given access to the VIP lounge where the Logitech executives hang out. He may even be granted the ability to edit and delete other people’s posts. He’s helping to make sure the community is positive and vibrant, but to him it’s like he’s the sheriff in town. He feels needed and wanted. People go crazy for this stuff: the more you drive influencers and give them rank and reputation, the more they are loyal to your site.”

There isn’t really much mystery to the psychology here, Fong points out. It’s all about addressing people’s desire for approval, recognition, and authority.

“When you hire an employee to come to work, the organization is constantly trying to figure out how to incentivize the behaviors they want,” he says. “If you are a change agent they will reward you with a pat on the back. If you do this enough you may get a raise or you may get promoted. Why is it we don’t do the same thing for our customers? The answer has been that it’s not scalable. Companies say ‘We can’t talk to all of our customers all the time.’ But on the Web we’ve learned you can do this at scale.”

The Logitech community support forum page for Kachiwachi

Because Lithium manages so many communities, it ends up tracking billions of interactions per day, which, according to Fong, gives it an added advantage: the ability to extract marketing insights from its clients’ communities. “What were people doing [on the forums] that led them to make a purchase and become advocates? What made them into detractors who never came back again? How do you identify word-of-mouth influencers and look at the products that are creating buzz and those that are not? We have a whole team of scientists who do nothing but sit there and analyze that data.”

Fong argues that having lots of customer data to mine in this way is one of the fundamental advantages of being a Software-as-a-Service company, and one of the ways Lithium can stand out from the crowd of next-generation customer support companies. Gordon Ritter, a founding partner at Lithium investor Emergence Capital, agrees. “These communities are an incredibly rich asset for these brands,” he says. “They want to know, ‘What new products should we be launching? Are we answering customer support queries quickly? Can we attract whole new customers to … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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