The Good and Bad of Support Forums

person-thinkingIf you are selling a product then you will need a way to support your customers.

This decision often comes down to one of two choices: forums or a help desk – but which is best?

First, I feel it worth mentioning that you should never use standard email. That can get messy in a hurry.

Take the time to research the popular help desk options and choose one that works best for you (for us it is HelpScout, but there are many).

When we first launched LearnDash we handled all of our support using a help desk only for no other reason than it is just easier to implement. Simply sign-up for an account and you are in business.

But a funny thing happened.

As we got more customers they started requesting that we implement forums.

And not just a couple requests here or there. We received a lot of them, almost daily.

We were reluctant at first to implement a forum. In some ways it seemed redundant. Plus, it meant having to manage support in multiple locations.

But we went ahead and added forums as another option for support due to the demand, and looking back I am so glad that we did.

Our Forums have become a HUGE Asset

Some people are driven to communities, and over the years our forums have been a place of bustling activity.

Immediately when someone chooses LearnDash they become part of a community that freely shares ideas and solutions with one another.

We even get some pretty amazing feature recommendations which only makes our software better.

Without the forums, this would have never been possible.

But it should be noted that support forums do come with some pretty significant challenges.

In fact, the challenges can be difficult enough that companies retire them altogether.

Typical Forum Challenges

annoyed-elearning

One of the biggest challenges with forums is that by their nature they were never really meant as support tools.

Sure they work for that use-case at some level, but over the years the help desk applications have far surpassed them in functionality.

Forums don’t come with the breadth of features like reporting, statuses, tags, canned replies, and ticket history.

If you want these features, then you have to build it out yourself.

Another challenge in using forums is that as time goes on the information within the threads becomes dated.

This means that someone searching your forum threads my find a solution that is no longer applicable and then “bump” the thread for more information when it doesn’t make sense.

I can recall a thread that resurfaced that was over two years old. In the end the individual’s question wasn’t related to the original thread. This only added to the confusion.

While this may seem like a rare occurrence, it happens more than you think.

This particular scenario doesn’t happen to us anymore because we custom built functionality to close out threads based on inactivity.

But this just highlights the first challenge: you have to custom develop features that already exist in help desk solutions.

Despite This…

Even though there are inherent difficulties providing customer support in forums, we have found that the benefit it provides customers is worth it.

Yes we sell software, but with the forums we also sell a robust community – a huge benefit for many people because in addition to software they are gaining years worth of knowledge capital.

Still, my advice to anyone selling a product (be it software, an online course, etc.) is to start off with a help desk.

Monitor the feedback over time to see if forums make sense for them. It is even a good idea to survey your customers to see if it is something they want.

In the end you just want to be there for your customers. The tools you use are only a (small) part of the equation.

Treat your customers right and they will return the favor.

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About the Author:

Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by the world's leading organizations, such as the University of Michigan, Digital Marketer, WPEngine, and Infusionsoft. Justin has made a career as an elearning consultant where he has implemented large-scale training programs for Fortune 500 companies. Twitter | LinkedIn

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