What is the ROI of an online community?

What is the ROI of an online community?

If we said there’s a simple and affordable way to reduce pressure on your contact center, build your brand image and even reduce research, development and testing time for new products and services, while simultaneously boosting customer care levels, you may be forgiven for thinking you’re dealing with snake oil sellers.

But that’s exactly what a well-conceived, well managed online self-help community can deliver for your business. By uniting your brand’s biggest fans, harnessing their knowledge to provide constant feedback on your products and to help existing and potential customers with their queries and questions, it becomes a business gift that keeps on giving and one whose ROI is only going to increase as the community grows and reaches maturity.


An online community could cut down certain types of calls to your contact center. National Instruments, which develops integrated hardware and software solutions for engineers and scientists has been making annual customer support savings of $7.5m due to the call-deflecting capabilities of its community. While Optus, Australia’s second largest telecoms provider was successfully deflecting over 350,000 calls a year within three years of its community going live.

But reducing strain on your customer care professionals doesn’t happen overnight and, unless you understand the types of calls coming into contact centers, you won’t be able to guide your community activity in order to pick up the slack, or be able to measure how effectively the changes are working.

Why do customers call?

So, before you can start counting the calls, you need to have a clear understanding of your current call drivers, taxonomy and volumes and be able to overlay that data on your community. What customer conversations or content are already answering common calls and could, therefore, save you 100% of a call? What threads and conversations are almost there ie make the best starting point before escalating to another cost-efficient digital channel.

Customers crave self-service

Dimension Data research shows that 73% of customers will first perform an online search when they have a question or query about a company (compared with 13% who immediately call the contact center), while a recent Nuance study revealed that 75% of consumers view self-service as the most convenient way of resolving an issue while 67% say they prefer self-service to speak with a contact center agent.

All of which is why, if an escalation to another digital channel is needed to complete serving the customer’s needs at that moment, it needs to be fluid and demand as little effort as possible from the user.

If you’re building a community from scratch with call deflection in mind, designing for these scenarios is easier. However, for those companies with established platforms, reaching out to the community, if sufficiently engaged, can also help. Power users can steer visitors to content or to other channels and make self-service feel personal at the same time.

With everything in place, it’s time to start tracking the changes, beginning with the number of new threads published on the community. Each one is a new question that could have been asked to a contact center agent instead. And each thread that results in a solution can be counted as a call deflected.

Each interaction that resulted in a designed escalation to another digital (and therefore cheaper) channel can be counted as a partial deflection. And finally, the number of times a solution has been viewed or tagged as useful by a user should also add towards your call deflection count.



By successfully deflecting calls, you could also be successfully building your brand in your customer’s eyes. A community is a channel that can boost customer satisfaction and brand perception, even when its members have been unable to solve a visitor’s particular problem.

For example, when Proctor & Gamble set up an Oral B community to serve customers faster and more efficiently than traditional channels, support costs dropped by 67% while the community experience was responsible for a 10% uptick in customer satisfaction.

Likewise, Canadian teleco company Telus has managed to achieve a 90% likelihood to Recommend (NPS)score and a 98% customer satisfaction rate thanks to the responsiveness and clarity of its customer community.

Though reaching out to different types of customer, both communities are easy to navigate and are active in terms of content posted by in-house teams as well as community members. Moderators have ensured the tone across the various forums is friendly and inclusive and crucially, contributors are recognized and rewarded.

Measuring customer satisfaction

If your community meets these criteria, it’s time to start requesting customer feedback. The easiest way to monitor CSAT and NPS is with a survey, but, if you’re too eager to track these metrics, you could accidentally force them downwards. Therefore we recommend sending a community user a survey immediately after his or her first community experience and then follow up once every six-to-12 months in order to identify and track trends.

Once they’re part of the community, other than the biannual survey, you should reach out after a direct interaction if they are directly asking the community for help as this is a moment when they re-invested in an outcome and therefore they’re most likely to want to help you improve the service.



Once a community has taken shape, it can start having an amazing impact on your business. Forrester research into the business impact of well-run communities found that 59% of businesses with a community believe that customers reference community-generated content when making purchasing decisions and that of that group, 77% agree this content accelerates buying decisions.

Beauty and cosmetics chain Sephora claims that its community users spend two times as much money with the brand annually as non-members, while a study by CMO published in Marketing Science shows that a branded online community can translate into 20% higher sales.

But as well as boosting sales of existing products, a community can help your company decide what the next product or service should be and even how to promote it to the public.

Power tools company DeWalt has saved $6 million in research costs by engaging its community instead and ESPN’s FANography community has enabled the broadcaster to bring its market research in-house, saving $650,000 in its first year alone.

As for Lego, thanks to its co-creation community where the brand’s biggest fans share ideas for new sets, it can always go to market with its next product safe in the knowledge that there are a host of people out there that already want it. What’s more, due to its promise of prizes and exclusive offers for being part of the community, Lego is also building up its brand as well as new Lego sets.

A well-oiled and well-run community can deliver savings on everything from development to customer insights and marketing, the trick is knowing how to engage its members to deliver on the goal and then track the impact it’s having.


From call deflection to product development, a community offers more potential business uses than a Swiss Army Knife. Therefore it’s little wonder that three-in-four large corporations already have one in place and that smaller firms – particularly fast-growth start-ups – are also starting to realize the benefits of having a unique way of engaging directly with their customers.

It’s a way of taking your customers with you as your organization develops, of rewarding and recognizing their loyalty, and of bringing a genuinely human and therefore authentic element to your brand. And in an era where trust is the most valuable of business commodities, a community could be worth its weight in gold, whether used to deliver self-service solutions or canvas for R&D input.

Build it right and a community will do more than simply deliver a return on investment, it will become the business gift that keeps on giving.


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