[Editor’s Note: A special thanks to Sterling A. Bone, Paul W. Fombelle, Kristal R. Ray, and Katherine N. Lemon who took the time to provide us with information on their recent article “How Customer Participation in B2B Peer-to-Peer Problem-Solving Communities Influences the Need for Traditional Customer Service.” The paper appeared in the OnlineFirst section of Journal of Service Research.]
Can peer-to-peer interactions in a customer support community reduce the need for one-on-one traditional customer support service? New research in the Journal of Service Research entitled “How Customer Participation in B2B Peer-to-Peer Problem-Solving Communities Influences the Need for Traditional Customer Service” attempts to address this question.
Providing fast and helpful customer support service is critical for all service firms. To address customer problems, firms offer a range of support services providing customer help needed before, during, and after purchase. For business-to-business (B2B) relationships, many companies are increasingly turning to firm hosted collaborative technologies, like virtual peer-to-peer problem solving (P3) communities, to fulfill some of their customer service needs. For many years, the traditional outlet for support or problem solving has been this one-to-one customer support model in which the customer calls a customer service agent to solve a problem or answer a question.
Technological advances have enabled firms to expand their one-on-one support models to use call centers, email, and web-based support. These support models are expensive for the both the firm and customer. Repetitive costs, suppressed knowledge sharing across customer and service representatives, and the delayed resolution for other customers, are some of the limitations with support models. In response to these shortcomings, many firms are turning to firm-hosted collaborative and interactive P3 communities to fulfill the demand for customer service support. As noted by Kristal Ray, Professor at Utah State and one of the authors of the study, “ROI is always an important consideration for technology implementations. By offering the opportunity to lower service costs, social community interactions can provide the economic justification for these investments.”
The authors used longitudinal clickstream and service support behavioral data from 2,542 B2B customers of a Fortune 100 technology firm to test the effect of customer P3 community (posting questions and responding to others), static knowledge search behavior, community log-in frequency, and the breadth of community membership on the customer’s future use of traditional customer support service.
They find that, problem solving activities of helping oneself (posting questions) and helping others (responding to questions) in a peer-to-peer problem solving community were significant predictors and primary drivers of reducing the customer’s use of traditional customer support service, even after controlling for past traditional support usage behavior and community expertise. As noted by study author Professor Paul Fombelle, of Northeastern University, “our findings demonstrate that virtual peer-to-peer problem-solving communities not only save the firm resources but also gives key customers access to timely problem solving information in a manner not previously possible.”
While not as large of an effect, the study shows that customer knowledge searching behavior in “static” knowledge management repositories also reduced the use of traditional customer support service. Furthermore, they find that posting questions and using static knowledge is not always better as when customers combined these behaviors their need for traditional customer support increased. Also the more frequently the customers logged into the community and the larger the number of individual product- or service-specific communities they were members in, the greater was their need for traditional customer support service.
This article offers new insights for managers aiming to promote increased problem solving activities among their customers in P3 communities. It demonstrates how managers can identify the appropriate combination of customer community participation and static knowledge creation to leverage the efficiencies of a support service community. Managers can gain insight into the types of interactions that are specifically reducing traditional support service. Such community specific knowledge can be utilized as the basis for static knowledge generation to create impactful static knowledge resources that extend the service request reduction effect. In sum, Katherine Lemon, Professor at Boston College, “our findings highlight the exciting opportunities firms have to harness customer knowledge and insights to solve other customers’ problems more efficiently and effectively – clearly a win-win for the firm and its customers.”
Sterling A. Bone is an assistant professor of marketing at Utah State University’s Jon M. Huntsman School of Business. His current research focuses on voice-of-the-customer (VoC) and voice-of-the-employee (VoE) feedback and transformative consumer research. His research has appeared in the Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Service Research, Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, and other notable journals. He currently serves on the editorial review board of the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing and the Journal of Business Research and is an academic fellow for the Center for Services Leadership. He can be reached at sterling.bone (at) usu (dot) edu.
Paul W. Fombelle is an assistant professor of marketing at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business. His current research examines service innovation, customer feedback management, and transformative consumer research. His research has appeared in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science and Journal of Interactive Marketing. He currently serves on the editorial review board of the Journal of Business Research and is an academic fellow for the Center for Services Leadership. He can be reached at p.fombelle (at) neu (dot) edu.
Kristal R. Ray is an assistant professor of marketing at Utah State University’s Jon M. Huntsman School of Business. Her current research examines service innovation, customer feedback management, and customer experience. She previously led Customer Experience and Voice of the Customer programs for a Fortune 100 company where she conducted research to understand the customer experience and propose innovative solutions to improve the experience. She can be reached at kristal.ray (at) usu (dot) edu.
Katherine N. Lemon holds the Accenture Professorship at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management and is Chair of the Marketing Department. Her research focuses on the dynamics of customer-firm relationships. She has published over 50 articles in journals and books including the Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Marketing, Marketing Science, Management Science, and the Journal of Service Research. She has received several best article awards, including the Sheth Foundation/Journal of Marketing Award (2009), and several marketing career awards. She is an academic trustee for the Marketing Science Institute, an academic fellow for the Center for Services Leadership, and a past editor of the Journal of Service Research. She can be reached at kay.lemon (at) bc (dot) edu.
Companies that have been part of the Malcomb Bladrige Award have been doing this since 1988. At Xerox (1989 and 1997winner) we engaged customers and suppliers in problem solving to maximize the effectiveness and build lasting relationships.