Why Social Q&A Is Such an Effective Customer Service Tool

Your shoppers have questions that stand between them and a purchase. Doubt this?  In an article in Internet Retailer just a couple days ago, Stephen Gillett, President of Digital at Best Buy cites 3 top reasons why customers who come to their site don’t purchase, and the first of these was “needing more product information”.  (To put in context how important this is, the other two were “product wasn’t available” and “the price was too high”!)

So how do you ensure shopper questions get answered?  One remarkably simple strategy: let them ask!  Well, maybe it’s not so simple, because if you are going to invite your shoppers to submit questions, you have to be sure someone replies.

That’s where Social Q&A comes in.  By enabling your past customers to answer questions from your current shoppers, you can provide faster, more credible answers at lower cost than by relying on your customer service team.  To many organizations, this isn’t obvious; customer service teams are viewed as more expert than customers, faster to respond, and more likely to provide the positive sentiment that will close a sale.  But if Social Q&A is done right, the reality is often just the opposite.

To see why this is so, it’s helpful to group the sort of questions your shoppers have on a spectrum from most social to least social, where “social” means suitable for answering by your customers rather than your staff.  Here’s an illustration of this sociability spectrum:

 

On one end of the spectrum are questions related to peer opinions, tastes, or real-world experience with the product.  These questions really need a social answer; the asker expects an answer from a peer, and staff answers are viewed as useless at best and can even be seen as inappropriate. Without a system to reliably generate social answers, this entire category of shopper question will go unanswered.  In response, many stores just provide no way for shoppers to ask this sort of question.  But that doesn’t make the questions go away, it just means they go unasked instead of unanswered.

In the middle of the spectrum are fact-based questions about the product – specs, compatibility, intended usage.  These questions can be answered by either store (or brand) staff or by past customers.  Stores that lack a system to deliver social answers will, of course, go the staff answer route for this type of question. However, we have seen that when these questions are sent to past customers, the answers are often better than what the staff provides in 2 important ways:

  1. They arrive much faster.  While, in theory, store and brand staff could be standing by to answer the moment a question is submitted, in practice, most have their staff answer in batches on a schedule – typically once or twice a day.  As a result, staff response times rarely average under 2 hours, and for most stores the avg staff response time is significantly longer.  In contrast, with social Q&A, shopper questions are emailed simultaneously to a group of past customers who have bought the product.  Some of these people happen to be doing their email at just that moment.  The results: on average, across all the stores in the TurnTo network, the first social answer arrives in under 1 hour.  You can see examples in this study or this one or this one.
  2. They are often far more informative and contain far more positive sentiment.  Stores may be afraid that customer answers will be inaccurate or negative, but these fears are unfounded.  For one thing, most questions receive multiple answers from past customers, so shoppers can easily see if one stands out.  But more than that, we’ve found that while staff generally provide factual answers to  just the exact question asked with neutral sentiment, fellow customers tend to answer the question asked, provide additional information that they feel will help the shopper, and wrap it all in positive sentiment.  Here’s an example of a fact question about the brim on a fedora from a great hat shop called Hats in the Belfry.  The simple answer is “yes”, but these customers have added color to their answers that goes beyond what a staff member typically would (or could without sounding “salesy”).

And when customers can be counted on to answer shopper questions, the staff doesn’t have to, which reduces load on the call center.  That applies not only for the shopper who asked the question but for all future shoppers with the same question who can review the Q&A dialog posted on the product detail page.

Finally, there’s the 3rd category on the spectrum.  These are questions that past customers can’t answer.  They typically relate to policies and terms like shipping, availability, pricing, or returns, or, infrequently, support needs for individual orders.  Some stores in the TurnTo network allow shoppers to submit these questions and route them to their staff.  Others prefer to direct shoppers to their traditional support channels (live chat, phone, or email) or to online resources like FAQ or policy pages for these questions.

Now that we’ve divided up shopper questions into these 3 types, we can answer another important question: what % of shopper questions can be handled socially?

  • For stores that handle most fact-questions (the middle group) socially and deflect non-social questions (the 3rd group), our data show that over 80% of all the shopper questions asked can be handled by past customers!
  • For stores that handle most fact-questions socially and accept any type of question, including the non-social ones, over 60% of all questions asked can be handled by past customers.

So, in short, this is why Social Q&A is such an effective  customer support tool:

  • It enables shoppers to get credible answers to the whole category of peer-oriented questions where staff answers just won’t do
  • It delivers faster, more persuasive answers to product fact questions than staff can
  • And it handles most of the questions that shoppers ask automatically, which reduces call center load