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What is Support Forum Hosting?
Many hosting companies and online businesses in general tend to offer customer support via forums. Although all hosting companies also offer direct support via phone or online chat, there are a number of good reasons to employ support forums.
Support forums can be accessed by support professionals and customers alike, which can improve interaction and often peers resolve questions – which means other users can help solve problems without involving support staff. Forums are also available around the clock, which sometimes isn’t the case with other forms of support. Lastly, old forum threads can often replace or complement frequently asked questions (FAQ) sections.
Leveraging the community
Forum debates can often be lively and result in pointless arguments along with constructive suggestions and ideas. Support forums are no different and have to be actively monitored and moderated to weed out trolls.
However, hosting support forums are still very popular among users and many big hosts have recognised their usefulness. HostGator’s peer support forum is a good example – it includes tens of thousands of posts and thousands of threads on various subjects, ranging from shared hosting support to more niche topics or off-topic discussions.
Over time, support forums tend to accumulate a lot of information, which makes them a valuable knowledge base for current users and a selling point for those interested in the hosting service. The most common questions in various threads are often made ‘sticky’ – which means they pop up at the top of the thread, serving as an FAQ page of sorts.
Support forums also help boost search engine traffic and online presence, which makes them useful from a marketing perspective. Building a bond between the company and the user community is another often overlooked angle – it ensures customer loyalty.
Potential support forum issues
However, these often vast repositories of information can also be a burden for the hosting company, or they can be of little use to the customer. It all depends on a number of factors and the most obvious one is the sheer number of users.
A big hosting service can attract a lot of forum members, so dozens can be mobilised to provide useful answers at any given time. However, niche hosting services or region-oriented hosts do not have this advantage. With few forum goers, questions can go unanswered by peers, prompting support staff to become more involved, which sort of defeats the whole idea of peer support forums.
On the other hand, niche services can attract people keen to discuss various subjects that usually aren’t covered in hosting discussions elsewhere, which means they can attract even more users – even those who aren’t really clients. This increases the chances of getting new clients on board.
Good forum moderation policies are vital
Forum moderation can also present a problem. The board needs to be kept ‘clean’, which can involve a lot of work depending on how much spam bots and trolls the forum has to deal with.
Moderating a technical forum also involves a fair amount of knowledge – for example it is often necessary to properly identify outdated or wrong answers, as they could potentially result in even more work for the support team.
However, investing time and resources in setting up and moderating a useful support forum can pay off in the long run – otherwise hosting companies wouldn’t bother. Forum users can provide the company with useful information and statistics, either through user polls or just regular discussions. For example, if the same question is asked over and over again, chances are the company will try to address it in the FAQ, technical documentation or elsewhere, thus reducing the workload for its support team. If an increasing number of users starts to complain about certain services, pricing or other policies, the company can address these issues.
This basically means that big hosts capable attracting a big forum crowd are more likely to remain in tune with the times, in touch with their customers. They are more likely to recognise emerging trends and identify recurring problems.
While support forums serve to provide useful information to customers, the relationship between the company and its customers easily becomes blurred – it becomes a two-way affair with all parties benefiting from more engagement.