The Vodafone eForum is a fantastic resource for anyone looking to get help with their phone. But there are loads of other popular forums out there - we know, because we use them...
Got a problem? The Vodafone eForum receives almost a million unique visitors every month, all piling in to get their problems and queries solved by fellow customers, our volunteer Community Champions, or our team at Vodafone.
It’s an invaluable tool, but we know that there are a whole heap of other independent forums out there where people feel more comfortable posting. That’s why we spend countless hours scouring the web to reply to people wherever they lay their virtual hat. To get the inside story, we’ve been speaking to Gareth Cooper and Lee Saunders at Vodafone’s social media operations team…
A time before Twitter
“Back in 2006, before we had any brand presence on Facebook or Twitter, we started to notice a trend of customers going onto public forums to ask questions about Vodafone” says Gareth. “They would ideally want to get support from Vodafone, but they would only really be able to get help from other forum users online.
“We decided to form a small team who would create usernames and go on to these forums to answer questions.”
“So we began to look at what sites are out there and what’s going on. We found two main sorts of posts – technical questions about hardware and software, and account-specific queries on forums like Money Saving Expert.” With people turning to these third party forums in larger and larger numbers, we soon realised that to help resolve customer queries, we would need to take the answer to them:
“We decided to form a small team who would create usernames and go on to these forums to answer questions. They would deal with about 50-100 questions a month. We carried on like that for about two years, and then in January 2008 we launched the Vodafone eForum. Vodafone joined Twitter and Facebook around then too.
“We knew we would never be able to pull everyone away from their favourite forums, though,” Gareth adds. “People have loyalty to their chosen hangouts, and they have a stake in those communities. So while the eForum is still doing a great job, we’ve continued to help people in these independant forums.”
A day in the life
So what’s it like heading out into the wild wild web to try to solve customer’s problems? Lee Saunders does exactly that on a daily basis, so we wanted to get a feel for how the process works, and what successes he sees on a regular basis…
“In 2006 we were just dipping our toes in the water compared to what we have now,” he says. “Over the last couple of years we’ve dealt with nearly 4,500 interactions across independent sites.”
Lee explains that the increase in productivity is largely due to much more sophisticated tools for finding customers who need help:
“Back in the early days our searching was very manual and very labour intensive, but what we now have is an aggregation tool that allows us to search over 50 forums in one space. It strips out all the unnecessary data that we don’t need, and leaves us with a bespoke search for any mention of Vodafone. That means that instead of doing a few hours to do a search, it now only takes roughly half an hour.”
And as well as the extra speed, our forum scouring tool is smart and adaptable: “It’s built to search for a number of different combinations of how ‘Vodafone’ is spelt, along with variations that cater for any derogatory context. It’s a pretty exhaustive search,” Lee says, “but even though we search through so many forums, the vast majority of traffic comes through only a handful. 68 percent currently comes through two sites: Money Saving Expert and the Consumer Action Group (CAG) forum.”
So our web crawling tool digs up mentions from any customer who may be having an issue. But what happens then?
“They’re often surprised to see Vodafone proactively responding on third party websites…”
“With independent sites, traffic is steaming away from the technology side of things,” Lee explains. “We very seldom come across people having problems with their phones or the network – those kind of questions tend to come straight to our own eForum. What we tend to see is solely account-specific situations like billing and price-plan queries.
“That’s where our time is spent – dealing with those situations and trying to bring them to a resolution. We’ve dealt with numerous situations where customers have gone on to these forums to share their experiences and they’re often genuinely surprised to see Vodafone proactively responding on third party websites.
“Currently our resolution rate is over 96 percent,” Lee says. “There is a small portion of situations where we can’t placate the customer in any way, but we manage to solve most of them. There are, unfortunately, also some sites that don’t allow us to post at all, but the ones that we do get involved with welcome our presence and see it as a positive thing.”
Communication is key
The shape of the web has evolved a lot since 2006, so we wanted to know if Lee thinks that the way people communicate with brands has changed since services like Facebook and Twitter have come into effect.
“Absolutely,” he tells us. “These sites, as well as forums, give the customer a voice, and they allow them to gauge public opinion, or help them get their issues resolved.”
“Our being involved gives us a right to reply. I haven’t seen any other big UK operators on independent forums this year at all; we’re seen as the trailblazers in what we do, and it shows that the business cares about what people are saying.
“When it’s a negative thing, we want to take a look and see if we can put that situation right. We’re there to help the customer as much as possible.”
Let’s talk… Need a hand? Don’t be surprised if Lee and his team pop up to answer your Vodafone query on your favourite forum. To guarantee a speedy response, remember there’s always the Vodafone eForum. You can find out much more about the eForum here, or you can catch us on Facebook and Twitter, too.