Last Updated Apr 28, 2008 1:50 PM EDT
Just a few years ago, the answer was pretty straight forward. You'd call up the company's customer support line or hunt down an FAQ on its Web site.
But my habits have changed in this regard, and I bet yours have to. When my car radio started spewing static as if trying to communicate with a Mars rover, I'd didn't call the dealer or search the automaker's site. Through experience, I've learned that user forums often have just the remedy I need, and it's usually just a few clicks to find. And so it was was with my radio problem. Many other users had encountered the same issue, and pointed me to loose wiring easily fixed with a screwdriver.
Companies that understand this behavior make it easy for their customers to talk to and support each other, cutting their support costs dramatically as a result, note Harvard Business bloggers Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li, both principals at Forrester Research and authors of a recently released book on social technologies, Groundswell.
They point to the example of computer maker Dell, which started a support forum in 1999 and staffed it with 30 forum moderators.
Now, five years later, the support forum is many times larger than it was then. And the number of moderators is no longer 30. It's five. And that's because the members of the community are moderating it themselves.Read their post Economies of Scale in a Personalized World to get a better insight into how firms can leverage the reach and expertise of their own customers.