Customer support is a great way to differentiate yourself as a SaaS startup. Instead of support being an annoying cost and burden, approach customer service as a competitive advantage.

When customer service becomes a competitive advantage you then run into the tough decision of how and where to to provide support. How do you truly make it a competitive advantage – walking the walk instead of talking the talk – while not diverting too many resources away from the rest of your company?

While sites like Zendesk and streamline support, at the end of the day there’s still a large degree of manual effort required for some of these channels:

  • Phone numbers
  • Live chat
  • Detailed how-to articles
  • Community forums
  • FAQs
  • Dedicated contact email

Adds up quick, right? So two weeks ago we turned off one our customer service support channels at Less Meeting – the Community Forums.

However our dedication to customer service remains unchanged as this is just part of the natural evolution of a Community Forum.

Stage 1 – No users, No content

No Community Forum

As you start out, community forums are unnecessary. You have a very small customer base as you’re trying to simply achieve product/market fit. More importantly, your first customers will have a tight relationship with you already and are more likely to email/call you directly.

Forums at this stage can also highlight how small you are. A forum that looks like a ghost town does you more harm than good.

Stage 2 – Building Content

Launch the Community Forum

With a steady customer base you find you can no longer support everyone with one-on-one interactions.

Content to the rescue.

However instead of building this content yourself, let the community build it for you. Create a place where they can ask questions and interact with you, and you can later turn into complete articles.

Stage 3 – Maintaining Content

Pause the Community Forum

Eventually you’ll arrive at a point where you spend more time maintaining the forum than you can afford. What do you do when:

  • You release a new feature that out-dates old forum posts
  • You have a confused customer leaving invalid negative feedback
  • You have a smattering of unorganized & non-prioritized feature requests

Carefully monitor this time equation and as you spend more and more on these tasks, evaluate closing down your forum as we recently did.

Stage 4 – Community Driven Content

Let the Community own the Forum

The final stage in the Community Forum evolution is when it becomes self-sustaining. When evangelists and power users do the work for you.

This requires a large customer base that’s also extremely engaged and supportive of your product.

So while we’ve closed the doors on our forum for now, it’s just temporary. We have a base of hyper-engaged and supportive customers who already help us with our content creation, and we’ll be excited to give them the keys to their forum as soon as we can.