Customer support teams rely on a variety of digital tools to provide the best service to their customers. But one of the most powerful tools to have in your stack is a customer support forum.
Customer forums offer the unique opportunity to engage and support customers while simultaneously building up a long-lasting knowledge base. The more your customers use it, the better resource it becomes.
This guide will walk you through the benefits of a customer support forum, the features to look out for when choosing a forum software, and our top choices of solutions.
What is a customer support forum?
A customer support forum is an online space where customers can interact with each other and engage in discussions related to your product or service. Customers can share tips and experiences, chat about interesting topics, or ask for guidance. On top of that, members can engage with your brand by responding to polls and surveys and providing feedback.
A key advantage of a customer forum is that users can easily access help from support agents or other customers as they troubleshoot product issues. They can also share their own knowledge by responding to questions from other users. This collaboration not only reduces your support tickets but creates a sense of involvement that boosts engagement with your brand and product.
How a customer support forum can benefit your business
There’s no denying the value of customer support forums — this HBR article describes how one brand discovered the true value of its community after hiding it for four months. During these four months, the number of support tickets to other support channels such as calls and online forms saw a 58% increase.
Below, we’ll take a closer look at what your business can gain from a customer forum.
Lower your support costs
One of the greatest benefits of a customer forum is that it can handle a large portion of your customer queries. The forum is like a first line of defense — when a customer has a question, they’ll often start by searching for it in the forum or typing it into Google. If your forum is optimized for search engines, the customer will be able to find relevant previous questions and answers in the forum. Most common questions have already been asked and answered on the forum, so the customer can quickly access the resolution.
Additionally, many of the new questions that do come in are picked up by other customers before agents can even get to them. And with every question that’s fielded through the forum, that’s one less ticket for your support team. As a result, you’ll need fewer support agents to handle queries, drastically reducing your support costs.
With a forum in place, you can scale your customer support without necessarily hiring additional agents, again saving you money. You’ll only need a few moderators surveying the forum and support reps jumping in as needed.
Offer 24/7 customer support
An online customer support forum is there for customers at all hours of the day. This enables you to offer your customers 24/7 assistance with product issues and concerns. If a customer runs into an issue during late hours or on the weekend, they can consult the forum instead of waiting for phone lines to open.
This is a game-changer for smaller businesses that can’t afford to hire support agents around the clock. It’s also crucial for businesses that are serving a global customer base since customers in all time zones can access self-service support when they need it.
Gain user-generated materials for product education
Like no other support tool, customer forums can rapidly expand your product education library. As members share their tips and ask and answer questions in the support forum, they’re creating content that can help inspire your knowledge base.
While customers learn and grow with your product, they continually add posts that are meaningful to them, creating an archive of information that’s always being updated. This user-generated content is an invaluable resource for both new and seasoned customers, offering them a searchable database of helpful content at their fingertips.
You can also observe what members are posting in the community and repurpose these posts into knowledge base content. By tapping into your customers’ unique expertise, you’ll capture creative solutions and build a stronger help center.
Make informed product decisions with customer feedback
A customer forum gives you direct access to your customers’ likes, dislikes, concerns, ideas, and experiences. You can encourage customers to share their feedback and ask questions, and you’ll gain valuable insights into how they use your products, what features they think are missing, and any roadblocks they’re encountering.
Community suggestions can be shared with the product team who can use them to update features, or create new ones. Addressing customer feedback drives innovation and helps you create a better product.
Some forums include tools like an upvote button, which helps businesses identify which questions are the most popular and which issues are the most common. If you see a question continually getting votes, you’ll know it’s a high-priority issue that needs to be addressed ASAP.
What to look for when choosing a customer support forum software
Businesses typically build their forums with the help of a customer support forum software. Most of these platforms offer the same basic functionalities — like setting up a profile, creating threads, and posting replies.
But beyond the essentials, here are six functionalities to look out for when choosing a forum software for your business.
1. Effective topic organization
Whatever a forum user is looking for, it’s extremely important that they find it easily. The topics of conversation are virtually endless, and if your forum isn’t well-organized, your customers won’t be able to find the information they need or know where to post when they want to contribute.
An effective information architecture — the way you organize your forum’s content — is essential for making this happen. Most forums are organized into a hierarchy with parent categories that spew off into related sub-topics. The ideal forum software supports multiple levels of nested subcategories and offers tools to help you manage these categories.
Another feature to look out for is the ability to create designated spaces, like an ideas section or a questions section. Some software let you reserve these areas for certain members and create unique posting permissions. You may also want the ability to create topic tags that customers can apply to their discussion posts to help classify them. This is especially helpful for labeling threads that cover multiple topics in one.
2. Ability to differentiate certain content
Beyond organizing your topics, a great software tool includes features to help you differentiate specific content. For example, you’ll want to be able to pin certain information to the top, to prevent important content from getting lost in a sea of posts. This can be used to showcase best answers or most helpful topics.
Another useful function is being able to mark particular posts as solved. This helps customers easily discern which questions have clear resolutions and which ones are still being worked on.
3. Notifications and follow features
A crucial feature for any online forum is the ability to follow certain threads or conversations and receive a notification when someone has posted a new reply. This is particularly useful for a support forum because it enables customers to track the progress of specific queries. When a customer comes across an intriguing question posted by another user, they can hit the follow button and easily keep track of its resolution.
4. Advanced search capabilities inside the community
When a customer has a specific query, advanced search tools make it easy for them to find relevant discussions fast. Rather than navigating through multiple forum categories, they can simply head to the search bar.
Search functionality can include the use of tags and keywords to quickly direct customers to posts that are related to their questions. Discoverability is hugely important because if a search doesn’t turn up meaningful results, a customer will likely assume the content isn’t out there and give up on the forum. Alternatively, they’ll create a new topic to ask the question themselves, resulting in repeated topics.
5. Built-in SEO features
Just like you want your forum users to be able to discover your content, you also want people outside of your community to find it too. A forum with built-in SEO functionality will increase your visibility on Google and bring you organic traffic. For example, when a customer types a related query into a search engine, your forum content will pop up in the results.
Great SEO not only ensures that people outside your community forum can benefit from your content, but it pulls in new forum members to keep your community growing. Features can include the use of SEO-friendly URLs, meta tags, and title tags.
6. Integrations with other customer support software
The ideal forum software will integrate with the other support tools you’re using — like your CRM software, help desk software, chatbot tool, and live chat. This helps streamline your support team’s workflow and creates a more fluid customer experience.
For example, integration with your CRM allows you to use insights from the support forum to analyze trends like popular customer issues. Help desk integration enables support agents to escalate discussion posts into support tickets within the forum. And integrations with your chatbot tool and live chat let you direct customers to helpful forum content from within the chat window.
Best software solutions to build your customer support forum
The right software tools can help you create a customer support forum that both your customers and support team will love. Here are a few of our top picks.
Bettermode is a customer community platform that lets you build an online space for customers to discuss their experiences, post questions, and engage with your brand. Separate spaces for discussions, Q&A, and idea sharing make it easy to collect customer feedback and offer self-service support.
With Bettermode, you can streamline the customer experience by creating a unified help center with a product education library and troubleshooting section.
Best for: Mid-size and enterprise businesses that want to engage and educate customers through a fully customized community
Premade templates help you create a forum that looks great and get it up and running fast.
Powerful Design Studio to fully customize the community with unique layouts
Ability to build multilingual communities with support for languages such as French, Spanish, Italian, etc.
Spaces with built-in posting permission settings help you categorize content and structure your community
Featured answer function lets you highlight the best answers in the community.
With smart suggestions, previously asked questions are showcased when a customer asks a question.
Built-in SEO features like meta tags and schema markups help optimize your community content.
Moderation tools, such as automation rules, help you keep your community safe and clean.
Rich analytics help you identify trending posts given the number of replies, views, and reactions.
Embed tools let you embed your forum into your existing website or app.
Integrations include Zendesk, Intercom, Zapier, Slack, MailChimp, Amplitude, Mixpanel, FullStory, Hotjar, and Google Analytics.
No dedicated mobile app
Discourse is a popular open-source forum software application that allows users to create and manage online communities.
It provides a flexible platform for online discussions and it's designed to encourage healthy online communication while preventing spam and abuse. It includes features such as trust levels, which reward users for contributing positively to the community and help moderators identify potential spam content.
Best for: Organizations looking to build self-hosted or hosted online forum
Integrations with business tools
Moderation system and badges
No visual Design Studio to build unique communities
No developer platform to fully customize the community
No app ecosystem
Khoros is a customer engagement software that helps big businesses build thriving online communities for their customers. Within this digital space, customers can engage in peer-to-peer discussion, learn from each other, and find quick resolutions to their problems.
Best for: Large businesses and enterprises who want to engage customers through branded communities
Highly flexible solution with more than 100 configurable permissions, the ability to create multiple forums, and support for different languages.
Real-time analytics tools help you understand how customers are using your forum.
Configurable spam management, sophisticated moderation tools, and advanced privacy and security help keep your community safe.
Khoros community syndication feature lets you embed your community content within your site.
Integrations include Zendesk, Slack, HubSpot, and Salesforce.
Long timeline to launch a community
Learning curve is high — this solution is best for businesses that can work with a team of developers for customization
Higher Logic Vanilla
Higher Logic Vanilla is a customer community software that helps large businesses launch and grow engaging communities. The platform empowers you to offer self-support, encourage peer-to-peer interactions, and collect product feedback and ideas.
Best for: Enterprises and businesses with segmented communities
Multi-forum management lets you create sub-communities for different use cases.
Gamification features and reputation points encourage meaningful participation.
Supports multiple post types including, discussions, polls, questions, and ideas.
Ability to create roles like guests, members, and moderators with unique sets of permissions.
A simple and intuitive interface makes the platform easy to use.
Integrations include GitHub, Zapier, Salesforce Sales Cloud, Mailchimp, Hootsuite, and Zendesk Suite
Limited customization capabilities
Scale your support with a customer forum
With Bettermode’s community platform, you can encourage peer-to-peer discussion while building up your knowledge base. You can offer customers 24/7 support and collect product feedback through designated spaces for discussions, Q&A, and idea sharing. Learn how Bettermode can help you scale your support and engage and retain your customers.
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