This week I’m delighted to feature a guest post written for us by Shaun Fagan of iSoft. I met Shaun earlier this year and am fascinated by the online community he has set up for his customer user groups. I asked him to tell me more about how he set it up. This is part one, Shaun will be back with part two soon.
A big part of my job is to manage our customer user groups. We now have quite a few across the UK and Ireland, meeting somewhere in the region of 150 times a year. The user groups serve a wide range of customers, each with their own unique requirements focusing on their own particular geographies and software solutions. We realised early on, when setting up most of the groups, that we’d have to introduce some degree of consistency of approach otherwise it’d simply be impossible to maintain.
Communication is of course, central to most of what we do (or should do) with our customers. How could we enable and facilitate the necessarily robust, open and hopefully vibrant dialogue required for the company and its multitude of user communities? Email lists? Google or Yahoo Groups? Nope. Whilst these may have been OK a few years back what we needed now was something far more sophisticated and tailored to our needs – what we required was a User Group Portal, (which was interesting, as it the time I wasn’t sure if such a thing even existed!).
We set about google and straight away we started to find examples of customised websites hosting online communities. But what exactly were our requirements and what is the purpose of user groups anyway?
- To work with customers to help drive better product development?
- To give users a feedback route to the supplier, helping improve service and support delivery?
- To nurture and forge improved communications and customer relations? or
- To act as a subtle sales mechanism?
Answer – All of the above!
But how you do you start to build a website that has the capabilities to handle this wide array of challenges? Start by identifying your core requirements. Take each high level area and in turn map the website functionality that is necessary in order to help achieve the respective goal. We ran a half day workshop (with customers and internal representatives from the departments mentioned above) and ended up with the following list as being the pre-requisite building blocks for our portal. For each user group community we would need:
- A News section
- A Calendar function
- A Document repository
- A Forum or message board facility
- A voting or rating ability (specifically on development requests)
- A Blogging ability
Next time – how we turned paper based requirements into reality!