The Relationship Between Customer Service & Community Management

When community managers aren’t discussing the difference between a community manager and a social media manager, they’re debating what department community gets housed in. Is it marketing? Is it support? Is it its own department of “community?” The easiest way to answer this question is with another question. What is community?

I won’t bore you with the long academic response to that, but you can check out the wikipedia page and the psychological and sociological implications of what a community is. Basically, community is what people form when they come together surrounding a similar cause or action.

To be in a community means that you belong to something, are loyal to it, and it and the people in it are something you adopt into your everyday activities. When something goes wrong in that community, or you need help with something in particular, who do you go to? Hopefully there’s some kind of support system set up—and this isn’t different for online communities.

While many activities in community aid marketing efforts, the day to day function of a community lives in support. Engaging, talking, answering questions are all considered community management, and the managing of expectations is a tough nut to crack. So how do the best community managers do it?  Well, keep reading.

Q1: What is the breakdown like in your org between Marketing & Support for operating owned/unowned communities?

sherrierohde Our community is pretty much 50/50 with marketing/support right now.

evanhamilton In our organization, Community runs communities. Marketing & Support are separate (but closely related) functions.

ATT_Jam  We are in lockstep with Customer Service and promote our forums as a place for peer & self support

vargasl Depends on issue. If it is a member issue, customer svc team handles. All other mentions are routed thru the right CM.

vargasl Answer will differ across orgs, so it is extremely important to map the connections and convos BEFORE entering social.

shankell I do rely on all depts to help assist with questions online. It has to be a group effort

eliingraham  also helpful to map connectives between internal and external CM maturity model/training/dev for org consistency

LeeMcKusick  Support handles questions/problems that come up in any channel, marketing handles more of the social media & outreach.

Q2: How do you manage expectations of service to your community members?

evanhamilton You HAVE to set expectations of service you’ll hit. Data shows that overpromising is very bad:

colormelauren With consistence and transparency. Set goals when it comes to service, communicate them and live up to them

vargasl Clearly define who is online and when. If there are hours, explain what to do in off hours.

evanhamilton The other thing I recommend is being human. “Sorry, I was hiking & had no service” is more effective than “sorry for the delay”.

LeeKarah Through honest communication, great to outline service expectations on your channels!

StevenLowell Manage expectations by keeping all channels for communication and engagement open, internally too! Ban low-effort thinking

vargasl Going above and beyond is awesome, but don’t look at social as a band aid for cust svc. Resolve the issues, then go beyond.

djfanco I’ve found identifying tops concerns and creating FAQs to be immeasurably helpful.

Q3: When taking time off/office closure for holidays, what needs to be in place to ensure a happy community?

Jmodio  Inform them that it’s a holiday and you might be away

evanhamilton  There’s no day off. You can officially not have support on certain days, but if your users have a big issue, you better help.

corecorina  A community doesn’t take vacation, in fact it can be MORE active at vacation time. Have someone covering their needs 24/7.

corecorina Clarification: Social media messaging can easily take a break, but customer service channels should NEVER be closed.

SimileSimon Be honest. If there’s hi-load/slow response time, let them know why. Everyone deserves an answer.

rhogroupee Overcommunicate. Let them know when there’s coverage.

alphamommie Yes, even during off times, we’ll respond if needs are pressing and check in now & again.

colormelauren  Your best bet is letting your community know what you’re doing. They know you’re human. That’s why they like you!

BeckyBol We’ve had each member of our team take a day to monitor/respond over holidays, so EVERYONE can enjoy time off

JPedde I wrote this after a much needed week off from anything digital: Community Managers Need Vacations, Too:

Q4: When focusing on Customer Support, what key areas are you reporting on and how?

LikeableCC On social: Response time, sentiment, # of problems solved. Off social: Reduced number of calls (since problems solved online)

amywhiggins  Reporting most requested features and bugs, we do this w/ @desk

evanhamilton You also want to look at response time (data shows customers prefer <1hr:

corecorina  Hard metrics require digging when it comes to customer satisfaction; surveys help quantify happiness. So do social mentions.

evanhamilton And, of course, at how much support load is increasing & why (more customers? more bugs? confusing UI?)

colormelauren response times, how satisfied people are, when it comes to support most of the important figures aren’t quantifiable.

kerribirtch Accepted solutions, time to respond, hot trending topics, overall community health.

thelaurenfiles I look at # tix, time to respond, but most important thing 2 me is the answer to this: “Was this helpful?” If yes, I did my job.

JPedde You can collect all the data in the world you want. Are you answering the same questions over & over? Then something else is wrong

corecorina I ask 3 simple Qs of any customer I meet in RL: what do you like, hate and suggest for my community?

vargasl Speed. Accuracy. + Impact (long term) = mapping connections inside and outside org.

This digest was taken from the #cmgrchat on Wednesday, May 30th, 2012.

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About the author

Jenn Pedde

Jenn is a Co-Founder of The Community Manager and the Editor-In-Chief. She’s also an adjunct professor at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies. You can find her almost anywhere online, but specifically on #CmgrChat every Wednesday from 2-3pm ET.


Thanks for the tips! Would love to find out how big brands out there who offers 24/7 customer service using social media? Are the people even real? Or are there automated responses? What tools are they using? Please share! :)


Hi! Interesting article!

Would love to know more from Q4. How do users track sentiment/customer success in a social customer service situation? Tickets are easy! How do you measure a Twitter/Facebook interaction? Are there tools out there?