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Addicted gamers could save carriers millions

Combining gaming and social networking into community forums is reinventing customer service

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Part 2 of 2 – read part 1 here.

Especially in an economic downturn, customer service is one area where companies are not cutting costs. Instead, many companies are adopting a gamers' mindset to customer service and putting the power in the hands of the community – and it's paying off. Getting customers addicted to an online community has proven to bring in a return on investment of 1,000%, according to Lyle Fong, chief executive officer of online community platform provider Lithium.

"All it takes is one user to become a 'super-user,' meaning they spend hours a day on the site, to save a company over $1 million in the course of a few years," Fong said. "Most communities have over 100 of these users."

Lithium attracts these super-users by getting people obsessed with customer service in the same way they are with gaming by giving them additional privileges and rewards when they achieve higher ranks. For example, when someone starts out on a forum, they can read messages and make posts, but as they are trusted by others and participate more, their name changes color, they get their own icon and eventually, when the company trusts them as well, they can post links, pictures and maybe even videos, which no one else can. At the highest level, they might even get the privilege to moderate the community themselves.

"That is power to them," Fong said. "These are all ways to really incentivize and hook in the super-users. They are the core of the community…They are only about 1% of the user base, but they are responsible for over 50% of the content and even up to 80% of useful answers in that community."

As a result, consumers turn to these community forums instead of calling the company, saving money on call deflection, and also by backlogging answered questions into a permanent database to show up in Google searches.

Fong actually got his start as a professional gamer. When his brother, also a pro-gamer, won a Ferrari in a competition at the age of 18, the two received a lot of press and enough capital to fund gamers.com, the largest gaming site and community. Fong then spun Lithium out of gamers.com in 2001 when a fellow gamer and Dell executive saw the potential to translate the community to Dell.

AT&T was the first telco Lithium signed up after it saw Dell's success in getting customers to evangelize the brand. Today, AT&T has one of the most active communities, although Verizon is fast on its heels with 10 million page views since last June and a wireless-specific site launching last month. In the telecom industry, Lithium also powers communities for T-Mobile, Sprint, Telstra, Qwest, Comcast, Nokia, Research In Motion, Palm and Motorola. Most have forums for different regions of their business and for all services they provide – wireless, broadband, TV and enterprise in the case of AT&T.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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