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A forum would be one such feature. On the plus side, the site's products are the sort that enthusiasts would talk about. Customers tend to remain interested and purchase additional products over time.
On the minus side, a forum would entail quite a bit of work to moderate. Also a concern is that the forum would be used as a complaint center; while such posts could be removed, one then would have to deal with, "You censored my post about my product arriving two days later than I expected!" Problem users could be banned, but this isn't the path to great customer relations. :)
OTOH, if you allow customer service & complaint posts in the forum, a new visitor might be put off by the complaints (even though they represent a tiny portion of total customers and are dealt with efficiently).
I'm curious about others experiences with this sort of forum - is it worth the effort? Are troublemakers a problem, and do you deal with them any differently because they might be a customer? Is it possible to build a real community on an site that is geared to selling stuff?
I was cruising their support forums looking for info about little ftp blackout I was having. Lo and behold, I read a thread about "how do you remove the logo from the free tools?" In the thread, the final answer was, "If you ask tech support staff, they will remove the logo right away -- no questions asked."
I contacted tech support and asked about the logos and they were surprised about this... Turns out that entire thread was fabricated and they had no such policy. So I had a (slightly) negative customer service experience because I had an expectation that was not met.
I should know better as a webmaster, but I still consider a company's support forum to speak for the company even though it is perpetuated by the customers. I walked away from that experience wondering "Why aren't they taking control of their forum so that it actually serves their real customers?"
Fast and efficient moderation would nip this in the bud, I suppose, but it's yet another potential hotspot. Even a mod could be confused by a legit-sounding post.
This is also the solution to the forum seeming like a series of complaints. Company representatives should post answers to customers' complaints, giving the message that this is a company that listens to its customers. With a bit of skill you can make complaints work for your company in a positive way.
Could be a competitive action, I suppose.
I don't think it has to be a competitor, could just as easily be a disgruntled former employee, a past customer with one gripe pretending to now have many as retribution, or simply a troll. Although it's not typical troll M.O., I could see a subset of troll behavior including the spoofing of consumer complaints on support forums.
I know of at least one company who's support forum is notorious for deleting any post that complains about product quality. You have to very, very carefully phrase your problem so it doesn't seem like a complaint or else it is instantly deleted. Seems draconian at first until you run across the opposite end of the spectrum and realize how useless a poorly moderated support forum can be.
One of the best examples of this is the forum of a web host known by most visitors here - due to a botched migration, they messed up the functionality of thousands of sites. Their support forum had hundreds of "You morons!" type posts, complaints about sites being down for days or weeks, etc. I applaud the firm's honesty in leaving this stuff in view, but if any potential customer checked out the support forum they would have run quickly in the opposite direction. (I always check the support forum before buying stuff - I recall one software site where the most recent post in the forum was two months old, and said "Don't buy this software! It doesn't work, and there's no support!"