Embracing Crowd-Powered Customer Service


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Mobile-led, digitally-driven disruption creates massive opportunity to raise the bar on customer experience – and service.

We’re all aware of the increasing influence of digitally-driven disruption on our lives – changing the ways we and our retail and business customers find, purchase and use products and services. They impact our businesses and in many cases our industries, changing the basic ground rules for competition.

For those of us focused on improving customer experience and driving competitive advantage as a result, these disruptive forces create countless opportunities. By leveraging them, we can dramatically raise the bar on designing and delivering truly differentiated customer and customer service experiences.

How the “power of the crowd” can help you deliver on a differentiating and efficient customer service strategy.

One of these forces is social influence. By inserting other people and their opinions between your company and your customers, social influence radically disrupts traditional notions of customer relationship lifecycles. It also presents an unprecedented opportunity to draw on the expertise and time of your customers and community to create service experiences that are transparent, efficient and streamlined.

In short, social influence is the impact that social networks have on relationships between customers and companies. Already, these social networks create an environment where customers are talking to, learning from and asking questions of other people when they’re learning about or interacting with your company.

On a recent project for a leading online SaaS product, we found that the most common way customers looked for service support wasn’t among the multiple service options such as chat, service tickets, email or in-app user help. It was Google.

Unsurprisingly, we all saw ourselves in these insights as well. Instinctively, we and our customers are already looking past traditional notions of support for other voices to provide the information we need and can trust: the crowd.

Crowd-powered customer service: How harnessing the power of your crowd can bring customers closer, engaging them in ways your competition can’t begin to match.

We’ve helped a large technology organization successfully implement this strategy with stellar results, creating a lower-cost, self-governing program and a deeply engaged global community of passionate advocates. Serving both business and consumer customers, community members help answer questions, manage relationships and create and maintain an extensive crowd-sourced online resource that helps support the entire community.

While there were many things we did to help inform the design of these crowd-powered service experiences, we believe that three things we leveraged to drive success for this firm can help any company considering this strategy. They include:

  1. Community: Do your customers already help each other out? Or create content, without you asking? Post how-to or educational videos about your products on YouTube? If your community isn’t passionate enough to contribute already, you won’t easily be able to enlist them to.
  2. Transparency: By helping and encouraging your customers to share and be open, you can create trust and engagement. But it’s a two-way street. You need to be forthright and open with them as well. Think “no secrets” and “no spin.”
  3. Co-Ownership: You’re not looking to all your customers, but limiting participation to a diverse yet “wise” crowd for expert support. When these experts contribute to and help shape the rules for service improvement and delivery, they expect (and deserve) your acknowledgement.

Of course, we’re not suggesting you discard traditional support. The fact is, the best customer-powered support communities are closely monitored by your company, and supplemented by other support channels and materials.

Nor is this a “set it and forget it” strategy; in many ways the work involved and potential risk is greater than with regular support. Your community will feel they have the authority to challenge your claims, if they question them. They will even more closely review and analyze the quality of your products and services, the degree to which you are deemed trustworthy, and to which you perform as promised.

But in my opinion, the upside potential is significantly greater than the downside risk. In reality, every company is already at risk from social influence.  The presence of other people and opinions inserting their influence in what used to be a relatively closed relationship between a company and its customers is already a constant.

Put plainly, social influence is already shifting the balance of power between companies and customers. It forces companies to be more open and honest, even when they would prefer not to be. It’s a world in which transparency is becoming both expected and increasingly demanded.

A word of caution – crowd-powered customer service isn’t for everyone.

Those who successfully add a crowd-powered customer service channel to their service mix have a few things in common that allow these strategies to work.  One is a core of already involved and passionate customers, who are part of a relatively large customer base. Another is a true commitment to making the community succeed – which means allocating the time and resources required to make the community a success, and nurturing relationships with that community.

For example, Google works very hard to support and acknowledge their Top Contributors. Each year, they bring these Top Contributors together in a multi-day “Top Contributor Summit” where attendees “…hear from interesting Googlers, learn about cool projects, spend time with product managers and engineers, visit the Google campus, and attend social gatherings.”

If these don’t apply to your business, then crowd-powered customer service might not be a fit. But don’t discard the idea forever. After all, your prospects and customers are already looking to “the crowd” for information about your products, services and company.  If you’re passionate about better serving and connecting with them, it might be worth making the effort to move in that direction at some point in the future.

Leveraging the crowd is disrupting business in many ways already; from crowdfunding to innovation, companies realize that tapping into the crowd can yield competitive advantage. And a crowd-sourced customer service model can be a powerful differentiator and engagement driver when it’s well done and supported.


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