How to enhance, extend and crowd source your in-field customer service – Interview with Manuel Grenacher of Mila


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Swisscom Friends

Today’s interview is with Manuel Grenacher, who is the founder & CEO of Mila, a technology company which is helping large organisations crowd source their customer service and build extended service communities around their products and services. Manuel joins me to today to talk about what they are doing, why they are helping companies create those extended customer service communities and how they are doing it.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – Next generation marketing automation that drives real customer engagement- Interview with Michael Sharkey and Guy Marion of Autopilot– and is number 158 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to their customers.

Highlights of my interview with Manuel:

  • Mila is helping companies crowd source their customer service and build extended service communities.
  • These are not forum based or online communities but something very different.
  • In essence, they are tapping into the collaborative/sharing economy and are helping large organisations to build service communities around, and with, their existing customers – they are empowering customers to help other customers in the field or at their homes and in real time.
  • For example, imagine you have a computer problem and rather than trying to get hold of someone over the phone or arranging to send an engineer round to help, you are helped by a tech guy that lives in your neighbourhood.
  • This responds to the demand for real-time service at any time and any where. However, for a company to have a team of field engineers to deliver that type of service would be prohibitively expensive.
  • Therefore, they are helping firms extend their field service through crowd-sourcing. Field service is often called the ‘last mile’ of customer service but this could be called the ‘last couple of inches’ of customer service.
  • The customers who are helping other customers (service friends) get paid either by the other customer directly or via the firm in the form of vouchers etc for the help they provide. However, these service friends also have to be customers of the organisation. This helps with the vetting process but also the familiarity with the products and services.
  • Whilst this concept works very well with tech-heavy industries like telecoms, electronic equipment, computers etc it could also be applied as an added value service to flat-pack furniture companies or utilities as an added value service i.e. when customers move home and need help moving into, settling into or setting up their new homes.
  • One of Mila’s clients, Swisscom, has just won an award for implementing this type of service: The 2015 Crowd Companies Crowd Collaboration Award for Swisscom Friends. Their programme runs on Mila and solves customer problems by connecting them with nearby tech-savvy professionals who provide support for small product/installation issues.
  • Swisscom benefits through deflecting a number of support requests away from their traditional customer service channels, enhanced customer care through their Friends programme, increased customer satisfaction as well as the potential to benefit from increased sales through the provision of this service.
  • Moreover, the Swisscom Friends become ambassadors for the brand.
  • Swisscom now has around 1,000 ‘Friends’ in their programme across the whole of Switzerland and over 90% of customers are receiving help within the first 3 hours of requesting help. In addition, the average rating for every piece of help given is 4.7 stars out of 5.
  • All of the Swisscom Friends are Swisscom customers and go through a certification, training and on-boarding process.
  • Because customers are only referred to people from their own neighbourhood then that acts a sort of guarantee and is a key factor in establishing trust and ensuring the quality of service provided.
  • Mila currently focuses on telecoms, utilities and retail but Manuel sees the potential to extend this service model to a large range of industries who have large numbers of customers who need support in the field.
  • Two of the key success factors behind an initiative like this is
    • 1. Placing it in an area that has latent demand for this type of service; and
    • 2. It must be closely integrated into existing operations and touchpoints in order to effective.
  • To get started with establishing your own similar type of programme, firms should:
    • 1. Establish a use case – Understand where a service like this could provide the most value to the business and customers i.e. where is the business facing a large number of support requests that could be better addressed through an in-field solution.
    • 2. Establish a geographic area for a pilot.
    • 3. Start building your crowd – However, firms need to remember that they are building a community and not just out-sourcing work. If you don’t build community then you won’t get all of the benefits that accrue from this type of approach. Therefore, the best approach is to start with employees and ex/retired employees that understand your brand, values and products and services before extending your crowd to your customers.
    • 4. Integrate this service into your existing touchpoints. For large firms, Manuel suggests that a good place to start is in the call-centre.
    • 5. Learn, Adjust and then Scale.
  • Signing up current, ex and retired employees to operate as ‘Friends’ when they are not working can be a great way of increasing employee engagement but also allows employees to boost their earnings too.
  • Moreover, it does not have to be restricted to front-line staff and can be a great way of engaging and getting staff from all parts of the organisation involved in delivering service to customers.
  • In terms of timings, Swisscom picked a pilot location and launched it within 6 months. They then extended it to more cities to keep testing and learning and now after two years the programme is getting rolled out nationally.
  • This type of approach requires senior/C-level support to work but it has to be from someone who understands and/or is interested in how they can tap into the collaborative economy to enhance their customer experience and customer service.
  • If you have your own customers helping other customers then you will have achieved one of the best levels of customer centricity.

About Manuel (taken and adapted from his Mila bio)

Manuel GrenacherManuel Grenacher, is the founder & CEO of Mila, who are aiming to use the power of the crowd to revolutionize the world of service and to make customers happy.

Mila was founded in 2013 as a spin-off of the software manufacturer Coresystems ( with a starting capital of 3.22 million U.S. dollars. The startup has offices in Berlin (Germany) and Zurich (Switzerland) and co-operates with businesses such as Swisscom, Vodafone Germany, IWB, and ewz.

Manuel is a young entrepreneur from Switzerland and has been awarded several prizes. Among others, he was an Ernst & Young’s Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year in 2012 and won the Swiss ICT Award as Newcomer of the Year for Mila in 2013.

You can find out more about Mila at and do say Hi on Twitter to Mila and Manuel @MeetMila and @mgrenacher.

Thanks to signorellfilms for the image.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


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