Is Crowdsourcing the Future of Customer Service?

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Crowdsourcing isn’t new. The overuse of the term itself is a recent development, but in truth, consumers have been sharing their opinions in public forums for years. Through social media pages, discussion boards, and third-party review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, people have formed communities of advice and support long before anyone knew there was a “crowd,” and that things could be “sourced” to it.

But as the voice of the customer grows louder, a question lingers. And it has business impact: will customers become so intelligent, so savvy, and so vociferous that they take over traditional customer service?

What We Know

The Internet has proven to be the perfect incubator of opinion. Consumers share good, bad, and ugly insight without the restraints of face-to-face communication. Worldwide, Internet users generate 500 million tweets per day. Facebook “likes” far exceed that.

Over time, these candid tidbits have become a legitimate source of guidance for many. According to YouGov, a UK market research firm, 78 percent of consumers read customer reviews before making a purchase (44 percent submit their own reviews). That’s not a bad thing.  Other studies have suggested that crowd intelligence can be “smarter” than up to 99 percent of individual intelligence.

But there’s also growing concern that this crowd intelligence could rise up, grow legs, and begin to think and act for itself, to the extent that we would barely need customer service departments anymore.  A well-known Gartner analyst, for example, predicted that application service providers will replace 20 percent of their staff with crowdsourcing by 2016.

As with most projections, this remains to be seen, but there are already tremors of change in the industry. Similar to the early 2000s emergence of cloud computing, a few companies are spearheading innovation in crowdsourcing. For example, San Francisco-based startup Get Satisfaction offers a platform that incorporates forums, FAQ, and social networking to help companies make use of customer intelligence. Or there’s LiveOps, a virtual contact center system that enables brands to deliver great customer service on-demand through its network of 20,000 home-based independent contractor agents. All LiveOps agents are recruited, educated and accredited through its crowdsourcing and LiveOps University e-learning platform, which helps ensure that they’re experienced.

New products like these are built to accommodate the growing influence of the crowd. In that sense, they fit nicely into Paul Greenberg’s much quoted axiom: “. . . the company’s response to the customer’s ownership of the conversation.”

What to Make of it All

While the full-scale substitution of crowdsourcing for traditional customer service is unlikely, that doesn’t negate its value for driving solutions and innovation. The nature of customer service is changing, and it may be time for businesses to consider a new model—one that works across multiple channels and leverages customer influence for good.

If you’re curious about crowdsourcing, take a look at your existing online community and consider the following:

–  Do you have any data management tools, such as social customer relationship management, that can help you analyze and moderate the way your customers are helping each other?

–  Do you have a strong enough following (in quantity and quality) to support a community forum?

–  How will you moderate what’s being posted?

–  How will you measure ROI?

With some forward planning, the right management system, and a willingness to think outside the box, the voice of the community can be your next catalyst for growth.

Author Bio

Aleksandr Peterson is a research writer at TechnologyAdvice. He covers CRMs, gamification, project management, and other emerging business technology. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Image courtesy of jscreationzs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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