Sorry, but your job just got unsourced. (I’m doing it for free…)
Many years ago, when I was working for a small software company, the president decided that it would be a good idea for everyone to take their turn manning the customer support line. This initiative – code name: variously, Operation Employee Torture – Operation Customer Torture – didn’t last very long. But we each got to take a few turns in the barrel before we gave up that particular ghost. The product was too brutally difficult to use – beware of any software billed as “industrial strength” – and our customers too needy. Fortunately, we didn’t have that many of them, so we went back to our old way of doing support: have the IT guy take the support calls, and drag in a techie or a sales engineer when he needed help. It worked, mostly because most customers were pretty much unable to use the product unless a techie or a sales engineer was sitting next to them, guiding there hands around the keyboard. Shelf-ware doesn’t actually require all that much support…
But my brief stint as a technical support rep reminded me why it was that I didn’t really like support. And that was that the people on the other end of the line weren’t calling because things were going swimmingly. They were calling because they were drowning, and they wanted someone who could jump in, right then and there, and save them. Not someone who would make hopeful suggestions like ‘try the dog paddle,’ or dispense useless advice like ‘don’t swallow water’ and ‘hang on.’
Nowadays, I am a technical support consumer, not a technical support (ahem) provider. And, like the people who called in to Softbridge for help using the Automated Test Facility, when I call in for help I’m typically at wits’ end and want to solve my problem NOW. No matter how annoying they are – or how difficult to understand – I try not to take it out on the support rep. But I do take it out on the phone when I’m on hold. Many support centers actually record what you’re saying when you’re on hold to analyze the length of time and other conditions it takes for a customer to reach the boiling point. I know a few techies who work in speech recognition. Just hope no one recognizes my voice howling curses at an inanimate object - vox clamantis in deserto that is familiar to anyone who’s been lost in hold-hell.
In recent years, the first course, of course, has been to look to the Internet for an answer before picking up the phone. This can be done through the vendors’ online self-help systems but, in truth, it’s often faster and easier to just google your problem and find your answer on one of the many free helpful-Hannah tech answer sites there are out there.
This generally beats combing through FAQ’s or doing a back and forth with a robotic IM system. (Can’t remember where I most recently encountered one of those, but it was pretty bad.)
Anyway, software vendors, consumer electronics, and telecoms have been catching on to all this big time, and are increasingly relying on their customers to provide support for free. A few years ago it was “Citizen Marketers”, now, I guess it’s “Citizen Technical Support Reps.” There’s even a new name for it: unsourcing.
"Unsourcing", as the new trend has been dubbed, involves companies setting up online communities to enable peer-to-peer support among users. Instead of speaking with a faceless person thousands of miles away, customers' problems are answered by individuals in the same country who have bought and used the same products. This happens either on the company's own website or on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and the helpers are generally not paid anything for their efforts.
No more clipped Indian voice telling you his name is Brian and asking how he can help you. There’s now someone out there who can undercut whatever price they’re charging in India or the Philippines.
Zero cost really does trump low cost, and:
Gartner, the research company, estimates that using communities to solve support issues can reduce costs by up to 50%. When TomTom, a maker of satellite-navigation systems, switched on social support, members handled 20,000 cases in its first two weeks and saved it around $150,000. Best Buy, an American gadget retailer, values its 600,000 users at $5m annually.
Response time can go down dramatically, too. GiffGaff, a British mobile outfit which actually pays its cadre of citizen support reps with reductions in their monthly phone bills:
…says the average response time for questions is just three minutes, day or night, with 95% of queries being answered within an hour.
This will only work in so many industries - sure, I’ll look at what people have to say, but I really don’t want to take my health care advice from Citizen Doctor Wannabes. And if you’re having a real problem with anything to do with billing, or your financial and personal data being compromised, you may find information about your problem, but there’s probably nothing that any amateur can do that’s actually going to solve the problem for you.
Anyway, interesting to think that if Danny Boyle makes Slum Dog Millionaires #2, he may have to come up with a different back drop than a Mumbai call center…
Source: The Economist.