By Sramana Mitra and guest author Shaloo Shalini
SM: I would particularly love to hear your thoughts about the phenomenon of ‘expert customers,’ say champions or really knowledgeable users, power users, of certain products, whatever they may be.
CK: There was a guy who probably made it in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times in this context. He is a Verizon customer, and he spends, on average, eight hours a day posting to the Verizon site about the company’s DSL or files products. Note that these are not paid employees, and they work eight hours a day and provide real insights and solutions related to product use and deployment.
SM: This psychological behavior of customers wanting to help other customers, do you want to encourage as a company, as a product or service vendor, or as a brand? How do you encourage this kind of behavior or lay out the infrastructure to support it? How do you propose to create this infrastructure for your customers?
CK: I’m going to talk about this from two sides. There is the psychology of helping at work, I guess. I think the other side is a gaming approach. If you go back to the 1980s, when people were playing pinball games, they would want their name to reach the highest score or level or whatever the video games measured at that time. If they reached it, their names were left on the board because they had the highest score. So, people just started putting quarters and quarters in the machine. It happened like that. Then you move to World of Warcraft and other games where you try to be the master and get all the points and such. There is a theory behind this, and part of it is the recognition. I think part of it is that gaming series kind of obsession, and the question is, How do you drive people to that? Thinking as an entrepreneur, I would be thinking in those terms of how to tap into this potential. How do I drive recognition, how do people have different levels of credits or whatever? I think all these things are important and relevant to keep people motivated. Just look at the Farmville phenomenon; who cares about counterfeit and such, anymore? People are spending incredible amounts of time on Farmville. There is a huge interest, and hours and hours and hours of time are being poured in by users worldwide. It will be logical if as a company you can harness that, then get to a stage of real, quantified support because in the end, no matter how much time you spend, if what you say isn’t relevant, tomorrow nobody is going to pay attention to you.
So, tapping into this potential and the triangulating among those ‘expert customers,’ those who are knowledgeable and competent, creating forums for them and a sense of recognition or whatever that is needed, seems logical to me. We are working to have our business help customers to be able to engage with their own customers. Those technologies that can help to support them create a much better customer experience. Customers are going to self- serve, and they want to be online figuring out their answers. So, either you’re there or someone else is. We think it is important for us to be there. I don’t know if I completely answered your question.
SM: You did. I think the most important thing that you are mentioned is this trend toward social customer relationship management (CRM). I think particularly in the business that you are in, you are going to have to figure out a way to play in the social CRM space, and I think it is still a new trend. But I think this entire crowdsourced customer support trend and social CRM trend are going to be significant phenomena, in your business particularly.
CK: Yes, and that is the one side that I think is very positive. In the same context, I would also like to mention that I was at a large trade show recently. I walked the floor to see all the providers in the cloud with all their applications. There were all these new startups in the cloud. I walked from booth to booth to booth, and when I looked at them closely, it was overwhelming what I found. If you don’t have the right strategy or the right technology, I frankly think you would be overwhelmed by the crowd. It’s huge – just to get information out of all this unstructured data, say Facebook posts and the tweets that are coming in. Who is on your forum, who is not on your forum, who is talking about you, and so on. If you can’t find a way to gather it all to get meaningful, actionable data, even failed process or customer support opportunities, it could be a problem. What is worse is when someone tweets and you never answer? That is a challenge we have now. There is this level of immediacy that the Web community around the world demands today. It is different from what we had earlier. If you sent an e-mail, people saw it and a 24-hour response was usually acceptable. But now, people send a tweet and you either respond or you don’t but they are tweets and tweets, and the next thing you know someone is angry with you.
[Note to readers: Almost 71% of tweets are not answered – see more here].
SM: How do you deal with that? Are you monitoring tweets and responding to them as part of your customer support?
CK: We have clients that have forums that pull all of that social data into these forums. The platform we use is called Lithium. Are you familiar with Lithium?
SM: Very much so.
CK: What Lithium does is provide support from content and analytics standpoints.
SM: So, Lithium manages and puts all these things in a forum, and you are interfacing with them. How do you interface with Lithium?
CK: We have a reseller arrangement with Lithium. In our space, we were their first reseller agreement. We have a reseller agreement with Salesforce.com as well. We help them with the implementation side of those forums, and we collaborate with them on the support side once the forum is up.