By Sramana Mitra and guest author Shaloo Shalini
SM: There is one thing I want to share related to what we discussed just now about social Web trends so that we can get the large enterprise perspective. Here is a scenario. We often have this experience: Right now our lives are so electronics-dependent right? Electronics-, equipment-, and gadgets-dependent, and I am sure that Verizon, being a telecom company, receives a ton of phone calls from customers on how to configure some of these pieces of equipment. Whether it is a router sitting in a small business office or a bunch of smart phones that you are hooking up to your customer base, whatever it is. There are a lot of customer technical support configuration calls, and at some level I feel that the social Web is a good place to tackle some of these calls. As an executive at a large enterprise, what are your thoughts on this trend?
JS: I couldn’t agree with you more. There are two things here. First, this kind of sharing of technical information would be so much more efficient and effective if done in a social collaboration way. Say one of our customers has a technical question about how to configure a router, so do dozens or hundreds of others, right?
SM: Yes. If not hundreds or thousands of others.
JS: Five hundreds of thousands of others. The second thing is that we all know that sometimes the people with the most expertise on how to solve a problem are actually other customers.
SM: That is true.
JS: These are the customers who have experienced the same problems or a technician somewhere in one part of the world who works for our company and who has solved this problem. But that information is not available to another technician who is three continents away trying to solve the same problem. So we are trying things like this today. Inside the company we have a collection of capabilities that we refer to as ‘the commons.’ It doesn’t mean anything; it is just an internal name. But in that suite there are forums, blogs, wikis, and our V-TUBE. We have training videos and all kinds of things to make this information available within Verizon.
But beyond that, we are piloting a capability to engage with our customers so that during an outage or event of some kind, rather than having lots of users calling lots of people within our company saying, ‘What happened? Is it fixed, where is the technician, and how do I fix it?’ we have a better way to disseminate that information to maybe dozens or hundreds or even thousands of calls. We do this by bringing up an impulse collaboration page. We think of it as an impulse collaboration page, meaning it doesn’t stay up for long as in the event, but during an event there are a lot of people who need to know a lot of information. There is a record of what happened and how it was fixed, and this record can be used by others during a similar event. So, we are kicking the tires for a lot of this kind of stuff. It is, as you say, relatively lightweight software. It is not customized, and it can easily be done in a cloud computing environment. I think enterprises are in the early stages of adopting cloud-based social Web technologies and seeing the impact they can have on how their companies run.
In a company like ours, we talk all the time about how to fundamentally change the way the business operates. We don’t just want to figure out how to save money or deliver new products; rather, we want to change the DNA of the company. I firmly believe that a lot of what you are talking about is the next wave, and it may come in with the next generation of employees as much as with IT organizations deploying software.
SM: Yes. Today, you have level one customer support, level two customer support, and level three customer support. Maybe you need level zero support that is somewhat different from the way you process the other levels of support with touch points from call centers and so forth. This may be a community that is supported by customers and by the cloud, it and may be crowd-sourced in a manner. What do you think about that?
JS: Absolutely! I’m sure this would be similar in your own experience. Well, though we try to generalize from consumer to enterprise, they are very different. But I think they are actually becoming more similar than they were, say, 10 years ago. Today, for a consumer, the fastest way to get an answer to a technical question is to get online.
SM: Yes, but it’s not quite that easy because if you get online and see these masses of Google search results, you are lost! Isn’t that correct? If there were a vendor, a trusted vendor, a trusted service provider that provides guidance on where to go, that would be useful, I would think. Search itself is not the answer. That is my point.
JS: I agree with that. There are a lot of experts out there.
SM: If you can bring the experts together in a particular context, that is very valuable for a consumer.
JS: Right. It is not only that there are a lot of experts out there; we have a lot of experts in the company as well. But they are not all sharing information in this manner. It’s not that they don’t want to; it is just that the forum doesn’t exist for the information to be available transparently, and that I think is the power that social Web technology can offer.