Sramana Mitra: Flipping topics again, I want to run by a couple of trends that I am starting to see, and I would love to have your comments on those. One of them is in the area of crowdsourcing, which is a term that is relevant to different parts of a business. It doesn’t just concern consumers; there’s a trend that is coming from consumer into business, and it’s an evolution of the social Web. In particular, I want to pinpoint one manifestation I find very interesting, which is the notion of crowdsourced customer support.
Of course, each organization that has to manage customers – and yours is definitely one of them – is supposed to maintain a high level of customer support. Competition from Apple on customer support is significant. Companies have level one, level two, and level three of customer support, with standard practices for each.
What we are seeing is the notion of level zero customer support, which is happening entirely on the Internet. Expert customers are tackling some level of customer support questions and problems. We have a company in One Million by One Million called Cloud Engineering. They have created a mechanism or full system to integrate with regular contact center management systems, with the knowledge bases and everything to build on that trend.
My question is, Do you have a reliable level zero customer support that has nothing to do with your own employees? Earlier you talked about the organization of enterprise, and enterprises themselves have fewer employees and are working with more freelances and so forth. This is taking a trend even further and using something that is entirely crowdsourced.
Jim Stikeleather: What you are describing is the logical extension toward what the open source community has always been doing, and the open source community was dealing with a slightly more complex problem, which is the construction and the debugging of software. But the community came together, and members’ support was basically found by posting on a bulletin board, or people would email a question to a central email or something like that. Whoever knew the answer would reply.
Well, if you look at what you are calling level zero support, it’s basically the same thing only it’s become the users of the software as opposed to the developers. A lot of the software that people use on their phones, on tablets and even their PCs is freeware or shareware, so they have already become used to that particular model. In a way, it’s a logical conclusion or development. Because they are used to that particular model even for a piece of software they would buy from a company, they are more comfortable going to these levels initially. It’s a logical progression. But there but there is something even more exciting going on. Are you familiar with the term “open innovation”?
SM: Yes, absolutely.
JS: With open innovation, not only are we going to be crowdsourcing for support, we are now going to be crowdsourcing to solve business problems and crowdsourcing for creating new products and services. I think the Hollywood model is a good description of it, and we are moving toward that. It goes back to the late 1990s when people started talking about customer cocreation of value. Now we are actually starting to see it.
So, yes, you are absolutely correct. It’s a trend, and I think it’s a bigger trend than companies realize. I’m not sure companies realize how much what I would call emergent engineering is going on. We used to call it user groups, and now they are just Facebook friends and so on. These groups have come together and found creative ways to use products and services. The companies don’t know all of what is going on, which means that you can be sure that there are absolutely more exciting trends [on the horizon].