Is crowdsourcing the future of tech customer support?

The idea of customers helping customers is really the future of customer support. We are taking this idea to the physical world. We have also seen from other sharing economy companies that people are quite happy to crowdsource help or assets, whether it's a ride in someone's car ( or Uber), finding a place to stay (Airbnb), finding a dogsitter (DogVacay in the US), or someone to collect their packages (Myways in Sweden).

And, of course, people are happy to offer their services or assets in return for money. The platforms that connect consumers to make these transactions are also very good for helping customers see exactly who the providers are, what their qualifications are, how much they charge, and most importantly what sort of feedback they are getting from past customers.

We've noticed with our main platform, Mila, that individual providers are very conscious that they will be rated for their job, and so they have an extra incentive to do it well, courteously, and at a price that's fair.

TRP: How does Vodafone ensure that its brand credibility doesn't get damaged?

MG: Again, we believe it starts with the individual providers. In the first instance, providers are vetted by Vodafone. In the second instance, anyone who uses them can leave feedback, whether good or bad. We have really seen that most of our providers take their work through our platform seriously and want to do a good job. Last but not least, additional qualification measures are in the works.

TRP: Where did the idea for Vodafone Service Friends come from?

MG: The idea of Vodafone Service Friends comes out of the success of its online forums where customers already help one another. The idea was to extend this ability to the physical world where a customer who is a tech enthusiast could help others complete simple jobs or tasks they didn't have the time or knowledge to do.

Vodafone Service Friends is an extension of the customer support the company already offers. It's certainly not meant to replace the regular customer support you get when, say, your digibox doesn't receive a signal, rather it offers another channel of help for those jobs that you might not want to do but are not necessarily Vodafone's job either.

TRP: Can you tell us more about early numbers and customer reception?

MG: It's still very early days for Vodafone Service Friends, but upon launching we were able to sign up 60 Service Friends. In Zurich, where we have a similar partnership with Swisscom, we now have 1,000 providers signed on, and the most popular services are helping install additional software (antivirus, for example), TV installation (usually extending a digibox beyond the main TV room), and finally WLAN installation.

TRP: How do you find the Vodafone Service Friends? How are they screened (or not)?

MG: Vodafone Service Friends were invited through Vodafone. Vodafone wanted the Service Friends to be Vodafone customers as the reasoning was that they would be more familiar with the products. Those who want to join are asked a series of questions with regards to Vodafone and their technical knowledge. In addition Vodafone, in cooperation with Mila, undertakes a background check to make sure that the person is identifiable under their real name and has a personal profile picture.

Once you offer services in your own name, with your own picture and the full knowledge you will be rated, the stakes are higher to do a great job in order to get further bookings.

TRP: Do you see other operators doing this? Are other brands using crowdsourced customer support?

MG: We think it will take off. This is our second partnership with an operator. Our first was with Swisscom in Switzerland. It makes sense. Tech products are getting increasingly complex and even the tech-savviest of us might just want to hand the job off to someone else to get it done.

This is not meant as a replacement to the core support that operators offer, but as an extension of customer support to help consumers get more out of their products. Or, for those short on time, to get the tech tasks they need done, quickly.

And the idea that customers can help customers is also growing, and not just in tech. Myways, the delivery service we mentioned earlier, is actually an initiative of DHL. We've also seen B&Q in the UK and its highly successful Streetclub program where local people share tools and DIY know-how.

Earlier this year, Kingfisher, which owns B&Q, revealed that the program resulted in more sales, not less, as you'd assume might happen as people can share tools. But then, more people were motivated by their wider access to tools to do more DIY.

Desire Athow
Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.