Why You Should Crowdsource Your Help Desk Response

Today’s post is a guest post from Ashley VerrillAshley Verrill has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has been featured or cited in Inc., Forbes, Business Insider, GigaOM, CIO.com, Yahoo News, the Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal, among others. She also produces original research-based reports and video content with industry experts and thought leaders.


Recently, I wrote an article for GigaOM about customer service software that doesn’t exist, but that I think someone should make. I argued basically that companies need technology for crowdsourcing their response to customer service questions on social media in order to scale, reasoning that in some cases it can be more efficient and cost-effective than paying for additional social media manpower.

After chatting with Aprill (the Knowledge Bird herself), I realized that business-to-customer support on social media isn’t the only context where this community problem solving concept can be applied. In this article, I will describe why I think companies should use this model to solve internal corporate issues – essentially, enabling employees to help each other.

The Customer Community Concept

In my GigaOM article, I suggested that this hypothetical software crowdsources social customer service responses to customer community users. The term ‘community’ refers to brand advocates (mostly customers) who answer other customer’s questions in discussion forums. In these communities, customers can post a question publicly, where other customers who had the same issue can chime in with how they solved it. It’s been used successfully by many B2C companies. Take this HP community member, for example. He spends upwards of 30 unpaid hours a week responding to queries in their discussion forums.

The reason why I thought this would be a valuable model for solving internal employee issues is because it can effectively deflect tickets from the help desk. As we all know, each new trouble ticket costs the company money. I’ve reviewed a handful of help desk services that can reduce these costs through automation, but the company still has to pay for both the agent and employee’s time while the issue is resolved. With the community, problems can be solved faster in some cases than with one-on-one communication.

Let’s say, for example, you have a company-wide server issue. Every employee needs to follow the same step-by-step process to resolve it, so you blast out a mass email to the team. But any agent will tell you, there’s always going to be questions and user errors. This creates the potential for a flood of tickets to the help desk at the same time. This could be more than your help desk is regularly allotted to handle, so a lot of people are waiting.

If your company had a community, the help desk could simply post the step-by-step instructions in a discussion thread. As there are follow-up questions and answers, other employees with the same issue can just read the thread, rather than calling or emailing the help desk.

How You Get Them to Use It

I know what you’re thinking. That sounds great, but employees have a job to do. Why would they take time out of their day to solve a coworker’s problem?

The answer is gamification. I want to point out a couple things on that customer community user’s profile I mentioned earlier. At the top of the page, “wb2001” has a badge that says “HP Expert:”

This is an indicator of how many questions this person has responded to, as well as how many of his answers received “kudos.” It shows other users that he is a leader in the community. This fosters competition and achievement among users. This is also monitored in real-time in the margin with “Recent kudos.”


These are the same kind of tools many help desk products use to increase agent productivity. They are just used to inspire employees to respond instead of agents.

Create a Sense of Unity Among Employees

My final argument for replicating the customer community concept for employees is the potential to foster team ideation.

If you spend time in any customer community, not all of the threads are about solving a specific problem. Many times, people use them as a soundboard for their ideas. The company can then use this for product development or marketing, based on which ideas receive the most comments and kudos.

In the corporate context, employees might start submitting their ideas for process development or inter-departmental alignment. Especially in very large companies, it’s difficult for marketing-sales-customer service and other departments to work collaboratively. The community gives them the venue for having these conversations.

The Technology Already Exists

Unlike the software I suggested in GigaOM, this kind of inter-office community platform already exists. Sometimes called “Social Enterprise Applications,” this includes products like Yammer, Chatter and Jive. Beyond potentially deflecting tickets from the help desk and solving problems faster, these systems have other benefits.

What do you think? Has your company effectively used community software to solve employee issues that normally would have ended up in the help desk? Join the conversation with a comment here.


Why You Should Open Up Support to Your User Community

A group of Kinder egg working gnomes

Photo from Horia Varlan on Flickr

Do you know you have a ready-made community of practice that could be sharing knowledge amongst each other about your product or service? They might be talking in person, but it’s likely they occasionally talk to each other on Facebook or Twitter, as well. When groups of people get together to talk about your product or service they are commonly using, they uncover neat ideas on how your product can be used in innovative ways. They discover more efficient ways of using your product, based on the experience of others. We like to compare what we’re doing to someone else, just to know we’ve got it right.

Now imagine if you facilitated that by opening up an online user community, where your customers could come together and have those conversations in a space they know you’re available and listening. And I’m not just talking about your customers having somewhere to bring up feature requests or “here’s how we’re using it, what are you guys doing?” I’m also talking about your customers helping each other out when issues arise. Sometimes your customers, in their tinkering with an issue, come up with their own workarounds or solutions.

In December, I wrote a post detailing my predictions for 2012. One of those was an expectation that community management would merge with IT service support. Last night, I listened to a webinar called “Is the Service Desk Still Relevant?” During the panel’s discussion, ITIL author Stuart Rance (@Stuart Rance) and @ServiceSphere‘s Chris Dancy, called for service desks to create a community management role to engage with the user community and build upon the knowledge community members share amongst each other and with the service provider. By engaging with your user community in a searchable, online medium, you already have the basis of a living knowledge base. Some support software solutions provide a forum structure that is ideal for this kind of community, and others provide a social stream, not unlike Twitter, which lacks structure but can be easily tagged and searched.

If you’ve got the means but you’re unsure of the method, and you can get to Melbourne in September, please check out Swarmconf. You’ll get a ton of help and knowledge from experienced people in the online community management field, who can help you map out how to get started.

Tacit, Explicit, Implicit, Whatever. Let’s call the whole thing off.

the Wise Leader from HBR May 2011

Image* inspired by The Wise Leader from HBR May 2011


One of the highlights of the KM Australia congress was the debate on day 2. The topic was Making tacit knowledge explicit with collaborative technologies. Arguing for “we should and we can” was Aaron Everingham and James Dellow, and for “we shouldn’t and we can’t” was Shawn Callahan and Dr Vincent Ribiere. I thought it was an odd question in the first place, though there’s a good discussion in the KM Australia LinkedIn group. Brad Hinton also offered a response to the question on his blog. I found the meaning of should or shouldn’t in this discussion to be unclear, and indeed through the course of the debate, both sides agreed with each other at different times.
I’ve always found the conversations that nitpick over the definitions of tacit and explicit to be irritating, but just for the record, here’s what they mean:

Tacit – this is the knowledge in our heads that is made up from experience and personal contexts. It’s not written down and is hard to articulate. A great example, (and I don’t remember where I read this. If you know, please comment and I’ll link to it.), is the worker at an oil rig who knew there was a drilling failure by the feeling of the vibrations at a certain spot on the platform. The only way he could transfer that knowledge was by taking the visitor, who was documenting knowledge and procedures, out to that spot and showing them the feel of that vibration as it was happening and explaining what that meant. Apprenticeships, mentoring, and sometimes video documenting are good ways to tap into another’s tacit knowledge. Here are some other ideas.

Explicit – this is the knowledge that is written down and is accessible in one way or another.

Implicit – this is knowledge that isn’t written down yet but is largely procedural and not dependent on an individual’s context.

Implicit doesn’t often come up in conversations knowledge wonks have about the types of knowledge. Usually, we just talk about tacit and explicit, and this may explain why people confuse tacit with implicit. The reason I find these conversations irritating is because the person who needs the knowledge at the time they’re doing the work, probably doesn’t know and certainly doesn’t care. No complete knowledge management program has one single approach to knowledge transfer, aiding one type of knowledge at the expense of the other, anyway. We should always take a multi-pronged approach, even though we may make one change at a time. So let’s just get the knowledge to the people, no matter what its original form.

And so, what do collaborative technologies have to do with this discussion? These social tools allow us to connect virtually, before we meet in real life. They allow a relationship to germinate so that the initial awkwardness and defensiveness that some of us might feel on first meeting, isn’t there. When those barriers aren’t there the stories and personal contexts, and the tacit knowledge, flow much more easily. So, while collaborative technology doesn’t make tacit knowledge explicit, it certainly enables that knowledge transfer.

* The image is from this fassforward Consulting Group sketchnote, inspired by this article.

KM Australia Congress 2012—An interview with LEGO’s Signe Lønholdt

Signe Lønholdt is the Online Community Editor for LEGO. She’s making the long-haul journey out for KM Australia Congress in a few weeks. I can appreciate what an epic trip that is. We took a family holiday to Europe last year, and LEGOland in Billund, Denmark, was on our itinerary. Perhaps that means I’ve saved the best interview till last, but Chandi Kapur’s and Felicity McNish’s were just as interesting and I look forward to meeting each of them at Congress in Sydney. Signe will be presenting on day one, as well, with “Building Social Value in LEGO, Brick by Brick”.

Knowledge12—the wrap

ServiceNow’s Knowledge event is over for another year and they’re already planning the next one. The combined user conference/sales event gathered 2000 people in the recently reopened Hyatt Regency in New Orleans. A stunning venue, it was branded ServiceNow and completely overrun with IT people.

As far as events go, it was well-run with an excited, enthusiastic vibe. With a good-sized representation of prospects, I thought it was interesting though, that there wasn’t a clear session track for those guys and the Innovation of the Year award wasn’t given the kind of attention I’d expect at an event like this. Practitioners and administrators, on the other hand, were well catered to with labs and a great array of breakout sessions. It was sometimes hard to choose sessions and I know there were at least two or three that I now regret not seeing.

Yammer on Tour

The Yammer tour kicked off yesterday in Sydney. It comes to Melbourne tomorrow. It was certainly a well-patronised event and it was great to see so many people taking interest in what has become a new communication paradigm. I haven’t had much to do with Yammer. I have a login and just little old me in the Home network, but fortunately, Yammer created a network for everyone who had registered to attend the event. So, I had a chance to dive in a see how things really worked in there.

Structure vs Search: Curating Knowledge

As Facebook approaches IPO and Twitter becomes part of the general media landscape, corporate-sanctioned social media tools are slowly seeping into the workplace. Once you’ve made the cultural shift of getting people using tools like Yammer, it’s not much of a leap from being one of the cool kids to becoming another confused one.

People are starting to wonder how to blend the structured environment of a knowledge base with the more chaotic and time-sensitive social channel, or whether they must choose one over the other. Well, you can run both and frankly, you should.

My IT Predictions for 2012

I think we all know by now that BYO device and cloud computing are ruling the conferences and conversations at the moment. Don’t get me started on the “cloud” terminology, by the way. Also known as the Internet, non? Anyway, these two things herald some change in approach to IT service management.

An Interview with Evan Hamilton from UserVoice

I took a look at UserVoice a couple of weeks ago when a blog entry of theirs turned up in my RSS reader. As said on the website, they’re a San Francisco-based startup focused on helping companies listen to their customers through feedback and support tools. They’re passionate about understanding and engagement, which was obvious when Evan Hamilton, UserVoice’s Community Manager responded to one of my tweets. He seemed like a nice enough guy, so I asked if he’d participate in an email interview about UserVoice and the role of knowledge management.

Hivemine’s AskMe Cloud launched

US company Hivemine have been addressing the need for business-ready social media tools built on a knowledge management foundation for a little while now. AskMe has already been available as an add-on for Outlook and Sharepoint, and as a web app with collaboration capabilities, and this week Hivemine launched a beta program for AskMe Cloud.