Today’s post is a guest post from Ashley Verrill—Ashley 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.