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,, 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.



  • June 22, 2013

    Why do we have tickets for requests and incidents? Why does the service desk bother to write them down?

    Four reasons:

    1) so we don’t forget: We don’t lose the customer’s question before it is resolved. Someone who cares can check and follow up

    2) so we remember. Next time someone talks to this customer, the history is there

    3) so we can pass the question to people with the skills to resolve it, and track who currently has the ball

    4) so we have aggregate data for improvement

    using social media to respond destroys all four mechanisms. Social media should only be used as a communication channel, not a support system

    • June 25, 2013

      I completely agree… unfortunately, customers are going to use the channels THEY want to, and unfortunately (or fortunately), that’s increasingly social media.

      • June 26, 2013

        That depends what you mean by “customer”. If you mean retail customers of airlines, telcos, retailers etc then yes. For the majority of us in “Real IT” then no, they still prefer the phone.

        • June 26, 2013

          You’re totally correct Rob. I am referring almost exclusively to B2C. I should have clarified. Thanks!

  • June 27, 2013

    Hi, firstly I want to say that I’m very encouraged by your article and it is definitely in line with my perspective with crowd sourcing.

    However, as much as I’d like to be an advocate on crowdsourcing information, I’m currently facing a dilemma in a strategy I am formulating for my company. I’m thinking that by my firm’s reputation could be at risk if we advocate a crowdsourced helpdesk but a fellow ‘crowdsourcer’ gives misleading or even worse, fraudulent information.

    What is your opinion on mitigating/addressing these kinds of risks?


    • July 13, 2013

      Hi Ian,
      Sorry, I’m late with my reply. I suggest incorporating your community channel into your service desk workflow. Assign a lead community role, or roles, to service desk staff on a rotating basis to ensure questions aren’t left unanswered and to sanity-check those answers provided by the community. Set policy and guidelines that explain what fraudulent means and how to react if those situations arise. You may also like to use those guidelines to indicate situations where a ticket or request must be raised.

      Hope that helps!


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