I am a big fan of crowd sourcing – I like the opportunities it creates for a mixture of unique ideas to come out with an unexpected solution/proposal or revolution. It’s like getting a whole bunch of different fruit into one bowl and making an appropriately themed salad – you can know exactly what is going in, but you can’t tell exactly how it’s going to taste when you mix in some cream or yoghurt.
Rubbish analogies aside, the fact that one idea can lead to another which is completely different, and come from somewhere totally leftfield, is awesome.
When you’re holding a brainstorm, you are crowd sourcing. When you’re asking your followers to recommend a cool Mexican restaurant on Twitter, you’re crowd sourcing. When you see the Confused.com ads on TV, they’ve been crowd sourced.
Where crowd sourcing is used by brands, the most interesting things can occur, and are occurring. Brands are increasingly turning to unpaid brand ambassadors/evangelists/advocates to act as part of their customer service team, answering questions or responding to enquiries on behalf of the brand.
In it, Tom argues that:
Companies are also using social media to replace employees because of volunteers among their customers. Intuit is a good example of what could be termed “user generated layoffs.”
Tom points to Best Buy as an example of this advocacy in action taking place, but having a negative end result in the form of job losses.
Indeed, Tom attributes crowd sourcing to Intuit cutting it’s staff from a recent Business Week article, and finishes his piece with the poignant point:
What happens to Intuit, and any other companies emulating its example, when its volunteer army doesn’t show up for work?
The answer is that they are, in part, in trouble, but the bigger question here comes before this part of the process: what happens to persuade the army not to turn up to work?
The initiative by Best Buy to rely on their community means that they are under even greater pressure to be transparent, accountable and better at working with their customers. If Best Buy give the army a reason not to work, they face the possibility of damaging their reputation to a far greater extent than if a few people on the end of the phone mess up. Not only do they lose their customers, they lose their core community – a foundation upon which the best brands are built.
This is a forward thinking way for brands to be obligated into behaving appropriately, going above and beyond for their customers and making sure their army turn up to work. Best Buy would not have entered into this strategy without thinking through the tactics thoroughly.
Were they aware that such strong brand advocacy would lead to job losses? Probably not, but it is also worth pointing out that, and particularly in the IT industry, users have been helping each other out on forums for years, negating the need for a customer service team anyway.
In the Business Week piece Wilder admitted:
…that since Intuit’s community outreach began, “the number of calls to our customer service lines has been reduced. We don’t give out numbers, but there have been cost savings.”
Times are tough, and nobody should lose their job, but in the ruthless world of business in a recession, cuts are sometimes necessary – if you can do that and still perform a reliable and effective customer service operation, then so be it – look at the amount of job cuts that have happened in the marketing sector, these things do unfortunately happen.