When customers can go online and help themselves, we've always thought of this as the best kind of service there is: self-service. But social media tools have made it possible for businesses to provide an even better type of customer service: crowd-service. Companies such as SAP, Lenovo, Verizon, iRobot, and Pitney-Bowes are now using social media tools to enable some of their customers to help other customers. CustomerThink's Bob Thompson coined the term "crowd-service," a particularly descriptive and appealing label, analogous to "crowd sourcing." (You can download Thompson's white paper "Crowdservice," sponsored by RightNow, at our Web site 1to1.com.)
Earlier this year the New York Times published a nice description of how Verizon is using crowd-service to handle its own issues (although they don't use the term "crowd-service"). And about a year before this article appeared, a different reporter published a story in the same paper about highly engaged retired employees volunteering to help their former employers, using HP as an example. My feeling is that we are only just now scratching the surface of enlisting customers, employees, and others to voluntarily help the brands and companies they support personally.
If you want to learn more about this trend, I came across a terrific recorded webinar of Forrester's Dr. Natalie Petouhoff on the subject, well worth paying attention to and taking notes on. I did, anyway. One of the interesting things about crowd-service is that it follows the same kind of power law distribution of influence as other networks. Petouhoff points out that, usually, about 90% of customers just read and absorb the information, while only about 10% contribute information. But at the top of this pyramid, just 1% of customers, the "super users," drive the vast majority of help provided by a crowd-service platform.
One last thought: It's quite possible that the increasing interconnectedness of people, using social media tools for conversing and collaborating, will transform human society in a very constructive way. There is a charitable, giving motive behind the efforts of unpaid customers helping other customers, and I predict it will spread like any other meme, making human beings - over time - more generous and trustable, as a species. The more people encounter and render this kind of service online, the faster this meme will spread. Good on us!