Customers helping customers - a new paradigm for online customer support
6th January 2015

momsImagine you can drastically reduce your customer support costs and at the same time improve quality of service exponentially. And as a bonus you get terrific customer loyalty! Too good to be true? Welcome to the a new paradigm of customer support - Customers helping customers. Came across this excellent example from Disney. http://disneyparksmomspanel.disney.go.com/  

How does this work?

Customers who are completely familiar with your products or services and with a bit of free time can advise current and future customers through a specially designed online interface. Disney's Moms on the panel are veterans of the park with literally dozens of visits and they also have a bit of free time at home during the day! They log into their respective interfaces and interact with prospective and existing customers just like a normal support team would. However these are not employees but customers themselves. This is not to be confused with customer feedback portals or open forums where customers can seek advise. This is very much within the company's systems and closely supported and monitored by the company.

Why would your customers bother to support this?

A very good question to ask here. I can easily see the skepticism of most entrepreneurs about this. But this is where business magic exists. Crack this and you have cracked the holy grail of customer loyalty. Firstly, this won't work for all businesses of course! You need a special type or product/service and /or customer to pull this off. But if your business is ideally suited for this concept then there are a lot of things to incentivize the customer to support other customers. Incentives could include recognition, perks, freebies, discounts, and even some kind of monetary support. Never underestimate the power of simple recognition coupled with a few giveaways. Being recognized as 'experts' is a thrill for many. People who have had a deep desire to share their hard-won knowledge. All you need to do is create an avenue for this knowledge to flow.

What kind of product or service would this work for?

I think two criteria are? absolutely essential

  1. Your customers must be unabashed fans of your product/service and keen to recommend it to others.
  2. They must have a bit of free time to lend to this effort.

I think it would also work better if it's a multistep process like buying insurance where customers would face a lot of choices /decisions at different stages. Of course you have to back it up with a good technology interface (need not be too fancy, a message board would also do) and a way to monitor quality of interactions.  Lets take a few examples.

  • Buying insurance would be a good place as it requires high trust selling and customers are naturally sceptical of the corporates.
  • Customers of a florist site could help visitors pick the right bouquet for the right occasion based on their own experiences of receiving and gifting.
  • Patients who have been through IVF could help other patients cope with the procedures and stress. ? Works for many such medical areas like cancer etc.
  • Sports fans could help other sports fan pick up the right equipment? based on their own experience of ease and safety.

There are literally dozens of areas which could beautifully leverage this paradigm of customer support.

The tremendous upsides of Customers helping customers

No matter how familiar you are with your product or service, you are always going to be on this side of the table. Customers have a unique perspective of buying and using your products or services and their insights might surprise and at times shock you! They are ideally suited to take future customers by hand through the process of ordering and using your products or services. Keeping evangelical customers happy is cheaper and easier than maintaining expensive support staff especially for the softer issues which might nor require technical know how. Imagine having an army of evangelical customers representing your products and services like their own. It's a marketers dream come true! Yes, it sounds great in theory but will be massively hard to achieve but just imagine if you could. ? You would be a legend in your industry!

A Note of Caution

We cannot close this topic without a word or two of caution. There must not be cheating, i.e. disguising company reps as customers. Genuine customers must help customers. Secondly we have to be careful on how to incentivize the customers who are helping to avoid bias. If the customers are getting some rewards based on sales then they might recommend for reasons not in the best interest of the prospective customers. Its human nature. So start analysing your sales process. You might find your own customers to be the winning edge.

Cheers,

Ron

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