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Why crowdsourcing customer service is not outsourcing

5th Feb 2016
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The Internet has evolved into a communication tool that has wildly changed a lot of things, including customer service. There was once a time when chat rooms were the “in” thing. Then came message boards. Then came online forums. On the forums, customers of businesses and fans of certain products found places to vent about problems they were having with products, and other customers could chime in with solutions.

The other users on the forums could then upvote or co-sign that these solutions worked for them as well. Often times these forums existed outside of the hemisphere of the company’s own website, but soon enough companies wised up, and starting creating forums on their own sites.

So for years now, people have been obtaining products and services from each other. Whether it’s help with a technical issue on a forum or ordering a hard-to-find replacement part on eBay. If companies today want to give customers the service they prefer, those companies must tap into the crowd in addition to their traditional customer service options. The type of service businesses provide their customers is important, since it can help businesses stand out in today’s populated market.

That leaves the question, are crowdsourcing and outsourcing the same?  

No, and here’s why not:

Online Forums and Crowd Service Are Different

Initially, some businesses perhaps viewed online forums as a free way of doing customer service, that they might have otherwise paid to outsource. Although online forums still exist on many company sites, it’s now an outdated form of primary customer service.

While customer self-service is something many people want, customers who receive advice on an online forum try to fix the problem themselves to varying results, leaving only experts and tech-savvy customers to do so successfully. However, for customers who do not have the time or the expertise to carefully follow technical instructions given online (especially if those instructions were not detailed), crowd service is a better and more effective option.

Crowd service differs from online forums since members of the crowd don’t merely give advice from behind their computer; tapping into the crowd now means sending an actual person to the customer who can help them with their issue in-person. The customer doesn’t have to deal with it all alone.

Also, these crowd members are experts themselves and are a valuable part of an on-demand support community. Crowdsourcing is the opposite of walking into a Genius Bar for help; with the crowd, the service expert comes to you rather than you having to go to them and wait in line.

Crowd service is often more timely, convenient, and efficient than traditional in-store help or online forums since the help comes when you want, where you want, and you don’t have to try several different people’s forum suggestions until you find one that works.

Outsourcing vs. Crowdsourcing

The definition of outsourcing is to contract your work out to an outside supplier in order to obtain goods or services that normally would have been provided in-house. Outsourcing is viewed by many businesses as a way of saving money.

The reason crowdsourcing should not be viewed as outsourcing is that it’s inclusive. This means companies still have their customer service departments, rather than outsourcing the entire department. Crowdsourcing is another channel–another tool–for providing customers with service they want.

Outsourcing generally involves offering customers the same kind of service they’d receive traditionally, while crowdsourcing offers customers something different in the form that the help they receive is at their own convenience, and often from other customers.

Crowdsourcing is not a way for companies to skip out on providing customer service by passing the task on to other people or another company, it’s a way of enhancing your customer service and giving customers more options that might better suit their needs.

Crowdsourcing shouldn’t be viewed as only a way to reduce expenses on a company or workload on a customer service team. Given the rise of the on-demand economy, crowdsourcing customer service is one way to tap into this trend, and give members of the gig economy more work while also satisfying customer’s desires and preferences to participate in this new economy as well. There’s no doubt traditional customer service agents will still have workloads, but these workloads will more heavily involve issues that have been escalated up because of being more complex in nature.

The draw of having a crowd community of people who are essentially brand ambassadors should not be misunderstood or forgotten either. The crowd members offering help and spreading the gospel of your business are helping heighten your brand in the eyes of other customers.

Crowdsourcing is not just about saving money for the business or the customer, as customers are often willing to pay more for better, personalized service. And often the crowd covers services that traditional companies will charge extra to do, so going through the crowd can sometimes be less expensive than requesting special services from a telco company.

Also, unlike outsourcing, free online forums, or what some previous media called “unsourcing,” members of the crowd who offer services with certain companies are compensated for their work monetarily, not just through gamification. Crowd members understand customer’s needs or issues because perhaps they had those issues too, which is different than customer service reps who may or may not use a service or product themselves, but are trained on how to fix it.

Offering Additional Services By Tapping Into The Crowd

Keep in mind, online forums didn’t completely take over customer service departments at companies where they were highly popular, such as Apple.

While outsourcing is often looked at as the be-all, end-all for certain departments of businesses, customer support is something that both the business and crowd can offer a customer. And there are certain issues that require confidentiality that generally must be dealt with by an official employee.

With crowdsourcing, you are not passing all of your service to the crowd. In fact, the best kind of crowd service involves the company and the crowd working together and collaborating under the umbrella of that company.

Also, the crowd provides additional services that are usually not core responsibilities of a company, such as setting up your new phone that you purchased from a telecommunications company to pair with your laptop. It’s not just about decreasing costs, it’s about increasing revenue by having happier customers who will want to continue to do business with you thanks to the customer service options you provide.

Why outsource when you can tap into the crowd?

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