VRM help is where you find it

ProjectVRM 2013-05-27

As Dean Landsman tweets here, a lot of suff out there is VRM without saying so. (Which is cool; it doesn’t have to.) The example toward which he points is How can we provide better customer service? Create software that lets customers serve each other by Ashley Verrill in Gigaom. The summary:

As consumers increasingly turn to social media to both praise and criticize brands, those brands can’t possibliy respond to all the feedback. The solution is to empower customers to speak on their behalf.

Her piece begins,

Recently I was asked a question following a presentation that suddenly made me realize social application developers are missing a big opportunity in customer service. I had just finished speaking at the global HP Social Support Summit, when an audience member took the microphone and asked, “Do you know of any software that lets community members respond on behalf of companies on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms?”

I do, and more on that below. Meanwhile, Ashley unpacks the problem requiring this kind of question:

The current customer service model is moribund

One of the biggest reasons this idea struck me is that the current model just isn’t working. In one study I conducted, major brands such as Coca-Cola and Wells Fargo responded just 14 percent of the time when they were asked questions via Twitter. This is a big problem when you consider more than half of Twitter users expect a personal response within two hours of sending a question or complaint, according to a report by Oracle last year.

This is a scaling problem that can be partially answered by equipping more employees to respond to requests from customers. Ashley sees customers themselves — “community members” — taking up the rest of the slack:

Existing, active community members can be the perfect candidates to respond for companies on social media for two reasons: For one, they’re already enthusiastic about your products and so can be good brand ambassadors; and two, they’ve proven their zeal for answering questions from other customers already.

Take this HP community member, for example. He spends upwards of 30 unpaid  hours a week responding to queries in their discussion forums. The software I’m suggesting would essentially empower “wb2001″ and thousands of other similar customers like him to respond to questions on social media (in addition to the community that exists already).

This hypothetical technology could still leverage all of the tools that make communities so effective – things like gamification and automated alerts. Also, social listening tools could filter out messages that would be better suited for an employee response. This could include messages from customers that are particularly angry, or questions that would require a technical expert.

This would lead, she concludes, to “empowering your brand advocates to create a sea of new discussions that never would have existed in the first place.”

What would do the empowering, exactly?

Among VRM developers, I see one company that does exactly what the HP audience member asked for. The company is Directly. Here is its mission:

A Better Way To Get Help.

Directly makes it easy to get fast, personal attention from experts who know different companies inside and out. Our community of experts work independently in their own free time. They earn rewards and reputation, and can cash out their rewards or donate them to one of the non-profit causes we support.

  • Our support site helps customers get better customer support — so customers can spend less time dealing with support and more time enjoying their life.
  • Our mortgage site helps homebuyers and homeowners — so more families can buy new homes or stay in the ones they love.

Directly launched publicly in December 2012 with a network that reaches 3.2 million customers monthly and has already helped 35,000 airline, bank, cable and wireless customers with a 97% response rate and an average response time of less than 10 minutes.

So whether you need to evaluate the best options, resolve an issue or just get things done, Directly is a better way to get help straight from the experts who can help.

As for software for making her scenario work, I think it would have to be independent of the world’s HPs, but would work with any or all of them.

For example, let’s say I wish to leverage my expertise with these things:

  • Canon 5D camera
  • 2000 Volkswagen Passat station wagon
  • Sangean ATS-909/Radio Shack DX-398 radio
  • Garmin eTrex Legend HCx GPS
  • Starbucks’ Saeco and Barista espresso machines

Rather than be empowered by each of those companies to speak for them, I might like one standard and non-proprietary way I could provide help for users of all of them. Or that would give customers a way of notifying the marketplace (including the corporate CRM systems, plus help systems such as Directly, plus anybody interested in helping without an intermediator) of a need for help.

Is that way out there yet? There are a zillion fora for a zillion products and services already. Some are hosted by the companies themselves, and some are out in the wild. But all I can name are to some degree centralized. What I’d like to see is something decentralized, but capable of working both with customers and with any of the CRM systems already in place from providers like Salesforce, IBM, SAP, Microsoft Dynamics and the rest of them.

Maybe something like that is out there already. If so, let us know.