Online 'gurus' offer technical expertise to solve problems

22:15, Aug 31 2012

Providing technical support for your products is difficult and expensive, so why not encourage your more knowledgeable customers to do it for you?

That's a question more businesses are asking themselves as they watch "gurus" find and post solutions to complicated problems on online bulletin boards free of charge.

2degrees said it had achieved a "New Zealand social media first" by setting up an area on its Facebook page where self-styled experts could be rewarded for answering questions posed by other customers. Social media manager David Gascoigne said 2degrees did so after identifying four online visitors who were consistently answering others questions and doing it well.

2degrees now lets customers reward people who come forward with good answers to their questions by nominating them for a 50-cent phone credit.

The community was successfully dealing with more than 100 questions a month and 2degrees had paid out a few hundred dollars in rewards, he said.

People tended to post a question, wait about an hour for a response and then call for help if they didn't get one, Gascoigne said.

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Deloitte Australia "chief edge officer" Peter Williams said there was an international trend for businesses to encourage such crowd support.

Australia's Telstra had created a "gamefied" rewards system where people earned "kudos" points and rose up a ladder by providing help to others through a bulletin board on its website.

"People like me, for reasons I can't quite explain, are providing support to other Telstra customers who have got exotic problems."

He said the alternative - dealing with a support call - could cost businesses anywhere between $5 and $25, and the solutions staff provided to customers over the phone weren't there for others to see.

"Often customers know more about the products than the people who are selling them," Williams said.

He believed such self-help systems were sustainable, even without companies offering tangible rewards.

"There is something in the human spirit - we like to help others if we can, if it isn't a great hassle."

Recognition was more important to people who provided help than rewards, he believed. "I think if you started paying people to do it, you might find the behaviour would change, because people would have the expectation of getting some money."

Gascoigne said 2degrees watched for people abusing its system by posting non-genuine questions and rewarding each other with credits. "That is definitely the main risk," but so far hadn't been a problem, he said.

He wasn't concerned expectations over the rewards 2degrees offered might escalate over time.

"We pay about $7 per call that comes into the call centre. If people want more credit, 50c, $1, then we can potentially lift the amounts."

Consumer New Zealand chief executive Sue Chetwin said she thought such schemes were positive - assuming customers could still contact businesses if they had real problems - and incentives to encourage people to participate were probably a good thing.

It could help reduce the "incredibly negative" tone of many online forums, she said.

Contact Tom Pullar-Strecker
Infotech editor
Email: tom.pullar-strecker@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @PullarStrecker

Waikato Times