Unsourcing – The Future of Customer Service?

Why bother outsourcing customer support when you can get your customers to do it for you. I’ve been watching the success of giffgaff with interest for a while. For those not familiar with giffgaff it is a UK mobile service provider where customers participate in the company’s business operations, specifically Marketing, Sales and Customer service.

As well as via the Giff Gaff community web page Facebook and Twitter provide additional channels for customer support. Support is provided socially, by fellow customers rather than using Giff Gaff employees.

This trend of setting up online communities to deliver peer to peer customer support has been dubbed “Unsourcing” and is not limited to Giff Gaff. The obvious reason for many organizations choosing to unsource is cost. Gartner estimates that using communities to solve support issues can reduce costs by up to 50%.

However viewing unsourcing as an opportunity to reduce customer support risks repetition of the same problems that have beset organizations who have chosen outsource their customer service to emerging economies, most importantly creating a disconnect between the organization and its customers. Simply viewing customer service as a cost center rather than for example an opportunity for differentiation and as a source of new product ideas is doomed to fail.

Unsourcing has a number of benefits. It allows Gen Y customers to interact with organizations via the social channels with which they are most familiar and to engage with fellow customers who share a common interest. In addition it creates a bond between an organization and its most important customers.

Unsourcing will become a key aspect of the customer service mix rather than a panacea. Organizations will still need to ensure that their customers aren’t left high and dry should they not get the right answer. If it’s a complaint they will need to ensure it is addressed as quickly as possible. They must monitor the channels to detect emerging trends, product problems or new product opportunities. In other words they will still need to tie the social or unsourced customer to business processes.

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