Crowdsourcing. Apple does it. Best Buy does it. Can (and should) your company do it?

Five Things To Think About When Crowdsourcing Customer SupportCrowdsourcing, as defined by Wikipedia.org, is the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community, rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.

In business, ideas are crowdsourced online as an “easier” way to run informal focus groups and test and gauge consumer feedback for new products or services. Another key function that Apple and Best Buy uses crowdsourcing to manage is, customer support.

Crowdsourcing customer support allows a community of members to field and address questions and concerns from other users in a forum hosted on the company website. This community can include current users, employees, experts, and partners.

The main positives of crowdsourcing for customer support includes inviting the community of users to self-diagnose and solve some of their issues without using company personnel and therefore, reducing troubleshooting calls/emails, which could reduce customer support costs. However, this solution isn’t for every company, but there are some things to consider if this seems like a viable solution.

So, if you are considering crowdsourcing customer support, address these five questions before you get started.

1. Can your customer support be crowdsourced? It’s a simple question, but something to really think about before diving into this solution. Consider this question specifically in terms of your audience. Do you have brand loyalists, employees and/or experts who know enough about your top troubleshooting issues and can contribute insightful dialogue to the community? If not, you may end up with a forum full of unaddressed questions. Be sure there will be a process for reviewing questions and ensuring responses to some degree.

2. How will it effect your bottomline? Adding this function onto your website could accrue some costs (design, platform investment, etc.), but if the cost reduction from the support end appears to be higher than the initial investment and will result in a positive ROI, then the initiative is justified. Do a full cost assessment on both ends to determine if this will make sense in the short and long terms.

3. Can you manage the crowdsourced community? A potential risk when giving power to your community (and this is a risk that always exists) is what your community may say and how the issues will be addressed. These crowdsourced forums do need some community management and interventions here and there to ensure users are not abusing the space. If there is capacity for some community management, be sure to set initial ground rules for users and work out a process for compliance and mitigation.

4. Do your customers want this and will they use it? A really important question to address is finding out if customers will appreciate this type of service or if they will feel that it is a way for the company to avoid interactions. Will your audience embrace this community? It will only work if they do.

5. How will you measure the efficacy? With any initiative that costs money, there needs to be an element of measurement to ensure it is working and achieving the determined goals. Prior to launching the forum, determine how it will be measured and if it will factor in consumer sentiment or be strictly based upon the number of issues submitted, relevant solutions, visits, members, etc.

After answering these questions, the next step is to determine the logistics, implementation, and promotion.

Using crowdsourcing for customer support can be effective if implemented correctly and these questions are answered before launching.

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