Category: Technology (page 1 of 7)

#TakeBackControl with #VRM

That’s a big part of what tonight’s Respect Network launch here in London is about. I’ll be speaking briefly tonight at the event and giving the opening keynote at the Immersion Day that will follow tomorrow. Here is a draft of what I’ll say tonight:

This launch is personal.

It’s about privacy.

It’s about control.

It’s about taking back what we lost when Industry won the Industrial Revolution.

It’s about fixing a marketplace that has been ruled by giant companies for a hundred and fifty years — even on the Internet, which was designed — literally — to support our independence, our autonomy, our freedom, our liberty, our agency in the world.

Mass marketing required subordinating the individual to the group, to treat human beings as templates, demographics, typicalities.

The promise of the Internet was to give each of us scale, reach and power.

But the commercial Internet was built on the old model. On the industrial model. What we have now is what the security guru Bruce Schneier calls a feudal system. We are serfs in the Kingdom of Google, the Duchy of Facebook, the Principality of Amazon.

Still, it’s early. The Internet as we know it today — with browsers, ISPs, search engines and social media — is just eighteen years old. In the history of business, and of civilization, this is nothing. We’ve barely started.

But the Internet does something new that nothing else in human history ever did, and we’re only beginning to wrap our heads around the possibilities: It puts everybody and everything at zero functional distance from everybody and everything else — and at costs that want to be zero as well.

This is profound and huge. The fact that we have the Net means we can zero-base new solutions that work for each of us, and not just for our feudal overlords.

Archimedes said “Give me a place to stand and I can move the world.”

That’s why we are here today. Respect Network has been working to give each of us a place to stand, to take back control: of our identities, our data, our lives, our relationships… of everything we do on the Net as free and independent human beings.

And what’s extra cool about this is that Respect Network isn’t just one company. It’s dozens of them, all standing behind the same promise, the same principles, the same commitment to build markets upward from you and me, and not just downward like eyes atop pyramids of control.

I’ll have a lot more to say about this tomorrow at Immersion Day, but for now I invite you to savor participating in a historic occasion.

I’m sure I’ll say something different, because I’ll speak extemporaneously and without the crutchware of slides. But I want to get this up  because I can’t print where I am at the moment, and it seems like a fun and useful thing to do in any case.

For more, see A New Data Deal, starting today, at my personal blog.

VRM is as distributed as humanity

VRM is for the  individual human beings we call customers.

While human beings form collective groups — families, teams, parishes, parties — what makes each of us most human is our individuality — and our capacity to grow and change.

We are all different. Even identical twins, grown from the same split egg, can be as different as male and female.

Our species evolved faces so we could tell each other apart, express ourselves differently, and live separate and unique lives. No other species has the same degree of variation among faces and voices, or has the same ability to customize personal appearance, behavior and voice, through diet, exercise, piercings, markings (such as tatoos) and other choices.

And yet we also form organizations — tribes, churches, businesses, governments — that cannot scale to usefulness without treating people as populations, groups and templates. We need these organizations to operate civilization.

But we also need our individuality. This is why we bristle when asked in a survey to provide our age, ethnicity or income group. Both asking and answering those questions insults our dignity as separate and distinct individuals: ones with dominion over ourselves, born to possess full agency in the world, and irreducible to demographic characteristics.

Humanity by its nature is also distributed. Scattered. In the computing and networking worlds — which are now the same — distributed means comprised of individual points of autonomy and control. The same goes for links between those nodes.

Paul Baran described the different ways humanity and its networks can be organized, with this drawing here —

fig1

— in this essay for the Rand Corporation on the subject of distributed communications. It was radical when it was written, in 1962, because centralized networks were the only kind. But Baran was also writing  at the height of the cold war, when the need to create the smallest possible “attack surface” was imperative. Hence the distributed design that later became the base-level nature of the Internet: as basic and elemental as chemical valency — the combining power of elements — and human nature.

This design is what David Isenberg calls “stupid” — because its purpose is to put all the intelligence at the network’s infinite number of ends (which are mostly human), rather than in the middle(s), where it is vulnerable.

Over the last decade, however, large businesses operating on the Internet, and provisioning access to it, have become increasingly centralized — or at best decentralized, but in very central ways. Visualizations of the Internet, such as this

internet

— and this

Internet_map_1024_-_transparent

 

— are of type B in Baran’s drawing above: decentralized, rather than distributed.

But the forces of decentralization and distribution are still with us, growing up from the Net’s own grass roots: individual geeks, working together on behalf of the Net itself, and its native nature.

Jon Udell wrote about them yesterday, pointing to this amazing list by @rossjones by way of @Jeremie Miller, father of XMPP, one of the most widespread protocols in the Internet suite. It’s far longer than our own here at Project VRM. But we will include it, because what they’re doing supports what we are doing, in the most fundamental way possible.

Lately I’ve been asked, along with many others, if there is still hope for a Net free from control by giant Net-based corporations, governments, phone and cable companies, the entertainment industry, and combinations of all those forces. On the surface it looks like the answer is no.

But looking down in the grass roots, growing upward out of the Net’s deepest and most permanent layer — also the most human one — gives me faith.

VRM mojo Down Under

Unconference

I’m still de-compressing from a week in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, where I had my mind blown by all the VRM energy gathering there and in New Zealand.

In Sydney, Flamingo hosted a consortium of VRM companies on Wednesday, held its official launch on Thursday and put on a Customer Experience unconference on Friday. (That’s one shot from it above. The full set is here.)  The consortium included people representing (in alphabetical order) Customer Commons, Flamingo, Geddup, Meeco, MyWave, ProjectVRM, Respect Network, and Welcomer . Some of us, myself included, wore a number of those hats at once.*

Here are a few links.

A focus of many conversations in Sydney (especially at the unconference) was customer experience, or CX, a buzzterm Wikipedia currently describes (with “issues,” the box above it says) this way: “Customer experience (CX) is the sum of all experiences a customer has with a supplier of goods and/or services, over the duration of their relationship with that supplier.” A VRM corollary to that angle is “Customer experience is also about how the company experiences the customer.” Or how the government experiences the citizen. Or how the organization experiences the member. The source of those was @CatrionaWallace<, CEO of Flamingo. It was also very much in line with conversations last Summer in New Zealand with Geraldine McBride (@GeraldineGlobal) of MyWave. (@JoePine, co-author of The Experience Economy, was also there and contributed to those conversations.)

Various combinations of VRooMers also met with three different government agencies, all of which were eager to support GRM (government relationship management) by citizens, and to learn as much as possible about how that’s being done in the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere. Two of those meetings happened in Canberra, where we were led within and between meetings by Kevin Cox of Welcomer. In Melbourne we also got quality time with Rohan Clarke (@GeddupRC) of Geddup, who also arranged an interview at PBS 106.7 on the overlapping subjects of VRM and community radio in Australia. Pieces of that should be coming online soon.

One VRM outfit I’m bummed to have missed was 4th Party, which sources  The Intention Economy, and says “Fourth parties are trusted agents that help consumers interact with multiple vendors on the consumers’ terms.” Since we’ve been talking about fourth parties for several years, it’s great to finally see the term put to good use.

Much more happened, and will continue to happen, than I’m reporting on here. I’m just in a hurry right now to get something up while it’s fresh in my mind and all the browser tabs are open.


*I’m on the Flamingo board (and have relationships with other VRM companies as well), but I don’t play favorites. I want everybody to win, and work toward that goal.

Reporting on the Data Privacy Hackathon

Data Privacy HackathonIn case you missed the Data Privacy Hackathon, held this past weekend in London, New York and San Francisco, there should be a good mother lode of posts, tweets and videos up now, or soon.

Here is a small starter-pile of links from the New York one:

  • The hackathon page.
  • #privacyhack on Twitter
  • Videos of the event, courtesy of the New York Chapter of the Internet Society.  VRM and I come in at ~ 27 minutes into the first video. Finalist hacks are presented in this video here. One of the entries, Re-entry, led by Lina Kaisey, Harvard Law School ’14, starts at about 56 minutes into the last video link, and is to some degree based on my challenge in the first video link. It came in second. The winner was Ghostdrop, the presentation for which follows Lina’s, and which allows private communications between individuals. (Re-entry does that too, for prisoners re-entering the free world, and communicating with The System).

More at LegalHackathon.net.

Big Data will remain a Big Dud until individuals have their own

The impact of computing on the worldwide economy, and even on business, was subject to debate until it got personal around the turn of the ’80s. Same with networking before the Internet came along in the mid ’90s.

Big computing and worldwide communications — two capabilities that for decades were entirely the province of large organizations — exploded with boundless new value once they became personal. You and I can do far more with computing and communications today than companies and governments ever could with either when they ran those shows, and when both were just B2B businesses.

From the B2B perspective in 1980, personal computing was an oxymoron. If you wanted to do serious computing, you needed big machines on raised floors tended “data processing” professionals. There was no way individuals with desktop machines could do the same grade of work. That notion ended when human creativity was massively unleashed by tens of thousands of new apps that could do things for individuals — and organizations — that big machines and staffs never could.

Likewise, personal networking in 1993 was also an oxymoron — again from the B2B perspective.  Networks were things companies built, were a grace provided by giant telecom operators. Then the Internet came along, and subordinated those telecom operators (and cable operators as well) to the boundless new capacities of anybody with a computer and a connection to the vast new “cyber” spaces the Internet’s simple protocols opened.

What happened in both cases was individuals acquiring and exploiting capacities that were once exclusively corporate — and doing far more with those capacities than those corporations (and governments) ever could.

We forget those lessons when we look at “Big Data” today. In Is Big Data an Economic Big Dud? for example,  of The New York Times writes, “There is no disputing that a wide spectrum of businesses, from e-marketers to pharmaceutical companies, are now using huge amounts of data as part of their everyday business.” The whole piece is contained in the B2B frame: Big Data is something only big companies (and hot start-ups) have, care about, and put to use.

Yet to each of us nothing is bigger (or at least more important) than our own data. And nothing shifts attention farther away from what we can do with that data than assuming that others (especially marketers) know more about what we want and need than we do ourselves. Or that Big Data is something that only companies do and care about. This is exactly the mentality that held back computing in the mainframe age, and communications in the telecom age. (And we are being held back today to the very degree that those two old industries, and mentalities, continue to hold sway in our minds and our marketplaces.)

But we’ve seen this movie before and we know how it starts: with assumptions that it can’t be done. It can, and it will.

We are going to be able to do far more with our own data — and data, period — than big organizations ever could.

Bonus links:

For real customer engagement, “social” is inadequate

In Social’s Value Measured in Engagement Over Sales, eMarketer provided this revealing graphic:

There are trends here too:

…consumer engagement and brand lift were the No. 1 goals of social media marketing, each cited by 67% of respondents. This was up significantly from 2011, when those goals were cited by about 50% each.

Last year, using social media marketing to garner positive sentiment was the leading goal, whereas this year it dropped to No. 4.

They add,

Marketers may be finding that it is less important that their posts get a warm reception from social users and more important that they keep consumers posting, “liking” and sharing social content.

That’s what marketers may think; but what about the parts of the company that make, sell and service the company’s goods? Let’s return again to an Oracle graphic of the “customer journey” that has been helping us focus lately:

Oracle Twist

Here’s what this illustrates about engagement:

  1. We’re not always buying stuff. We’re using it. When we have good ideas to feed back to companies, or when we want help with a company’s products or services, we shouldn’t have to go through “social” marketing. There, are, and should, be better means for that.
  2. Substantive engagement is not “posting, ‘liking’ and sharing social content”. It’s making direct connections with the parts of companies that want to help and learn from customers directly.
  3. Owning is what we do with the stuff we buy. Think about it. You’re owning 100% of the time, and buying far less, even if you’re a shopaholic. Yet the respect this fact gets from social marketing — and from marketing in general — is sub-minimal, even in our networked age.

Meanwhile spending on marketing budgets is going up, while other budgets are going down. Most of the increase is going to digital strategies, Gartner says (more here), and approximately none of that, outside “social”, is for direct engagement with the human beings who buy goods and services.

There is a reason for this, which I visit in The Intention Economy:

Back in the early ‘90s, when I was making a good living as a marketing consultant, I asked my wife—a successful businesswoman and a retailing veteran—why it was that heads of corporate Sales & Marketing departments were always from Sales people and not from Marketing people. Her answer: “Simple: Sales is real. Marketing is bullshit.”

When I asked her to explain that, she said this wasn’t marketing’s fault. The problem was the role marketing was forced to play. “See, sales touches the customer; but marketing can’t, because that’s sales’ job. So marketing has to be ‘strategic.’” She put air-quotes around “strategic.” She acknowledged that this was an over-simplification, and not fair to all the good people in marketing (such as myself) who really were trying to do right by customers. But her remark spoke to the need to distinguish between what’s real and what’s not, and to dig deeper into why the latter has become such an enormous part of the way we do business.

And now we have CMOs, Chief Marketing Officers, a title that barely existed two decades ago, graced with bigger budgets and increased political power within companies. And yet they still don’t touch the customer. Instead they want to follow the customer around with tracking beacons and to better personalize the “shopping experience” or whatever, and troll for “likes” on Facebook. In less delicate terms, the bullshit is out of control, with bigger budgets and fancier rationalizations than ever.

Want to see how far this goes? Check out the IBM/Aberdeeen “Big Datastillery”:

Look closely at this thing to see where you fit in. You’ll need to scroll down to the conveyor belt at the bottom. See those colored beakers, being filled with “customer interaction optimization” and “marketing optimization,” and then rolling off to oblivion after farting out “campaign metrics”? That’s you.

Your campaign metrics gas gets fed into the big hopper at the top from one pipe among many others. In rough order of decreasing size those are:

  • CRM
  • Social media
  • Clickstream data
  • Transactional data
  • Marketing history
  • SEO data
  • PPC (pay per click)
  • Email metrics
  • Campaign metrics
  • Ad impressions
  • Customer sentiment

None of this involves actual interactions with human beings except perhaps through social media. And even there, one CRM executive recently told me, marketing zealotry is “poisoning the well.”

We can’t fix this and shouldn’t try. It’s marketing’s house. Let them work on it. (Credit where due: according to the top graphic above, 56% of them want to use social media to “improve customer support/service”.)

What we can do is expand the owning experience to include helpful and productive interactions with companies that make, sell and service what we own, and what we use. Here’s one example.

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear stories from non-marketing people inside companies about what it’s like to try engaging, in durable and substantive ways, with customers who are at the same time getting treated like the beakers in the graphic above.

Bonus link from @bobosphere.

Turning the customer journey into a virtuous cycle

Traditional CRM typically looks at customers this way:CRM cycleIt’s a cycle. One of the reasons we started ProjectVRM is that actual customers are hard to find in the CRM business. We are “leads” for Sales, “cases” in Support, “leads” again in Marketing. At the Orders stage we are destinations to which products and invoices are delivered. That’s it.

Oracle CRM, however, has a nice twist on this (and thanks to @nitinbadjatia of Oracle for sharing it*):

Oracle Twist

Here we see the “customer journey” as a path that loops between buying and owning. The blue part — OWN, on the right — is literally the customer’s own-space. As the text on the OWN loop shows, the company’s job in that space is to support and serve. As we see here…

… the place where that happens is typically the call center.

Now let’s pause to consider the curb weight of “solutions” in the world of interactivity between company and customer today. In the BUY loop of the customer journey, we have:

  1. All of advertising, which Magna Global expects to pass $.5 trillion this year
  2. All of CRM, which Gartner pegs at $18b)
  3. All the rest of marketing, which has too many segments for me to bother looking up

In the OWN loop we have a $0trillion greenfield. This is where VRM started, with personal data lockers, stores, vaults, services and (just in the last few months) clouds.

Now look around your home. What you see is mostly stuff you own. Meaning you’ve bought it already. How about basing your relationships with companies on those things, rather than over on the BUY side of the loop, where you are forced to stand under a Niagara of advertising and sales-pitching, by companies and agencies trying to “target” and “acquire” you. From marketing’s traditional point of view (the headwaters of that Niagara), the OWN loop is where they can “manage” you, “control” you, “own” you and “lock” you in. To see one way this works, check your wallets, purses, glove compartments and kitchen junk drawers for “loyalty” cards that have little if anything to do with genuine loyalty.

But what if the OWN loop actually belonged to the customer, and not to the CRM system? What if you had VRM going there, working together with CRM, at any number of touch points, including the call center?

This is more than a simple dream. One of the coolest things to happen in the VRM development world is this insight, based on actual technology: everything you own can have its own cloud, and each can live inside your personal cloud. Your stuff doesn’t need to have embedded smarts. You can put your things’ smarts inside clouds of their own. Manufacturers can also include clouds along with everything they sell. Inside that cloud can go all the touchpoint contact data required for a genuine relationship, plus useful extras such as service manuals and shortcuts to product updates.

This means the product itself becomes the platform for relationship between the customer and everybody on the sell side, from manufacturer to distributor to retailer to service company. As I explained in this HBR post, that platform — the product’s cloud — is the level table where all those parties sit, at the grace of the customer. Because it’s the customer’s space.

One tablecloth for that platform is the TalkTag. It’s a simple QR code, like the one on the right. The pioneering company here is Kynetx, through its SquareTag service. It’s a simple way to give anything you have a cloud of its own. Scanning a TalkTag is one way to visit a thing’s cloud, which is also a programmable space. If your thing is lost, you can program it to provide contact information through somebody’s smartphone when they scan it. (Which I have done, and it works.)

You can also program it to, say, notify the call center when you scan it. For example, I want the TalkTag I just put on my cable modem to notify Time Warner Cable when I scan it. If Time Warner Cable’s CRM system is listening (which should be easy enough to make happen), it can send back a message to my phone, telling me there is an outage in my neighborhood. Or, in the event that there isn’t an outage, the “I’ve been scanned” message from me to Time Warner Cable can jump past stages in the company’s IVR (Interactive Voice Response) system and get me straight to the right person or automated response. That might be, “You need to download new firmware,” or “We have three new service tiers you might want to know about,” or “We see you haven’t paid your bill.”

I have shared this kind of scenario with two call center companies recently, and they liked it a lot. In fact they like the whole idea of VRM systems on the customers’ side that can lighten the burdens of relationship (and open opportunities) for both sides.

The customer journey — his or her experiences of owning and buying — will include more than just interacting with call centers. We use the things we own in countless ways that might be useful to share with others, including the companies that make and sell stuff — and not just through “social” systems like Facebook and Twitter, over which we have little or no control.

We should also be able to integrate data from products that don’t relate but should. In the Quantified Self world, for example, there is a standing need to synthesize data from many devices and databases. This need  cannot be solved by asking Nike, Fitbit, Withings, RunKeeper and the rest of them to all make their data un-silo’d and combine-able. And doing it in “social media,” whose only business is advertising at us, won’t work either. We need means of our own.

In the VRM world we’ve been saying the user needs to be the point of integration for his or her own data since Joe Andrieu first expressed that insight in 2007. Now, with personal clouds, in 2013, it’s starting to look possible. In fact the personal cloud, and the whole OWN loop, can also be a platform for intentcasting toward the BUY side.

The OWN side is also where all the privacy technology also sits, chiefly because it is distributed. It is here also that we hold the terms, preferences and policies we express when dealing with companies sitting across the tables set between us.

An interesting case that lies between buying and owning is relationships with service organizations, such as utilities. What we own here is own side of an ongoing relationship. Equipment of our own may be in there, or may not be. Either way, the use of a service — in our homes, cars and pockets — is what we at least control, even if we don’t own it.

So clearly we need a common platform for personal clouds, and for the things we put in them. That platform needs to be small, lightweight, distributed and open source. Right now I see one candidate for that: CloudOS, which is the brainbaby of Phil Windley. (Here’s a search for CloudOS and Windley. Lots of stuff there.) If you’ve got some other hacks, point them out in the comments below.

If we look at the customer experience from the company’s side again, this graphic from Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore does a nice job of framing the possibilities:

Across the table set in a personal cloud, customers can feed back good intelligence to every one of the loops in that graphic. And, because that data arrives directly and voluntarily, it has far higher quality than inferential data gathered by marketing’s many surveillance methods.

It also re-frames relationship and loyalty, as real things rather than as words marketing recites inside its own echo chambers. It will reduce marketing’s urge to manipulate, and advertising’s urge to personalize in the absence of conscious and voluntary signals welcoming it. The customer journey will thus turn into a virtuous cycle rather than the arduous one it is today.

It can also create a demand chain that can work in tandem with the supply chain, providing far better feedback at every stage. I could go on, but I want to get this up before the latest in the series of Important Calls that punctuate my life. (And they are all Good Things, trust me.)

Bonus link.

* In the comments below the post that follows this one, Ray Wang points to Esteban Kolsky as the original author of this graphic. As I say in my comment below Ray’s, I did hear that from Nitin Badjatia (of Oracle and formerly of Right Now), but I didn’t remember it when I wrote both posts in a hurry. Again, it is the verbs — BUY and OWN — that make the image especially useful for VRM, because they are the customer’s. I don’t yet know if those verbs are Esteban’s or Right Now/Oracle’s. Let me know and I’ll give credit where due.

VRM videos

First Retail

Here is a collection of videos about VRM and related subjects, in roughly reverse chronological order.

First, a series of well-edited excerpts from Disrupting Retail 2013, which was hosted by First Retail in New York City. Here’s an outline:

  1. What is Disrupting Retail?
  2. Amazon’s Product Recommender Systems
  3. Big Data Enabled Intention Management and the Customer Experience
  4. Moving from Personal Data to Individual Intention

The sessions were led by Gam Dias (@gammydodger) of First Retail, with Andreas Weigend (@weigend) and myself serving as sounding boards for the collection of forward-looking retailers gathered around the table. (That’s the two of us in the shot above.) Lots of excellent grist for retailers, VRooMers and everybody else who cares about the future of business (which, let’s face it, wouldn’t be business without retail). Bonus link.

Second, Phil Windley on building trillion-node networks. Within those might be your network, with your own Internet of Things in your own cloud. Bonus video: The cloud needs an operating system.

Third, from the State of the Net (#SOTN) conference in Trieste last month, four videos:

There were a number of others as well, which I’ll put up when I find them (or they find me).

Fourth, some others from the last year and more:

Can C2B customers lead in a dance with vendors like B2B customers do?

That question came to mind when I read Inside Facebook’s Fantastic Plan To Dominate Cisco’s $23 Billion Market, by Julie Bort, in Business Insider. The gist:

To recap: OCP launched two years ago to create “open source” data center hardware. That means hardware vendors like HP, Dell and Cisco don’t control the product designs. Instead, customers like Facebook and Goldman Sachs do.

OCP is the Open Compute Project.* What matters about the project, for our purposes, is that it models a way for a customer to relate to a vendor: taking the lead in the dance, rather than just following.

A question for VRooMers is, Can we as individual customers do the same thing? I’m thinking we can. One way is through personal clouds, including scenarios such as the one Phil Windley describes here. I am sure there are many others. So I’ll leave detailing those up to the rest of you. :-)

*BI, like too many other ad-funded Web publishers, doesn’t link to OCP, but instead to its own page full of stories about OCP. This is unhelpful, selfish and at variance with nature of the Web itself.  More about that here. (BTW, I’m guessing that the choice not to link is BI’s policy and not Julie’s, and would welcome correction on that.)

 

VRM help is where you find it

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.

Older posts

© 2014 ProjectVRM

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑