Hi, What’s your background? Were you always interested in customer service and the crowd?
Manuel Grenacher, Mila CEO: My background is in computer science, so it was more tech-y than service oriented. My parents run a small company that produces furniture. Growing up, you really learn from a tiny company how important customer relationships are. They take better care of their customers because they have just a few. That’s why I understood what makes great customer service.
In my own experience, mid- and large-size companies don’t provide a service that I would expect. So I don’t feel connected to these companies. I started wondering how companies we use today in daily life can provide good service. In the end, this is why I believe I had the idea to do more crowdsourced stuff. To solve all the questions, you will never have enough resources to provide a great service when you have only your employees. That’s why you should use the crowd and influence the crowd to help you to really provide good customer service. You can have a customer in the field, anywhere and anytime and not make the customer wait a week to get a technician to install a TV or whatever. You can have—more or less –service in real time.
So, how did Mila start?
Mila had a journey from being a service marketplace to being a crowdsourced service platform. We tried several things, but ended up deciding to really focus on helping large companies tap into this collaborative economy movement. We don’t want to provide our own crowd and try to compete. It is more important that we help large brands and companies to build up their own crowds and use them for their own brand on our platform.
For someone who doesn’t know anything about crowdsourcing, how does Mila work together with telcos?
With Mila, we can increase your workforce on-demand. [We help telcos] digitize the service process, to be more connected to your customers, to be more engaged with your customers. Using the power of collaborative economy to extend your field force, you can provide the perfect service.
How do you feel about how much Mila has grown compared to when you began?
We are on a good track now. When you’re starting a startup, you need to find your business model and there are ups and downs. Now that we have, for example, Swisscom in Switzerland that is using our software, and it is fully implemented by their customers, Mila has a really important role to play. It’s in the middle between customers and vendors. It’s not just a tool in the marketing department, it’s an important channel.
We’ve improved a lot the last 24 months. I’m satisfied. Of course, it can be more and more, but it depends on funding and finding the right people, and so on.
How are you feeling about upcoming Mila projects and new partnerships?
We’ve [been talking] with similar companies like Swisscom, in the telecommunications and energy industries. These are our two main directions. Mila works for customers and brands that have half a million to one million end customers. We discuss [our service] with a lot of big brands. Most of them are really interested in this model, especially because they can see that it works for customers, like Swisscom. It’s definitely something many large companies will tap into, in the future. And because we have the right moment, we came into this market at the perfect time.
If you could talk directly to someone who is thinking of using Mila, but they’re not sure yet, what would you say to them?
You should use your customers to help other customers. Because sometimes the customers know the product even better than employees. Nobody says this is a stupid idea. What’s more important is how large companies really take this step. You need people that really push this decision and implement it. It’s more of an integration question than a “Should we do it?” question. The integration of crowdsourced service is the biggest effort for large companies.
Think about a simple case, you call your provider and say, “I have a problem with my product.” As an example, I buy a PC and I’m not able to install my Gmail account. And then the agent says, “I’m very sorry. Gmail is not a program from us. Your computer seems to be running. Goodbye.” This is not a solution for the customer. If you could say, “Look, sorry Gmail is not our product, but we could offer you Peter next door to help you install that.” To change the mindset of every agent in the company, that’s the tricky part because you need to transfer some of the customer service traffic to our Mila website.
What do you hope for Mila in the future?
My vision is to try to do more real-time service. For example, if you order something on Amazon you want it fast. Even same-day delivery, that’s normal today. The same will happen to service. This is our mission, to help companies so that they can provide real-time service.
For several years now, the practice of allowing customers help one another on online company forums has been routine at some of the world’s largest companies such as Apple, Samsung, and Sony. The trend now is to take this practice to the physical world.
As more companies look to meet the heightened expectations of consumers, they are tapping their own customers – especially their brand advocates — to help them. Call it crowdsourcing or collaborative customer service. Companies such as Switzerland’s largest mobile operator Swisscom, Germany’s mobile operator Vodafone, and DHL Sweden have set up online platforms where customers can help customers by providing additional support or services in the physical world.
The additional support isn’t meant as a replacement of a company’s service obligations, and it isn’t a foisting off of support responsibilities. Rather, it extends support to feature-rich or complex products, or encourages knowledge sharing to make the most of them. For example, Swisscom sells broadband. Customers looking for help putting child-friendly web filters on their browsers can go to the Swisscom Friends online platform and find neighborhood help to install the software on their computers.
The trend is set to continue, especially as more and more customers look for self-service options and collaborative economy or sharing economy practices pioneered by Airbnb and Uber take hold among consumers.
So, here are our top 5 reasons we believe that customers can be your greatest asset in extending your customer service.
Extend Customer Support Beyond Your Company’s Obligations
Consumers today demand near-perfect customer service. They want nearly instant responses to their issues, quick solutions, and service to cover every aspect of a product. In some instances, a brand can take a negative hit even when they aren’t technically responsible for the support of a product. This often happens when brands sell complex products, or products that require a high level of effort to get it operational. For example, anyone who has ever bought a piece of flat-pack furniture knows that you pay a much cheaper price because you are required to assemble it. But not everyone wants to spend three hours wrestling with screws, wooden dowels, and Allen wrenches to put the furniture together. Yet the brand takes the heat as the consumer struggles to build it. Why not offer customers the ability to find someone who will build it for them, at a time convenient for them, and at a price they are happy with?
Offer Customer Support On Their Schedule
Consumers are growing more impatient by the day. They want their issues resolved quicker than ever. But the reality is consumers are often too busy to take time out of their working day to solve their product issues. On the bright side, consumers are more willing than ever to resolve their own issues either by self-service means or turning to other consumers. The success of collaborative economy giants Uber, Lyft and Airbnb have shown that consumers are open to the idea of getting help or using the assets of other consumers. Companies can tap their own customers who have knowledge of their product to provide additional support at times that suit the customer.
Help Customers Make the Most Out of Your Products
Today’s products are being built with an increasing number of features and tech. It’s not just televisions, mobile phones, and digital TV boxes that are being packed with more buttons and options. Everyday domestic products such as smoke alarms, thermostats, washing machines, and even the humble clothes iron are being stuffed with more features, and increasingly connected to the Internet. Setting them up and getting the most out of them or even maintaining them can be difficult and time consuming. Consumers who are brand enthusiasts can be tapped to help other customers get the most out of their products.
Sell Additional Products
Retailers are in a good position to benefit from consumer interest in the collaborative economy. In the UK, Kingfisher, owners of the DIY chain B&Q set up community tool sharing platform Streetclub. It encourages people to get together to share tools and ideas on how to get DIY projects done or to get help or offer help. It might seem that allowing customers to share tools would mean a loss in sales. In fact, the opposite was true. Not having to pay for large-ticket tools and having support to get a job done actually spurred sales of DIY materials. In the US, DIY chain Home Depot already allows its consumers to rent tools directly from them.
Keep Your Brand Advocates Happy
Your customer enthusiasts or brand advocates are by far one of a company’s biggest assets. Giving them a platform to help other customers — and to be paid for it — lets them champion a company’s products while at the same time being rewarded for it.
This week I had a keynote at the NZZ x-Days in Interlaken about new service models for large enterprises using and empower the collaborative economy. The collaborative and sharing economy is not stoppable. Entrepreneur magazine posted an article this week that Airbnb and Uber is just the beginning. Globally, the collaborative economy’s size was approximately $15 billion in 2014. It’s projected to reach $335 billion by 2025. The success of Uber and Airbnb isn’t a fad — it’s a new way of doing business. In a few years, we’ll no longer debate the merits and dangers of the collaborative economy. it will simply be a fact of life. Traditional businesses can fight it, but doing so means setting themselves up for a loss. There will be growing pains along the way — and more horror stories, no doubt — but the sharing economy is here to stay.
However, I presented the Swisscom Friends project that shows that traditional business can benefit from collaborative economy and offer a new crowdsourced Service 2.0. Swisscom connects neighbors to help one another with technical problems, for example.
Swisscom has courageously engaged and uses the “friends” who are former employees or neighbors, to troubleshoot technical problems other neighbors may have. Instead of calling in an expensive technician, a “friend” can be summoned via Mila. Ratings, photo and skills for example can be viewed online. For a business, this is a chance to exceed customer satisfaction via a collaborative economy. I also recommend to read the article posted by NZZ, Giorgio Mueller, about the new business models by empowering the neighborhood. For more on collaborative economy and how It will change or disrupt the business and how enterprises can benefit, see Jeremiah Owyang’s presentation.
What will be affected by technology in the next 15 years:
Loïc Le Meur, a French serial entrepreneur and blogger based in San Fransisco, describes during x-days how his life will be in the year 2030. Service 2.0 optimized by sensors – everywhere, see Loïc’s presentation.
More and more companies are turning to collaborative consumption practices to boost their customer support. Call it crowd sourcing, or crowd service; companies are increasingly recognizing that their own customers or brand advocates can be some of their most enthusiastic and efficient means of support for other customers.
The “techie next door” will help customers out
Last September, Vodafone Germany, Germany’s second largest network operator, inspired by the sharing economy, launched a new service with online platform, in which customers could turn to other customers to get tech support.
As tech has grown more complex, Vodafone Service Friends lets customers go online to browse, find and book the “techie next door” to help with issues that aren’t covered by the company’s usual support network, for example, installing child-safe filters, setting up WLANs, or extending TV boxes from room to room.
TechRadar spoke to me to discover more details about the service, and the trend of enterprises turning to P2P networks to let customers solve issues faster and at their convenience.
The program, launched this autumn by mobile phone provider Vodafone, basically aims to give less savvy users access to cost-effective tech help delivered right to their doors in the form of other users.
Get the latest news on Mila and related topics now at blog.mila.com. We’ve changed quite a few things: You can choose your preferred language – German or English. It’ll also be possible to post comments now, so you can share your thoughts and ideas with us and the community.
We’re looking forward to seeing you!
Today, Swisscom, Switzerland’s largest telecommunications company, launched “Swisscom Neighborhood”, its peer-to-peer tech support marketplace where its residential customers can find local, approved support to help solve their tech challenges (read more on TechCrunch). Mila, the Swiss-founded mobile and online task marketplace, is powering the marketplace with their platform.
I’m very proud to be the “Newcomer” People Award Winner of the famous Swiss ICT Award! A big thank you to my amazing team and loyal customers and partners! Over 800 people attended the award ceremony of the Swiss ICT Award yesterday in Lucerne at KKL. Several start-ups were awarded and it is obvious that the Swiss ICT start-ups is becoming more recognised. The Swiss ICT award ceremony is the most important event of the Swiss IT industry.