Interview about Mila on “Swisscom Neighborhood” launch

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 speak about crowdsourcing technical support on Mila, and how corporations are beginning to look at the notion of collaborative consumption and the sharing economy to support better customer service.

The Interview

There are of course, a number of task marketplaces online now – everything from those offering casual tasks and errands to be run, all the way to more specialised work like programming and design. Can you tell us first a little bit about Mila, and where it fits in the spectrum?

Mila is a task marketplace for “casual” errands, services and tasks. We have two sets of users: those trying to find help for a task or errand, and those offering their services. When you go to Mila, you can do a local search where you can immediately see what people are offering in the way of services, and what people need help with in your neighborhood. I say “casual”, but we’re constantly surprised at the diversity of services and tasks being offered — we have a party entertainer who’s a fire eater in our marketplace, a travel guide who offers tours on the back of his Vespa, a mum who offers chess parties for children. We certainly have lots of people and small businesses that can run small errands and accomplish small tasks — flat pack builders, movers, cleaners, tech support providers who can set up your digital TV box — but its been great to see wide range of creative and diverse services.

Can you tell us what you’re specifically doing for Swisscom?

We’re building them their own P2P marketplace site – www.mila.com/swisscom, in which Swisscom’s customers can find local tech help. Swisscom has been really progressive in the way they’ve really dealt with customer service. They know that mobile phones, digital TV boxes, broadband — all of these services — can be quite complicated for some of their customers. They started out with an online forum in which their customers can answer each others tech questions—which is very successful for them, so they felt comfortable taking this idea to the physical world. The idea is that for the smaller jobs – such as setting up Wi-Fi, or helping extend a digital TV box to more than one room — a customer can go to the marketplace, find a local person or small business that can help. It also gives the customer a lot of flexibility— they can see the prices of these providers, and they can choose the time that best fits their schedule. For Swisscom, it really helps with customer satisfaction as you can imagine no one likes struggling with tech. Watch the Video (Swiss-German):

Collaborative consumption and corporations: paradoxical and misguided pairing, or powerful partnership that furthers the values of the sharing economy?

Yes, it probably seems paradoxical that a large corporation would be entering the sharing economy space. But actually, it makes a lot of sense on two very important levels.

First, there is a real movement with consumers, who happen to be customers of some of these large corporations to be more careful about over consuming, or on a more practical level, overbuying goods or services they don’t need. At the same time, I do think most people do like the idea of strengthening their community and supporting local businesses or people making a living. I think large corporations are recognising this – we see a lot more talk about social responsibility and a lot more action. In this case with Swisscom, we see a company who can solve their own business problem of delivering better customer satisfaction, but can really help strengthen the local community by supporting local people or businesses by sending customers their way.

Second, as a young marketplace – we launched in March when we secured 2.5 million euros in funding — we know that building trust into a marketplace is challenging. We have seen trust improve with better profiles, feedback of both the buyers and sellers, linking to social profiles, but with the Swisscom marketplace, we are hoping that people will also be comforted by the fact that Swisscom does a basic vetting of the people or small businesses who want to be identified as “Swisscom Friends”. So yes, in this way, a corporation can be valuable in the collaborative consumption space because they can really help establish trust in a marketplace, or an initiative.

One final question: do you think we will see more corporations entering the space, and what sort of examples do you think we’ll see?

We will definitely be see more corporations entering the space. On a customer service standpoint, it certainly makes sense in cases where a corporation has a product that is complex and may need an extra pair of expert hands to help set up. We’ve seen plenty of success stories with online customer forums where customers help each other with tech issues — even Apple uses this approach. So, why not in the physical world? But I think we’ll also see companies with idle resources moving to renting them more – Toyota, BMW, Ford and Volkswagen all do this, for example. We will also see more social responsibility moves. In the US, Patagonia, the outdoor gear and clothing store, encouraged its customers to buy and sell things on their eBay “hub” to reduce their environmental impact — which of course, fits exactly with their brand image.

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