Crowdsourcing is a hot topic these days. Companies like CrowdFlower and Amazon Mechanical Turk enable businesses to leverage the power of crowds to get work done efficiently and cost-effectively. There’s even a crowdsourcing conference dedicated entirely to the topic.
But what is crowdsourcing, and can it help your small business?
Simply put, crowdsourcing is outsourcing work to a community. You can crowdsource a lot of things: your graphic design, your brainstorming, tasks or even your research. Companies have sprung up over the last few years that enable you to access a “crowd” to get this kind of work done very cost effectively.
Logoworks, which was started in 2001, pioneered crowdsourcing. They made it cost-effective for a small business to get a logo without having to deal with the headaches of finding, meeting with, and going through revision after revision with a single designer. Instead, designers around the world submit logos. The customer chooses and pays for the one they like.
Morgan Lynch, who founded Logoworks, put the power of crowdsourcing, or as he prefers to call it, “distributed workforces,” to the test. His new company Needle uses a distributed workforce to create a better shopping experience for ecommerce sites.
Chat provides an experience that you cannot provide through social media. Companies like Comcast offer customer support to their customers on Twitter. It’s close to real time, but not as real time as online chat, says Pete Codella of Codella marketing. “With chat people are on your web site ready to make a purchase. Optimizing chat for customer service taps into today’s Internet addicted customers. You are in effect saying, we hear you and we’re here.”
Forrester’s study of ShopNBC’s chat program found
that chat increased conversions and reduced shopping cart abandonment. Average order size increased and customers who chatted spent “on average 38 percent more than other customers.” It also “reduced returns and order cancellations by about 12 percent and increased return visits.”
The hot headphone company Skullcandy has been beta testing Needle. Lynch wants to provide assistance when being on a website is just like walking into a store. You expect to be greeted or have someone there to answer questions. You don’t expect to have to wait a long time to get an answer. Online customers need even more assistance since they cannot see or touch an item.
A common question people ask when they first try Skullcandy’s online chat is, “Are you a robot?” The person on the other end of the chat is far from it. The person they’re chatting with, or the “Needler,” is actually one of Skullcandy’s biggest fans and product experts. “These are people that embody the brand. They’re into action sports, love music, love great headphones, and want to help people find the right product for their lifestyle,” says Morgan.
The company finds Needlers through social media sites like Facebook profiles and blogs. Once they join, they tell their friends. The company gives them incentives to give a great customer experience and customers pay just for chats completed.
Try chatting on most sites and ask a subjective question such as: “Which game do you think I should get for my daughter’s birthday?” You will likely get a canned response that says something like, “Let me check on that,” followed by “Can I get an item number?” You wait and wait for an answer. Your frustration starts to build.
Companies can be so protective of their brand, and spend big on marketing and training, and yet put very little resources into chat. Needle hopes to turn that trend on its head. It’s designed to provide companies with an interactive brand experience that helps increase online conversion. Lynch wouldn’t provide numbers, but he said conversion rates are “very good.”
The technology gives the Needler all the tools they need to give the shopper the best service possible. They know exactly what pages a person has visited so they won’t ask redundant questions. They can share product links, images, draw on the images, and even create specialized coupons for a specific customer in the chat window. Needle’s online chat banner won’t show up if there is no one available to chat.
Who would you rather leave your customer service to? Someone in a call center who has never used your product and who doesn’t speak good English? Or a brand advocate who is very familiar with your products?
* * * * *
Janet Meiners Thaeler is an Evangelist for OrangeSoda Inc. and the principal blogger for their corporate blog and Twitter account. She regularly advises clients on blogging and social media strategies. Her blog is Newspapergrl.com (and Twitter account @newspapergrl). She is passionate about online marketing and is always looking for new insights, resources and trends to help her clients.