The Future of Customer Service with Vodafone Service Friends

Last week, Vodafone Germany, the country’s second largest telecommunications company, launched Vodafone Service Friends, its peer-to-peer service that lets its customers find local, approved  tech support. Mila, the Swiss-founded trusted services marketplace with offices in Zurich and Berlin, is powering the service with its platform.

We talked to Manuel Grenacher, CEO of Mila, to ask him about crowdsourcing technical support on Mila, and how corporations are beginning to look at the notion of collaborative consumption and the sharing economy as the future of customer service.

Can you tell us what exactly Vodafone Germany Service Friends is and what customers can expect from the service?

Manuel Grenacher: The platform we built for Vodafone Germany is a peer-to-peer (P2P) marketplace (www.mila.com/vodafone), where Vodafone customers can get additional help with Vodafone products. It’s easy to go online, browse the service, and book a local tech support person — what we like to call “the techie next door” — to help them solve tech issues or help them get the most out of their devices. We believe the new service gives customers a very easy, flexible way to get local help, fast. They can see who in their neighbourhood is offering help, the prices for the help, what their specialties are, and once they’ve chosen a techie, they can book a time that best fits their schedule.

We see the service is a “Peer-to-Peer” (P2P) one, or what is also called “crowdsourced”. So, is the idea that customers turn to other customers to help solve their tech issues?

Manuel Grenacher: Yes, that’s the idea. With Vodafone Germany, just as with other big companies such as Apple, Sony, or Samsung, where the products quickly evolve and can be quite complex, there is an online forum where customers help each other resolve tech questions. You can post your problem online, and usually there are answers within hours if not minutes of you posting. The idea of customers helping customers is really the future of customer support. Often, there are smaller issues that are time-consuming and frustrating for customers that can be quickly dealt with by another customer’s knowledge. We are taking this idea to the physical world, especially with those jobs which aren’t really the responsibility of the company, but are frustrating all the same and can certainly impact how a brand is perceived.

For example, it’s often suggested that parents install child-safety filters on their Internet, but not everyone has the time or knowledge how to do this. Or for example, you might want to extend your digital box beyond more than one room – you have the directions on how to do it, bought all the appropriate tech products, but still don’t know how to do it. Whilst you may buy these products from a provider, it’s not necessarily their responsibility to put it together or set it up for you, but often any negativity that consumers feel towards setting it up gets blamed on the brand. It’s a bit like Ikea flat packs – we know we buy from Ikea with the idea that we have to build the furniture ourselves, but we all still feel like screaming at Ikea when we are on page 38 staring at images of minuscule screws that could be any of the 68 screws that we still haven’t used up.

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?

Manuel Grenacher: We will definitely be see more corporations turning to the crowd to help enlarge their customer support. From 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 hands to help set up or to help a person really make the most of all the features. We’ve seen plenty of success stories with online customer forums where customers help each other with tech issues, so why not in the physical world? I think we’ll also continue to see companies with idle resources moving to renting them more – Toyota, BMW, Ford and Volkswagen all do this, for example. We may see this in white goods, for example, with washing machines, or other such appliances. 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.

What tech issues do you experience?

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