Enoclophobia in Customer Service?

(disclaimer: the following is not intended to defame, denigrate or disparage in anyway people suffering from this or any other physical or intellectual affliction.)

The fear of crowds.  In the context of crowdsourcing and community-based or customer-led service, I got the sense this past week that there are pockets of this condition within customer service.  And I’m challenged to understand why.  So, I come here seeking a different point of view.

Some of the things people who really suffer from this, in some cases, completely debilitating condition fear will happen when in a crowd include:

  • Being trampled to death
  • Getting lost in a massive crowd of people
  • They feel small and insignificant when surrounded by so many people

Could these be the same causes of this fear in customer service?

As a customer service professional, I think some of the reasons that you may be experiencing this fear are:

  • You may worry you’ll no longer be of value to your company or customers
  • You’re not certain your customers will get accurate information
  • Your company will reduce your pay. After all customers do this for free in the community
  • There is a potential for loss of control
  • The idea that someone, a customer, could possibly know more about your products than you

I get it.  It is a bit frightening.  There is however a difference between a healthy sense of trepidation and the paralyzing grip of phobia that manifests itself into a resistance to change.  Change is coming.  And this change is good.  The evidence is here and is mounting that supports the value of community-based service to the bottom line and the customer experience.

Because fear is driven in part from a lack of information, here is some references:

  • Groundswell – the seminal book about the social media revolution discusses many customer service community case studies

…And the list continues to grow.

So, how do we overcome our enoclophobia in customer service?

  • Take the reins.  Communities don’t run themselves.  They need moderation, care and feeding.  Be that resource that creates the community strategy and builds the community. 
  • Do more research.  Find out how other organizations are leveraging customers in service delivery.  Learn how those more mature models evolved.
  • Revisit the value proposition and strategy for customer service in your organization. If your customers are willing to perform the task that have pinned you into the “cost of doing business” corner in your organization, let them.  Create a different value proposition and purpose; like being internal consultants to remove organizational drivers of service demand. 
  • Embrace change and let go.

Your fear is real.  My intent is not to dismiss it.  It’s up to us though to manage the fear by leading and embracing change rather than trying to maintain control and be a barrier to it.  Knowledge is power.  Learn as much as you can about these trends and figure out your new value proposition.

    Comments

    1. Awesome insights, Barry, and thanks for the reading recommendations!

      We saw a lot of these come up in last week's #custserv Twitter chat; the loss of control, and possibility of misinformation going wild were definitely top worries we heard about. It's tough to let go of a process if you've been doing it for a while and feel deeply that you're doing it 'right'. Outside interference might be unwelcome, and that can seriously hinder your growth.

    2. Aimee Lucas says:

      Barry:

      Great post to bring Tuesday's hot topic together. I get excited about the opportunity that embracing the change can bring in not only serving customers better – but forming collaborative "we are on the same team" bonds with those customers willing to be part of the crowd. They can be tapped to help you, the company, help their peers, the other customers.

      I'd think feeling like a team-mate, like a valued collaborator with a company creates a pretty strong barrier to exit, as well.

    3. If a customer service rep sees his or her job as "connecting the customer with the right information" instead of "I provided the right information to the customer" then the phobia you speak of should be diminished.

      I see this in my business all the time. A client will call and say "Do you have a forecast for X?" Often, I don't. But if I can say "I don't, but you can find it at Forrester, and provide a link, then contrary to what some believe, the client believes that I provided value. They don't care if I'm the genius who came up w/ the forecast. They just want the number.

      Same in customer service. The customer wants the right answer. If the right answer comes from the crowd, fine. It's more important that the customer service rep knows where to find it, than it is to be the one who has it.

    4. @action_jay You're right. There is a fear and also a perception that community-based service is a threat. Totally understandable.

      @Aimee_Lucas Yes, the #custserv chat was the driver for this post. I got challenged pretty hard for advocating the value of this paradigm shift. It was all good and I was glad we had such a robust conversation. It was hard to get all the ideas out in 140 characters and at the blazing speed at which our chats run. So, I thought I needed to take some time and organize some thoughts. It is exciting and the opportunity to collaborate, not only on service but on innovation and product development and others is significant.

      The other area of collaboration and opportunity that I failed to mention above is around the issue of knowledge management. Gartner has researched that a vast majority of the information of about a company's products and services exists outside the four walls of the company. I don't mean how something is build or its features and functions. I mean how customers actually use the products, for what problems they solve. And that's what really matters.

      There is a whole school of thought and research on outside-in knowledge management: how do you harness that outside knowledge and pull it back int the organization to get smarter and insure that customers and company are singing from the same sheet.

      Thanks again for stopping by guys!

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