Mobile Customer Care Mania: Needle
Needle is designed to get expert user advice when you want to buy something--from people who actually use the product, not typical contact center agents.
Back on the topic of mobile customer care, and as promised, this post takes a decidedly different angle from the earlier ones that focused on solutions from Genesys and VHT for smartphone users. My interest in Needle began with a news alert about a CNET story, Mobile Contact Center. When I clicked through, I was greeted by pictures (similar to the one below) of an RV that purports to be a roving contact center. Intrigued enough to ask for an interview with CEO Morgan Lynch, it turns out mobility is just one part of the story. Another topic, fan-sourcing, is potentially even more interesting.
First let me address the mobility angle. With their Salt Lake City lease expiring, Lynch decided to take his social commerce business on the road. Publicity stunt or not, pictures of the company's mobile contact center have been hitting the tech websites for a couple of weeks. Inside the vehicle, the "contact center" angle is experts on laptops responding to customer interactions, primarily over chat.
The agents, and the types of queries they respond to, are the more forward-thinking aspects of Needle. Like many an entrepreneurial concept, Needle's story began with a telling personal experience: The founder tried to buy a triathlon wetsuit online and spent hours traversing search engines, reading through forums and scouring product reviews to find the best one--all unsuccessfully. Needle is designed to solve the problem of getting expert user advice when you want to buy something--from people who actually use the product, not typical contact center agents.
The best way to explain Needle's business model is with a real example. SkullCandy (makers of earphones) wanted to give expert service to prospects to help them make purchase decisions. Needle was engaged to find, train and schedule SkullCandy users and fans to answer questions about SkullCandy products. Needle recruited so-called "Needlers" (not agents) from places like the SkullCandy Facebook fan page or Twitter. Working from anywhere, with a browser, Needlers engage in a dialogue with the consumer.
Who is the typical Needler? Someone who loves the product they consult on. Needle isn't looking for full-time agents; 8 hours a day on the phone leads to the kind of burnout we have all experienced on the other end of customer service calls. Instead, Needlers typically work no more than a three-hour shift and a total of 20 hours a week.
And money isn't the only compensation. Gamification, with points and leader boards, is built into the Needle system. The rewards? More products that Needlers love—which in turn makes them even better experts on the product line.
Needlers are used to help sell products, not to do customer service. According to Lynch, while they may be students or home-makers looking for a part time job, they can also be people with full time jobs that are interested in spending a few hours a week chatting with like-minded users (and in some cases fanatics).
There has been talk of Facebook, Twitter and forums being used to have customers help each other. Think of Needle as a productization of this strategy, not for service but for sales.