One of the exciting things about the Internet is you can sometimes find provocative ideas coming from unfamiliar information sources. At MyCustomer.com, one such posting appeared in October 2010. The author is Guy Stephens, founder of the LinkedIn group Where Social Media Meets Customer Service. Beyond this identification, I have no idea who Guy Stephens is, but his observations sertainly make sense. The title of this posting: “All Change: The Four Trends Reshaping customer Service.”

Stephens’ signal message tells the huge scope of the story: “The emergence in 2009 of social media as a real catalyst of change signaled for the first time the possibility that customer service had a vital role to play in winning the hearts and minds of customers.”

Here are the four broad trends pinpointed by Stephens, along with my interpretation as to why they are Richter-scale earthshaking.

1. “The rise of help networks.” Before social media really took off, people had to rely on the companies that make the products and services for help. Now customers rely on each other, using “social platforms where the sharing of information between trusted ‘friends’ is paramount.” This makes customers more self-sufficient and authoritative advice more decentralized. The rise of “the Twitterverse” has prompted firms like Best Buy to launch their own networks like Twelpforce, an innovative new channel that allows customers to “Tweet their way directly into Best Buy’s most powerful knowledge base: their people.” Study what’s happening Help networks are making many customers product-smarter than salespeople, and maybe even a few design engineers! This trend will revolutionize the world of after-sale support in the decade to come.

2. “Customer service ‘on the go.'” Smartphones like the iPhone and the Motorola Droid have redefined the accessibility of the customer. “Customer service agents are no longer bound by having to be in one fixed place for a particular period of time to help customers or inneed people.” Both dispensers and receivers of information have the full technical palette at their fingertips, and it doesn’t matter where on the planet they might be.

3. “The decentralization of trust.” Networking plus mobility are repositioning the center of gravity for trust away from the originator of the product and services. In a way, it’s now up to a firm to earn its way back into the picture as being the credible authority on its own goods. Stephens points out that Youtube is becoming a “video knowledge base.” (WikiHow is another.) I would liken this development to the growing reliance on Wikipedia as a general reference tool. Stephens sensibly finds these new aggregators to be overwhelming “proof that knowledge also has the capacity to be viral”–that is, instantly transmitted by word of mouth with nearly no intervention.

4. “The intermediation of business processes.” This last point is not only a mouthful, it’s a mind-full! “Business processes themselves are moving into the hands of intermediaries. The white-hot evidence: Complaints are “no longer the exclusive domain of a company, limited to their e-mail or a phone call.”

Mackay’s Moral: When you cast out your help line, anchor it well, or your company’s reputation might sink in the drink.

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