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Back in 2009 the cost of providing customer service had reached a new all-time high for mobile phone operator O2 in the UK. At the same time the service they did provide wasn’t even regarded particularly highly by its customers. Was there a way to fix these two problems? The company decided to launch a new brand called giffgaff, which would try a novel approach to customer service by getting knowledgeable customers to service other customers. I met up with Vincent Boon, the man that delivered this vision, to explain how he did it and what results he achieved. 

Setting up the community

In order to facilitate as much conversation as possible, giffgaff decided to keep the number of discussion boards on which people would interact to a minimum, to ensure that people would virtually bump into each other as much as possible. Vincent’s biggest fear was that lots of people would ask questions, but no one would actually be answering them. To ensure this two-way conversation giffgaff needed to make sure the questions being asked could be seen, while at the same time involving people in other discussions that they set up. The idea was that since you were on the forum and talking to people anyway, you might as well answer a question or two while you were there. There is something inherently human about wanting to help others – let’s call it community-spirit.

Customer service agents. What customer service agents?

A very small number of customer service agents were employed and trained on how the company wanted this to work. No longer would they operate a traditional customer service model where people could phone in for help; agents could now only be contacted through a ticketing system. However, should any queries come in that were not account-related, i.e. something they deemed the community itself should be able to resolve, the agents needed to respond in such a way as to redirect the people towards the community.

Making it work

When the company launched the online community, they seeded some of the very first discussions. As the product was not yet live, they asked things such as what would people consider to be a fair price, how would they like their service to be delivered, and how would they like to get involved. Shortly before the product launched they contacted a few heavily involved users on other mobile-related communities to ask them if they would like to get involved and keep an eye out for any questions that came in from the early users. They talked to them extensively and made sure they understood the product and how the service worked, so that when the questions started coming in, they would understand how to help those people.

Metrics and results

Vincent looks at the volume of content that is reported to them, which is in itself a measure (the more content that is reported, the better for them as it helps manage the community); on top of that they look at the volume of “abusive content” and try to keep that volume below two per cent.

Other measures they look at include how well the service is provided in terms of community members giving the correct answers to questions, and how happy people are with the service in general. For that they look at the Customer Satisfaction Index, which they derive from monthly surveys; the scores they see are consistently around 80.

(For a great overview of metrics a modern customer service operation should be monitoring, I recommend checking out this Redefining Service Metrics for the Customer-Powered Age eBook)

And the last measure they look at is their Net Promoter Score, as this is very important in terms of customer acquisition. The scores giffgaff sees are consistently around 75.

In summary

All in all, this new channel of customer service proved an instant hit with everyone involved, particularly the customers themselves, and since the likes of giffgaff blazed this online trail, customer self-service communities are becoming common place among companies large and small in any industry imaginable.

You probably aren’t quite ready to completely hand over your customer service to your customers, but there’s a multitude of ways to achieve your customer service goals. You will find this e-book tremendously useful; it is a short, helpful and practical guide to how modern CRM tools can help you drive down your customer service costs, whilst improving the service your more-important-than-ever-customers receive.

Drive down customer service costs eBook