socialnerdia_giffgaff_socialcustomerservicePeople-powered. Those two words joined by a dash immediately remind me of Wikipedia. And Wikipedia might be the biggest inspiration for GiffGaff, a new MVNO in the UK running on the O2 network, that promises to change things in the mobile world. MVNOs have come and gone for many years, usually with little more than clever branding and low prices.

However, we already established that GiffGaff was inspired by Wikipedia, remember? And Wikipedia is a very social site... that’s, well, powered by people. So maybe this MVNO has something new that's worth looking into.

GiffGaff, whose name comes from a Scottish expression  that means “You give something, I give you something back,” claims to also be powered by people. They haven’t launched  (the plan is to become available before Christmas of this year) and no customer phone calls have been made, but the company is already leveraging the wisdom of the crowds. GiffGaff’s in-the-making community has already provided ideas such as “copy to Twitter” functionality for text messages. So GiffGaff is not crowdsourcing ideas, but that's only the beginning. They are also going to crowdsource their marketing (again, not a huge deal). But more importantly, they are going to crowdsource customer service.

There are a lot of intelligent and passionate people helping each other out on forums and blogs all over the web, from cell phone geeks to home improvement DIYers, so it makes sense to think that people could help each other out in such a way that a company no longer needs a call center. I can imagine that PowerPoint presentation going something like this: 1) Customer service is difficult. 2) Customer Service is expensive. 3) Let's make customers serve each other.

It’s a scary thought, and yet a bit utopian. The question is whether GiffGaff can pull it off. How could a mobile provider like GiffGaff possibly get the right people to sign-up for the service in the first place? I mean, if you’re going to crowdsource your customer service then you’re going to need enough intelligent, savvy and passionate people willing to provide it.

GiffGaff has a few things to entice potential customers: Low prices, ability to use any unlocked SIM phone, and no long-term contracts. But GiffGaff’s biggest differentiator is that they are going to reward members for getting involved “not with silly gifts, but with real money.” Anyone that gets involved in the mutual giving at GiffGaff will get credits. That means that someone’s bill could actually go down to $0. Savings can also be donated to charity. No one is forced to participate, but those that do share info, providing technical support, and helping each other out will definitely have a reason to do so.

Crowdsourcing is not exactly a new concept. We’ve seen interesting and sometimes controversial examples like Doritos’ TV ads, Brammo’s logo, Fiat’s Brazilian R&D, and Starbucks’ idea generation. All by the crowds, for the crowds. Ultimately, each of these examples required some mind-set transformation, regardless of whether the term "crowdsourcing" was appropriate or not.

socialnerdia_giffgaff_heart_socialcustomerserviceThat’s what GiffGaff might be doing: trying to change mind-sets and challenge "business as usual." If the idea resonates with people in the UK, it might be the beginning of a new wave of social customer service that rewards customers (or “members”), not for their purchases or their time as customers or for their waiting on the phone for 4 hours, but for their voices. Rewarding people for their voices has never been done, at least not in the way that GiffGaff wants to, so this is either a big scam, or it's marketing that's so good we can't even grasp it.

I wonder... If ideas, thoughts, answers, and recommendations became a new form of currency, would you join in the conversation?

If you complain about the current state of customer service, would you be willing to be a part of it in order to change it?

Should we get excited about companies trying to do things in new ways despite the risks, despite the skepticism, and despite the lack of historical evidence that it can work?

Or could this be the beginning of Social Customer Service?

Copyright © Esteban Contreras. All rights reserved.