milaDigitization, automation and new business models, are transforming customer service thanks to apps, the Internet of Things or Crowdservicing, making customer care ubiquitous as more and more simple services are taken on by machines.

The business model of the start-up Mila is as simple as it is plausible. The Swiss-based tech company builds online marketplaces for big brands to help them deliver additional customer service through crowdsourcing. The company started out by providing Swisscom and Vodafone Germany with an online marketplace that allows its customers to "rent a geek," to help provide additional customer support for increasingly complex products. In other words, Mila is a kind of digitized neighborly help, or an Uber or AirBnB for service, which is why I present this interesting start-up in today’s issue.

Established in 2013 by Swiss-based technology company Coresystems, which specializes in building mobile platforms, and funding from a consortium of private Swiss and German technology investors, the company partnered the same year with Swiss telecom provider Swisscom, that has 5 million residential customers for internet access, digital TV services and mobile telephone services, to launch "Swisscom Friends", a support platform for service purchase, that allows customers to hire technically competent persons for problem troubleshooting, rather than directly involving Swisscom's technicians.

How Mila works

The digital service, for example, works like this: A customer of a telecommunications provider signs on to a new mobile contract that usually comes with a new mobile phone. Another customer buys broadband service, and brings home a brand-new router. A third customer decides it’s time to upgrade to a new digital TV box and a new television.

But as soon as the customers have received the coveted products delivered home, often their problems start: How do you get the things to work? Technology today is more complex than ever. Even the most tech literate consumer may struggle to transfer photos or back up email messages on their new phone. They may also struggle with ensuring that their wireless router is properly set up or installing a digital TV box in more than one room. Just a few call the hotline, knowing that it is often tedious and nerve-wrecking. That’s why many people ask friends or acquaintances who know each other.

Mila is taking advantage of this by inviting them to enter the power of the crowd. By connecting them to others around who can help, it’s easier than ever to ensure that these types of customers are supported.

Innovative companies are turning to collaborative consumption practices to resolve customer service issues quickly, effectively, and with a personal touch. Whether you call it crowdsourcing or crowd servicing, savvy firms are recognizing that their own customers or brand advocates can be their most enthusiastic and efficient means of support for other customers.

According to Manuel Grenacher, the founder of Mila, it is no problem at all to generate these friends: Many people are well versed in things about Internet and telephony and like to help. Because they live close to the customer and are well trusted. On top, they are usually flexible, so they visit the customer even in the evening or on the weekend, or are open to meet in the café around the corner to look at the device. The price for the service is negotiated individually by the customer and the expert.

The average order value stands at around 50 Swiss francs, while Mila receives between 8 and 10 percent of the total, depending on the type of payment. The Telco company - such as Swisscom - pays nothing, but has the advantage of seeing an increase in customer satisfaction and at the same time relief at the Customer Care Center. But most importantly, the average customer rating for Mila services is 4.71 on a scale of 1 to 5, which is a performance many contact centers in the industry can only dream of.

Mila’s founder is convinced that he hit the mark, after seeing the acceptance of the Crowd and Collaborative Economy even among large enterprises.

And although Crowdservicing, Crowd Support and Share Economy are the buzzwords for this new kind of customer care, the companies still have an intermediary function as their contact center points to the Mila platform, which is technically integrated into their customer service processes. The big difference is that neither staff needs to be provided nor paid or trained.

The business model works for companies with a large clientele, Grenacher said, with at least half a million customers, which is why his first target industries are telecommunications providers, energy suppliers and retailers

What the customer wants

Digitization not only creates new business models for the provision of services, it has also fundamentally changed customer expectations of getting faster, better and more individual services. Today’s consumers are empowered and well informed, putting companies under pressure to provide the best customer service experience not to be punished for their inability to solve an issue.

Thanks to the Internet and social media, consumers have a much deeper understanding of goods and products. They can read and write reviews, compare prices, and research competition. Most importantly, they can praise or complain about products and companies easier and quicker than ever before through their mobile devices. This empowerment has had a dramatic effect on consumer expectations. Consumers demand durability and quality, appealing design and functionality. But above all, when they have a service issue they expect the problem to be dealt with immediately, at their convenience, and with a personal touch. At a time when margins in many sectors are increasingly under pressure, providing such a high level of customer support across a wide range of products and services adds significant costs to a company’s operations.

With Mila’s crowd service platform, people can seek and book support at their convenience to resolve their issue. Not to mention that the ‘Friend’ arrives in person and can even answer additional questions. Neighborly help comes to them at a time and place that’s convenient to them – trusted, vetted, and qualified. On top of that, they can securely pay for the service online, so that they are insured in case anything goes wrong.

Self-service is booming

It is expected that machines will replace more and more employees and that customers will increasingly cooperate with computers. For many customers, self-services (e.g. via App) are a matter of course and they only call customer service when they cannot find a solution to their problem on the web. Digitization brings automation that will continue to change the service world enormously.

The traditional service model with service providers who have nothing to say, are poorly paid and bound by instructions, is soon becoming obsolete as a complete repositioning of the actors will take place: new platforms, alliances and co-operations are required since in the future service will become ubiquitous and heavily data driven.

Hence, Mila is zeitgeisty, using the power of the crowd to provide customers with the service they need, at a time they want and a price they like.

Mila takes the concept of online forums, where customers can help one another with tech support issues, and brings it to the physical world. Its intelligent platform connects customers who need help with vetted service providers (usually other customers) at the right time and place, and takes care of the technical details of launching, maintaining and continually developing the platform.

Since it can be seamlessly combined with CRM systems, I think it provides a fantastic added value and is a true inspiration to take into consideration.

By Daniela La Marca