I recently read a very interesting article in the June 2, 2012 Technology Quarterly edition of The Economist magazine.   There is a new trend in technical and customer support that relies heavily on the contributions from actual customers, “Unsourcing” involves the use of online communities to enable peer – to – peer support among users.  Instead of speaking to a paid internal or outsourced service desk analyst, customers post issues to a central forum and wait for answers from experienced users.    To create unsourced communities, companies are setting up discussion groups on their website or leveraging social networks like Facebook and Twitter.  As you can imagine, the savings can be considerable.

Gartner estimates that user communities can reduce support costs by as much as 50%.  When Tom Tom, a maker of satellite navigation systems, switched to social support, members handled 20,000 cases in the first month , saving the firm around $150,000.  Best Buy has instituted an online support group and has estimated that its 600,000 users save the company $5M annually.
Lithium, the software company that provided Tom Tom’s and Best Buy’s systems, engages experienced users by creating a game environment.  “Gamification” works by awarding points for helpful answers.  This allows helpers to achieve different levels within the game and attain recognition titles such as “super fan” in the top 0.5% of responders.
Super fans are highly prized by companies because they account for a disproportionate number of responses.  For example, in Lenovo’s support network for personal computers, a mere 30 users account for nearly half of 1,200 accepted solutions.

While cutting costs using peer – to – peer support may be attractive, there are limits and risks to the use of unsourcing.     Peer – to – peer support may not be appropriate for issues with privacy, confidential access, legal or regulatory concerns.   High volume, high profile or complex deployments may also require more control.   
How and when you apply unsourcing will be an individual organization's decision.  However, the concept certainly has merit and is worth exploring for many environments.


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