Helping the Groundswell Support Itself

Traditionally, companies have provided support to customers by phone or email, a costly process per call that does not always end in a solution. The self-service revolution produced two trends: companies send people to their websites online where there are a lot of product and problem-solving information and encouraged customers to use it. The second trend was outsourcing – moving support calls overseas because compensation for staff is significantly less.

As companies pursued these shifts to save money, people were frustrated with the long waits, hit-or-miss quality, and paperwork associated with support for their products. This resulted in a new source of information – each other (Li & Bernoff, 2011). People are more willing to trust each other than a company and are willing to spend time helping each other. In terms of using support systems in the accounting industry, it is the service that is provided and received to customers, not products. The support system has to be designed to facilitate exchange of information about the services, where feedback can be given and received from a customer’s experience. This type of system is integral to reputation, which is a large factor for clients to do business with these providers in the areas of tax and audit for example. Because service is hard to measure, an online forum or wiki can be used where clients can collaborate with each other and learn more about a company they are interested in doing business with. This chapter shows three applications that demonstrate the impulse of people willing to help out total strangers, they are: support forums with Dell, wikis with BearingPoint, and questions and answers with Yahoo! and Naver.

Psychic income refers to the personal or subjective benefits, rewards, or satisfactions derived from a job or undertaking as separate from its objective or financial ones. Understanding how to tap the desire for psychic income is a central element of groundswell thinking, if you can tap into that desire, you can turn it into a powerful force. Not just for satisfaction, but for new business as well. An example of this would be helping strangers with random acts that have no monetary benefit to yourself. Many people on company’s forum communicate with and help each other. They aren’t visiting these forums for fun, they are visiting to get answers. If customers are able to solve their own problems, they are less likely to be calling company support lines.

The economics of support forums display that the costs associated with a community support forum are significantly less than the value of the benefits. New support applications provide new benefits, not only do people come to support forums to seek answers but they are willing to support others who share their passion. A second application that brings people together is through wikis, which started as an internal information repository. Using wikis is a common way for companies to harness the collaborative power of their employees as well and has developed to include everybody – clients, technology venders, competitors, and their clients. Wikis are about collaboration and invites the collection of new intellectual property: information. People are able to add to the content and doesn’t allow them to change it arbitrarily – it is done though management. Significant savings are a result when a company centralizes its information internally and as a result, the benefit the company gets is making its customers feel supported.

Your goals should help determine if you should tap into the search for psychic income. Helping your customers support each other will make them happier, save money, and generate insights if properly managed. Before you begin you should examine what problem you will solve, how you will participate, and whether you should create a support community or join an existing one. Support communities need activity – activity creates content, which creates traffic and links, who boosts search engine placement, which drives more traffic, and so on.

Finally, if you do decide to go forward with building a community for support, the groundswell provides some suggestions:

  • Start small, but plan for a larger presence
  • Reach out to your most active customers
  • Plan to drive traffic to your community
  • Build a reputation system
  • Let your customers lead you

Your forum or wiki will become central to where customers talk about everything. Support communities are much richer in content than support departments and you will end up collaborating with your customers to create better products. That’s taking the power of psychic income and building it into your business.


Li, C., & Bernoff, J. (2011). Groundswell. Boston: Harvard Business Review.


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