Unpaid Contributors Provide Corporate Tech Support

Hugh Pickens writes “The NY Times writes about Justin McMurry of Keller, TX, who spends up to 20 unpaid hours per week helping Verizon customers with high-speed fiber optic Internet, television and telephone service. McMurry is part of an emerging corps of Web-savvy helpers that large corporations, start-up companies, and venture capitalists are betting will transform the field of customer service. Such enthusiasts are known as lead users, or super-users, and their role in contributing innovations to product development and improvement — often selflessly — has been closely researched in recent years. These unpaid contributors, it seems, are motivated mainly by a payoff in enjoyment and respect among their peers. ‘You have to make an environment that attracts the Justin McMurrys of the world, because that’s where the magic happens,’ says Mark Studness, director of e-commerce at Verizon. The mentality of super-users in online customer-service communities is similar to that of devout gamers, according to Lyle Fong, co-founder of Lithium Technologies whose web site advertises that a vibrant community can easily save a company millions of dollars per year in deflected support calls’ and whose current roster of 125 clients includes AT&T, BT, iRobot, Linksys, Best Buy, and Nintendo. Lithium’s customer service sites for companies offer elaborate rating systems for contributors, with ranks, badges and kudos counts. ‘That alone is addictive,’ says Fong. ‘They are revered by their peers.’ Meanwhile McMurry, who is 68 and a retired software engineer, continues supplying answers by the bushel, all at no pay. ‘People seem to like most of what I say online, and I like doing it.'”

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