This piece was originally posted on Zengage, the blog for ZenDesk, where I was invited to be a guest blogger. This is actually my first post for ZenDesk. I thought I would share it with you here too, in case you hadn’t seen it.
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Rethinking the definition of customer service
It’s taken awhile for me to come to this conclusion, but I now realize that “the company” is no longer the master of all knowledge. It is no longer the exclusive expert. It is no longer the sole arbiter of knowledge. And so it goes that the definition of customer service that individuals and organizations have clung to for decades has radically changed.

Because of that I am being forced to extend my boundaries and definitions of customer service. In fact, we all are.

Sites such as Quora, Vark, Yahoo Answers, LinkedIn Answers, Twelpforce, Cofacio, Focus, and by extension, the various forums that exist, are new opportunities for people like me to ask a question and someone answers. No having to queue, no being put on hold, no having to ferret through archives, no having to search to find the right person. Anyone who responds to my query knows the answer. Simple.

Quora in particular not only allows users to post or answer questions, but to also search for specific topics, follow topics of interest or people, vote answers up or down, as well as comment on and edit existing content.

Today, we all are arbiters of vast amounts of knowledge. We just didn’t have the means by which to share and exchange our knowledge with each other until now.

There is no doubt that the service ecosystem has become disjointed and fragmented, in part due to these sites. The advent of social media has seen the provision of customer service itself decentralizing, moving outwards into the hands, not just of customers, but those who are simply willing to participate. The increasing ubiquity of smartphones only serves to further exacerbate this disruption to business as usual. Traditional business models are being challenged, redefined, and underlying processes at times reengineered to reflect the unique characteristics of social. Sites like Quora remind us of this shifting paradigm.

If I ask the question, “I don’t know whether to buy an HTC Desire or iPhone,” then surely someone with adequate knowledge of both phones could put forward an answer that I would most likely value and use in my decision-making process. The barrier to answering questions like this one is no longer, for the majority of us, a technological one.

These sites are challenging us, at times even forcing us, to rethink our definition of customer service. The service ecosystem needs to change in line with these emerging types of communication, not because of them, and not simply because our customers happen to be there. It needs to change because service and business paradigms are shifting, customers are changing, and how things are done today is not the same as they were done ten years ago.

I am not advocating Quora as some kind of ‘Delphic Oracle’, nor am I preempting the death knell of “the company,” rather I am suggesting that platforms such as Quora have democratized the means by which all of us can exchange knowledge. And if we accept that customer service on one level is simply the exchange of knowledge, then these platforms serve as a valid, relevant, and necessary extension of a company’s customer service platform.

The platform becomes the enabler; the tag or hashtag becomes the social object that binds us together. Through it and by it we freely exchange information, knowledge and help with one another.

If you’re still not sure what I’m talking about then check out the topic on Quora for BankSimple.

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