Sunday, May 22, 2005

Offshoring solution to message board concerns?
by Ron Lichty

I was telling a colleague about my prediction that "virtually every business (as well as every nonprofit, church,and political campaign) will expand their online web presence to incorporate at least one and probably several collaboration and community solutions in the next five years."

He looked at me a bit askance.

He was, not long ago, VP Eng for one of the largest consumer entertainment, home and personal software companies. So I gave him a couple examples of product company use. I told him the story I'd heard from Tim Lundeen that Microsoft now requires all product managers to have boards in place when they launch products. They'd done research that showed that customers who have both phone support and boards available are over twice as happy as those who have only call-in support.

I pointed out that the product support message boards on Apple's site -- while hardware instead of software -- had worked wonders ferreting out an "impossible" problem I'd had with our iMac. First, other iMac users reported the problem, letting me know I wasn't crazy. (I'd had random "Kernel panics" -- the white rectangle of death -- but only when a CD was in the INTERNAL CD drive but NOT in use.) Then an iMac user with the problem identified a solution. (Change the sleep settings, of all things.) Apple's warranty folks were nice enough, and their repair folks had replaced my CD drive -- to no avail, of course, despite their certainty that that would solve it. But it took another user to finally identified the odd combination of triggers that could provide a workaround to the fatal flaw and let the rest of us know.

My colleague was with me. It turns out he'd provided message boards for product support at his own company. But, he noted, somebody has to watch those message boards for miscreants -- the message board version of graffiti or spam -- and that's expensive. (Though in Apple's case, I doubt managing the boards is as expensive as all the CD drive replacements -- and motherboards, power supplies, and other components of other users before me who had my problem during warranty -- hardware fixes they did NOT have to make, thanks to one user providing others with a simple solution. Which is why Apple is smart and provides message boards.)

It also turns out my colleague had come up with a solution for the high cost of management as well. They'd outsourced to India the job of reading every message. The readers were somewhere near 100% at raising red flags to stateside management for anything that looked out of bounds.


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