People power


lly Wenn shows a powerful way smart technology can maximise your people power. The headlines in digital growth are all about social media, but another less discussed development is just as important in the shift towards the online lifestyle. This is crowdsourcing – or getting people to do stuff for you. Crowdsourcing lets organisations ask questions or set challenges that are then open to the online world. Payment or prizes are given to those who get involved. It's a great way to match need and expertise, and it's a cost-effective way of doing jobs that machines can't do.

The emphasis in crowdsourcing applications has generally been on fairly low-skill tasks that are high in volume and which can be undertaken by anonymous people. But it's worth thinking about the other end of the crowdsourcing definition because there's great scope here for travel companies – because they have lots of “jobs that machines can't do”.

That's right: You're hearing a technology company telling you there are some things that have to be done by people. It gets worse than that, because we think there will always be jobs that are better done by people. The point of IT is to remove obstacles to business. The reason we automate processes is to release people to do what only people can do.

The key is that techniques associated with crowdsourcing don't have to relate to low-skill, high-volume, anonymous-agent tasks. They can also be used for high-skill, low-incidence, expert-agent tasks – like solving a customer's problem with making a booking. The typical IT response to events like this is to call them “exceptions” and then attempt to remove them from the business process. And it's true that if a process is generating repeating exceptions of the same type, then you need to fix the process. However, you can't afford to treat genuine novelties in the same way. If you do, you can lose sales.

A travel company's key asset is its people – their expertise, their enthusiasm and their commitment. Smart use of technology can catch interesting exceptions and make them available to your call centre team for resolution. That way you can solve the customer's problem immediately, rather than regarding it simply as a possible symptom of process failure that needs investigating offline. And here's the really cute part: you may discover that such exceptions are actually prime opportunities to increase customer satisfaction, up-sell and cross-sell.

The kind of technology that helps here is exemplified by Amazon's Mechanical Turk system, which was launched in late 2005. Organisations post jobs and users anywhere in the world can take them on. Some jobs require certain qualifications from would-be completers. The original “Mechanical Turk” was an 18th century chess-playing automaton that actually had a very small – but very good – chess player hidden inside it. In the same way, Amazon's system looks like a machine, but really it's just a mechanical interface to human resources.

This approach can help you run a more “real time” business. Imagine, for example, that your phone queuing system has an option that asks customers to leave a number for a callback. Using the Mechanical Turk approach, you could immediately post each callback number to a web page. Your qualified agents – who might be anywhere in the world – can then choose to make any of the calls posted. This way you get human scalability along with the human touch.

As our digital lifestyles evolve, it's becoming clearer that connecting people with opportunities is a major growth area for the travel business. The industry is making good use of connectivity on the product side and our multichannel capabilities are growing. We need to think of task performance in the same way, using connectivity to improve the way we engage with our customers and to deepen our relationships with them.