Strategic Communication

Comcast, Do Better— use effective crowdsourcing

“At its best, crowdsourcing is not about getting someone to do work for you, it is about offering your users the opportunity to participate in public memory.” —Trevor Owens

Hey Guys!

First, I would like to say thank you for reading my weekly post for emerging media! This is my sixth week writing for you all and it has been a pleasure expressing my thoughts and opinions in a way I never thought I would.

This week I will be discussing a topic that I never knew could be a great technique if used properly by journalist, companies and organizations; this technique is popularly called Crowdsourcing. In an article provided for our six week discussion, Aitamurto-Leiponen-Tee defines crowdsourcing in two elements: an open call and a crowd. Leiponen-Tee goes on to describe these two elements: 

The open call refers to the fact that, in crowdsourcing, there is no selection mechanism that identifies upfront who the “supplier” of the required content will be (which can be e.g. an idea, solution, prototype, or intellectual property). Participation is non-discriminatory and in principle anyone can answer the call. Given the usage of an open call, “the crowd” will usually be characterized by several features: a large number of participants; heterogeneity of participants (e.g. in terms of knowledge, geographical background etc.), and voluntary participation. The alternative to crowdsourcing, in this sense, is outsourcing a task to a specific agent (cf. Afuah and Tucci, 2011).

For some reason every week I always find myself in situations that always involve the topic that is to be discussed. Sometimes I wonder if this is a sign that I’m exactly where I need to be in my professional life, and other times I wonder if God really has a sense of humor. As I prepared to embark on my sixth week in my masters program, I have been completely inconvenienced by my internet service provider, Comcast. The burning question that I ask myself and numerous customer service representatives was “How hard is it for your company to have some accountability in the issues I’m experiencing on a daily basis?”  This question deemed to be a tough question for every representative I spoke to regarding my failing internet connection. 

Accountability, a strong word and characteristic that seems to be forgotten by big corporations. Amongst accountability most companies forget their main goals; in Comcast’s case it would be to exceed our customers’ expectations.

While watching a TED talk video, I was amazed that it only took me fifty-three seconds out of sixteen minutes to find what I have been looking for. Speaking as a journalist, Paul Lewis starts off his presentation by summing up exactly what crowdsourcing means to me by stating, “for journalists like me, accepting that you can’t know everything, and allowing other people through technology to be your eyes and your ears; and for people like you, for other members of the public, It can mean not just being the passive consumer of news, but also co-producing news, I believe this can be a really empowering process. It can enable ordinary people to hold powerful organizations to account.”

I’m sure you’re probably wondering how does this fit in with my story about Comcast?

In a little exercise before writing this post, I took Paul Lewis’ words and provided a “remix” that better sums up my thoughts about Comcast and crowdsourcing. Here it goes:

For consumers like me, accepting that you are a part of the foundation (paying customer) for this company, you are allowed to use technology to be their EYES and EARS. It can mean not just being a passive customer, but also oblige in producing better results from this company. This is an empowering process. I can (and will) be that ordinary person that holds this powerful organization accountable for providing lackluster service.

Whew!

With this in mind, I started to think of ways Comcast could enlist ordinary people to help solve issues regarding their products and new innovations. Aitamurto-Leiponen-Tee  seemingly agrees stating “when applied in the right circumstances, crowdsourcing can deliver considerable benefits to firms in terms of inputs into innovation.” Obviously, in my case crowdsourcing would be used to deliver feedback to Comcast about my issues regarding their services. Insanely enough I realized my bickering back and forth with customer representatives hasn’t helped with ending my problems (like it should), but I noticed that I’m not the only who has issues with Comcast service or lack thereof. So as a part of this week’s discussion, I searched the internet looking for articles featuring the terms “Crowdsourcing and Comcast.” Interestingly, I found articles that have detailed instances where consumers were the ones actually crowdsourcing for Comcast.

In this search I ran across an entry from a Comcast customer on, Slashdot: News for Nerds, recounting issues while trying to access a website through his Comcast wireless internet. The website was set up by a friend of the blogger to donate to a cause and without hesitation; the customer proceeded to the website to make his donation. After numerous failed attempts, the customer gave up trying to access the website but didn’t stop trying to find the issue. Here is a short recount of Bennett Haselton’s experience:

A website that was temporarily inaccessible on my Comcast Internet connection (but accessible to my friends on other providers) led me to investigate further. Using a perl script, I found a sampling of websites that were inaccessible on Comcast (host names not resolving on DNS) but were working on other networks. Then I used Amazon Mechanical Turk to pay volunteers 25 cents apiece to check if they could access the website.

If you are unfamiliar with Amazon Mechanical Turk, (as Haselton explains) it “lets you create low-payment tasks and outsource them to a crowd of workers. Like any simple and powerful tool, it can be used for purposes that the original creators probably never imagined.” In this case, Amazon Mechanical Turk offered a way for Haselton to employ 20 people to fill out his survey regarding the inaccessible websites.

After 24 hours, the survey confirmed that others were experiencing the same issues while trying to access numerous websites. This piqued Haselton’s interest in this issue and finally he realized that because of Comcast size it could more than likely be harder for the issues involving millions of sites to be fixed, and will probably be a continuing issue. 

Of course, just like any other customer who experiences issues with their internet service, Haselton reported his issues and findings to Comcast tech support. He also insisted that these issues needed to be fixed and bought to the attention of the higher-ups. After further discussion, the rep adamantly stated “it was impossible for the member of the public to reach anybody higher up than the call center.”  Although Comcast’s tech representative’s response was a bit defeating, especially after Mr. Haselton’s hard work and efforts, this short write-up helped with my understanding of crowdsourcing and the role it has with generating feedback for a company. 

Just like a child learning and discovering new words and meanings, I was enlightened and amazed by the power of crowdsourcing. In the matter of 24 hours, Bennett Haselton, a regular everyday paying customer (just like me) was able to reach out to other consumers, find the issues and report it to Comcast (I think i’ll go outside and look at the phone line for myself!).  Talk about taking matters into your own hands.

Overall, after reading Mr. Haselton’s experience, I literally said “Thanks Bennett Haselton for your contribution in showing Comcast that we, the public, do pay attention.” Not only do we pay attention, but we understand that there techniques that we can utilize to make you, Comcast or any other company, a more efficient and effective company.

The only question that remains is “Comcast how often does your company utilize online crowdsourcing?”  And if this is a common technique used by your company (maybe online surveys) do you take the results and find ways to improve your customer satisfaction or service? If not, I implore you to do so. 

Listen up! Big corporations and even small businesses! The best advice I could give you is to take advantage of crowdsourcing, it is a great way to evaluate your consumers/audience needs, concerns and issues.

They know best. 

Share your thoughts on crowdsourcing 🙂

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