Many of the Web 2.0 projects highlighted here focus either on internal collaboration or external marketing. But there is a potential for the two to be combined, and to let customers play a far greater role in a company’s internal operations.
PlusNet is an Internet service provider which, according to product development director Neil Armstrong, built its business on automated internal processes and word-of-mouth recommendations.
The company uses a self-built collaboration platform, called WorkSpace, to support all internal communications (email is banned) and collaboration. When a meeting happens, for example, a single record of the minutes and action points is placed on the WorkSpace system.
And the system allows customers to conduct administrative tasks – such as producing a bill – themselves. “Everything our staff can do, customers can do via the website,” explains Armstrong.
So far, so good. But what really separates PlusNet is the community – perhaps attracted by the company’s transparency – that has sprung up around it.
PlusNet’s user forums allow customers to interact with one another and speak to employees about issues. Gradually a group of forum users emerged as an unofficial user group, taking it upon themselves to help out fellow users, testing new products and discussing technical and product issues with the company.
The contribution made by this user group – who are unpaid and don’t even receive a discount for fear of reduced impartiality – is quite staggering. Not only does it help out new customers with technical problems, the user group has even gone as far as developing issue tracking software to help PlusNet support its customer service.
There is a drawback to such transparency, says Armstrong. When the company suffered service issues in late 2005, the shortcomings were there for all to see. But that taught the company some valuable lessons, and perhaps PlusNet’s openness in times of troubles earned its customers’ respect and loyalty.