Communities for customer service – the SNCF example

I love going abroad. You get to spend time learning about new things and also to get a different perspective or new examples for things you already know. This happened to me this week in Paris.

There is lots of talk about Dell’s Ideastorm and MyStarbucksIdea as examples of using communities as customer service vehicles. They are, infact, all based on a SalesForce platform and are all essentially front ends of CRM systems. In France, however, I came across an example that has much more elements of an online community.

SNCF, the French Railways, launched their site, Opinions et débats, initally for a six-week period. They were running a project where executives in the firm would answer questions from the public. The exercise was so successful that it is still running.

The Dell and Starbucks sites are simple. You can suggest an idea, comment on other ideas or vote for ideas. SNCF adds another layer which takes their site from a simple transactional process to a more community feel. The homepage of their site includes a list of employees (including their first name and a picture) and when you pose your question you need to decide if it should be posed, for example, to Clément (a station manager) or to Domonique who runs the TGV high-speed train network.

This is a simple difference, but it makes the site fundamentally different. Rather than posing a question into the ether, you choose an employee and get them to answer it for you. Traditional customer service will take a question into a general department who will then choose who should answer it. With SNCF you choose, and others can add to, expand or criticse and responses.

A great site and one I know I’ll be using as an example of a customer service community in the future.