Thursday, January 19, 2006

Virtual Workers - EBay and Skype

A lot has been written about the EBay/Skype purchase. Most of it tried to explain what it was about Skype or EBay's business models that could be enhanced by the acquisition. I wondered the same things but didn't have any clever ideas. Even a panel of my favorite bloggers at the 2005 VON in Boston failed to come up with any clear explanations.

Recently though I've had an idea that could put the Skype/EBay relationship to good use. Perhaps this idea is brand new, perhaps it's not (though I haven't read it elsewhere yet). Either way, I'm pretty sure it's an idea that even EBay themselves wasn't thinking when they considered the purchase.

This idea is a bit different, and possibly a few years ahead of its time, but it is by no means crazy or impossible...

Imagine that you are a stay-at-home Mom (or Dad) and want to earn some extra cash. You go out and get a Skype account and setup your computer so you can talk comfortably on Skype for hours. Next, you go to Dell's online representative training university (I'm making this up) and take their "Customer Service" training course, finishing the course with fantastic marks. As an encore, you then visit Jet Blue's customer care training site (again, I'm making this up) and take their online "Customer Representative" training. Again, you graduate top of your class.

Now you're ready to make some money.

You sign up for an EBay Worker account (another figment of my imagination) and provide them with your credentials showing that you scored top marks with both Dell and Jet Blue. You then indicate that you are available to provide service from the hours of 9am - 11am, Pacific Time, M-F (when your youngest child is at school). Finally, you enter a "working bid" for your services into your EBay Worker auction. You indicate that you'll accept calls from Dell for $0.50/minute, and $0.75/minute for Jet Blue (perhaps you expect the Jet Blue calls to be more difficult). Finally, you publish your auction. Now you wait by the phone.

Let's say a customer calls Dell during a particularly busy time of day. All of Dell's normal reps are busy. Rather than make the customer wait on hold, Dell contacts EBay Worker and asks for anyone who is certified with Dell and who is offering to take calls. EBay reports that they have ten such individuals who are currently logged in and available, ranging in cost from $0.50/minute to $0.85/minute. Dell requests the least expensive user who is available (that's you) and agrees to pay $0.50/minute (plus EBay's markup) for the call. Dell forwards the call to EBay Worker. EBay looks up your Skype information and immediately forwards the call to you.

You hear your Skype phone ring. At the same time, your Skype client opens your web browser and forwards you to a customized Dell web-site where the inbound caller's current order and contact information appears. You answer the phone: "Hello, Dell customer service. How can I help you?" You answer a question the caller has about their most recent order, make a quick change to the software they have requested, and terminate the call. Total time: 5 minutes. You just earned $2.50. EBay marks this up 25%, and charges Dell. Once Dell Pays, EBay forwards you payement using your PayPal account.

A few minutes later, your hear your Skype phone ringing again. This time, your web browser loads a page for Jet Blue. "Hello, welcome to Jet Blue. How can I help?"

I don't know if the EBay, Skype, PayPal troika has considered this scenario yet, but they should. It could completely revolutionize the call center industry. Jet Blue is already doing something like this with home-based operators in Utah, but EBay and Skype could take this to a whole new level. They could add sliding price scales using their auction tools, integrate payments using PayPal, and use Skype and the Internet to allow anyone to work from anywhere.

You could even reverse this model, and have businesses place auctions on EBay Worker requesting people to make calls for them (imagine a Political party is looking to run a poll before an election). If you have the right credentials, EBay Worker could let you bid on the contract, and start making calls.

I wish this existed now. I can think of dozens of people who would jump at the opportunity.

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