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Needle weaves fans, customers and companies together

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Companies and employees are finding unique ways to work in a world supported by mobile Internet access. We’re seeing growth in coworking, and telecommuting in general, and Needle is a great example just how far you can push these ideas. Needle provides client companies with the tools and people to link product experts, or fans of the brand, with current and prospective customers in online chats. I met Needle’s founder and CEO Morgan Lynch recently at his office, an Airstream megabus worthy of the rockstar team he’s invited on the road. Lynch says the bus is a good way to demonstrate the power of “the work anywhere model.” He continues,

Today we’re all plugged in. The best performance you’ll get is when people work from where and when they want. If you shove somebody in a cube and force some training, telling them to do things they wouldn’t normally do, they won’t be as creative … and giving recommendations is a creative process.

Bus parked at Union SquareThis isn’t your grandparents Airstream. And this isn’t a 20th century form of telecommuting. Needle provides a platform that brings fans, brands and customers together. Needlers, as the fan/experts are known, can be selected by the client company if it has existing connections with its fan experts, or by Needle through the client company’s social networks. The key is that Needlers are passionate fans who love to talk about the brands they cover.

Map of Needlers and current chats
Map of Needlers and realtime chats – shown on screen inside the bus

The platform is built to access these experts wherever they are and help them engage with their brands in a manner that works for all the parties. The company works with clients to find the times they need to staff their customer response chat lines. It also customizes the incentive packages for each company based on the focus the they’d like the chats to have.
I had the chance to talk with the following Needlers:

Doug Fleming
Needle Client: Astro Gaming
Location: Oceanside, Calif.
Age: 25

  • Began gaming when he was 6 years old, began competitive gaming when he was 16
  • Started Needling in February 2012
  • Needles about 20 hours per week
  • Has already done 1,200 chats

Nick Joy
Needle Client: Skullcandy [s SKUL]
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
Age: 26

  • A die-hard skier, moved from Seattle to Utah for the snow
  • One of the first Needlers — began in April 2010
  • Needles about four hours per week
  • Quickest response time on the Skullcandy Needle team

Michelle Graham
Needle Client: Under Armour [s UA]
Location: Snohomish, Wash.
Age: 41

  • Married, mom of two boys
  • Started Needling October 2011
  • Needles about five hours per week
  • Lifetime customer satisfaction score: 9.7

They each had a story to tell about their client company and how the control and flexibility of the work style is something they greatly value. Lynch says that Needle leverages the idea that work is an activity, not necessarily a place. I heard several versions of, “Earn some money, earn some points and work for my favorite brand.” Nothing about going to the office.

Noelle Bates, vice president of community for Needle, and Lynch both talked about the quality of the people they are bringing to the table. They don’t think these experts would go to work in a call center, even if the call center were local to them, and the odds that the experts live near their favorite brands’ offices is small.

I mentioned Zappos, another company with fanatical fans and employees, and JetBlue [s JBLU]  with their work-at-home customer service representatives. Lynch pointed out that Zappos employees still have to commute to get to work, whereas the Needlers can work their way across Europe (as Nick Joy did), work from airplanes, work wherever they have a reasonable Internet connection. JetBlue’s approach requires a telephone and high speed Internet, more than the mobile-friendly requirements to Needle via chat. He concludes, “Your workforce shouldn’t be constrained by where they live.”

My colleague, Jessica Stillman recently summarized research showing that remote work can boost productivity for creative work. The founders and employees at Needle seem to agree. Do you?

Images courtesy of Needle.