Get Satisfaction Makes Customer Support Less Robotic-And More Strategic

11/29/11Follow @wroush

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technologies available to help companies be more responsive and proactive, while shifting to the communications channels that are most comfortable for customers. Just as important, companies have begun to see their support communities as key forums for marketing, evangelism, and even focus-group-style product research. And Bay Area startups like Get Satisfaction seem to be at the epicenter of this change.

My interview with Lea this fall confirmed all these impressions. “We are bringing in conversations and making them actionable for both the consumer and the company,” she says. Lea argues that Get Satisfaction helps “to reduce service and support costs, improve the service experience, extend brand advocacy through Facebook and other marketing channels, and get feedback and requirements for products or marketing campaigns.” On the strength of that vision, Lea was able to rope in an additional $10 million in venture financing this August, in a Series B round led by new investor InterWest Partners. Its network now includes more than 60,000 communities—though fewer than 3,000 of them are run by paying customers (more on that in a minute).

The recent growth at “GetSat,” as many people refer to the startup, was a long time coming. Muller, the company’s chief technology officer, told me last year that 2008 and 2009—as recession-dazed companies looked for ways to shed services, not add them, and as Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels were still just entering the mainstream—were “trial by fire” years for the company. When Lea joined as CEO in March 2009, the company had only four paying customers, and was leasing out part of its office as a co-working space to raise money. “We had eight people and $500,000 in the bank and we were making more money off renting our desks” than they were selling the product, Lea says.

One of the fundamental insights behind what you might call the “customer support 2.0″ movement is that when a customer who shows up at a support forum with a question or complaint, it shouldn’t be seen as a problem, but as an opportunity—a chance to fix a problem, convert an irate critic into an evangelist, or tap a customer’s own insights. Muller and Lea say Get Satisfaction survived its lean years by focusing on technology that would help companies discover this value.

Mint.com's Get Satisfaction community site

The signature feature of a Get Satisfaction community on the Web (or, as of this fall, on a mobile device) is series of tabs that invite customers to “Ask a question,” “Share an idea,” “Report a problem,” or “Give praise.” That setup amounts to an announcement that the company sponsoring the community is interested in gathering customers’ feedback, and even in having a genuine conversation. “We aren’t ‘social’ because it’s cool to be,” says Lea. To Muller and Becker, “social just meant consumer-friendly, open, and honest. The user interface is all designed to make it easy for you to get a quick answer, to get your ideas expressed in a way that is visible to others, and to get a problem solved.”

As a nice side effect, the tab system helps companies organize incoming customer feedback and respond to problems faster. Get Satisfaction is set up to work with a number of other Web-based systems, such as Assistly, Zendesk, Salesforce.com, and Pivotal Tracker, so companies can import posts from the “Report a problem” tab directly into their trouble ticket tracking systems, or route posts from the “Share an idea” tab into their project management systems. In Muller’s words, the system “creates new opportunities for the marriage of social data about what people are doing and what they care about back into the worldview of the company, which is making decisions about how to invest their time or marketing or product development dollars.”

Setting up a Get Satisfaction community is free—and in fact, many of the company’s 60,000 communities were started by fans of companies, rather than by the companies themselves. The startup’s biggest challenge these days is … Next Page »

Wade Roush is Xconomy's chief correspondent and editor of Xconomy San Francisco. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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  • http://uservoice.com Evan Hamilton

    The opportunity, as you put it, of great customer service (as opposed to reactive customer service) is incredibly powerful. It makes me incredibly happy anytime I see one of our customers say that they don’t like our tool, they love the results it’s allowing them to get, by focusing on customers rather than support costs.

    It’s a strategy that will define who succeeds and who fails in the startup world in the next decade. A big hurrah for all the companies that are joining us in this focus!

    -Evan Hamilton
    Community Manager, UserVoice