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SXSW Customer Service is the New Marketing

Customer service is the new black. The Customer Service is the New Marketing panel at SXSW talked about how "online businesses that provide superior customer service are earning fanatical devotion ... Doing business online is anything but impersonal and an obsessive attention to customers *after* the sale is a killer advantage." The panel featured Thor Muller, Managing Dir, Satisfaction Unlimited, Heather Champ, Community Mgr, Flickr, Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos.com and Nick Wilder, Principal, 30 Boxes

Heather spoke in good detail about how Flickr manages their community:

  • They keep different channels of communication open with their members. They have a help link at the top and footer of every page, a help by email with a drop-down topic selector and links to forum topics and activity. Flickr's team can access this help and feedback system on the fly from wherever they are and they use a sitewide status message to let people know what's happening.
  • Flickr has three forums: Flickr Help, Bugs and Ideas - that provide immediate feedback on the mood of the community on any particular day. Community managers, including company founder Stewart Butterfield, monitor these daily to take the temperature of the community. About a million photos are uploaded every day, so a lot of people actively participate on the site and in the forums.  For example, the community recently flared up over Yahoo!'s decision to convert "Old Skool" Flickr users were not happy about this and within a few weeks of the announcement, 2,650 comments had been posted on the forum thread about the change.
  • Even as things get heated in the forums, Heather's mantra is to use a "soft pleasing tone of voice"; she even taped this sentence to her laptop, as a core principle to follow. The point is to cool things down by being level-headed at all times. She will let members be abusive to her, but never to one another.
  • When they know of a new feature or a bug, they will put a notice on the top of mebers' home page with a link to the discussion
  • Every Flickr empoyee is an active member of the site with their own photostream: they are who they say they are and you can see their profiles. In fact, the people who built Flickr really participated and actively engaged with the community
  • As an online service provider, you cannot assume nothing is going to go wrong ... but you can prepare for when things do. For example, on July 19th 2006, they had to take site down to fix a nagging issue. On this occasion, since they didn't know for how long the site would be down, they replaced the standard "flickr is having a massage" error page by a coloring contest with a way to win a free pro account. The contest details were on the flickr blog, which is run on a separate system and is not connected to the Flickr site. Within 24 hours, they had 1100 photographs. They gave away 14 pro accounts to the top entries as well as a 3-months pro account to all contest entrants. They did this because they didnt know how long it would take them to bring Flickr back up, so they wanted a way to engage with the community.
  • They remain honest, transparent and they 'fess up when they do things wrong, in particular Stewart
  • How do you deal with crazies? It's important to realize that people are very passionate about certain things and you have to remind yourself not to get angry and to understand when to step away and take a breather. The key is to have a firmly established community guideline, so that you can take the appropriate action when people step over the line. Sometimes there's "trout slapping" going on between members, and the community managers have to position themselves as referees: "step back from the abyss and if not, we'll lock down the forum". You can have people rail against you, but not against other people in the community. They only delete spammers out of the forums and infrequently block people from forums, if they're being real jerks. This action is not irreversible and gives people time to reset. According to Heather, it's good to wear "asbestos underpants" when dealing with hot topics.
  • It's important to hire the right people and their employees have been interviewed by 8 or 9 people. You need to find people with the same values. Also, everyone has to answer 10 to 20 customer care questions everyday to understand the interaction with the community. "We're all in this together".
  • Is there a cancellation policy? Flickr has a firm, no refund policy. Because a year's membership costs a mere $24.95, it's more expensive to deal with refunds, so they're not given. But you want to make sure people are there because they want to be there, not because you're holding them hostage, so it shouldn't be hard for users to cancel their accounts. In fact, every additional minute members spend trying to cancel their account creates unnecessary hatred, so the advice is to make it easy for members to discontinue their membership if that's what they wish.
  • Finally, it's important to subscribe to watchlist feeds to see what people in the blogosphere are saying about the company in blog posts and comments

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March 15, 2007 in Marketing-Advertising, Web/Tech | Permalink


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