Customer service. It’s a phrase that likely conjures up visions of… well, I’m not sure it conjures up anything for most people these days. It’s a dying philosophy in modern times, as we become more insular and removed from our communities. What’s the point of going the extra mile for someone when you’ll likely never come in contact with them again? Indeed, the only instances of excellent customer service that come to my mind are of stores and companies at which I’m a “regular.”
The concept is gaining more traction in blog circles lately, as companies attempt to leverage Web 2.0 technologies to better serve their customers. Sarah Perez recently focused on Twitter as a customer service tool on ReadWriteWeb and Cyndy Aleo-Carreira posted about some personal experiences, good and bad, with several companies. I myself have noticed a couple of new Twitter followers immediately following sign-ups in new betas recently. One amusing incident involved me tweeting “What the hell is Mergelab and what am I supposed to do with it?” only to receive a direct reply from the CEO 10 minutes later. Lesson: excising profanity will usually result in nicer-sounding tweets.
What inspired this post though, was a startup that threw me for a loop yesterday. A bit of background: I’m in dire need of a meeting scheduler, software that will set up conference calls and meetings for me. The amount of time I spend each day in back-and-forth emails is ridiculous. I tried TimeBridge and found it clunky and hard to navigate. I haven’t received an invite to the beta of TimeDriver, so can’t speak to that app’s functionality. There are a couple of others I have in the queue to try and yesterday, I signed up for Jiffle. I’m not sure what I think of the product yet, but I can tell you that I’m willing to stick with it longer solely because of its customer service.
About an hour after I signed up and downloaded Jiffle, I received a phone call from the company’s client service manager, Cicely Doerr. She wanted to know how my install had gone and if I had any questions on using the software. I admit I was initially an egoist, assuming she Googled me, saw I was an emerging tech analyst and therefore merited hand-holding. But no, it turns out she calls everyone who downloads the software. This is obviously not a sustainable practice, as the larger a service’s user base becomes, the more reps they’ll need to employ for follow-up. And I don’t necessarily want a personal phone call from each and every product I try out. But at this particular moment in time, it was enough to make Jiffle stand out among the mass of companies I look at every day.
This all brought to mind an IM conversation I had with Chris the other day. A colleague pointed her to a study from a Big 10 University that found that 0% of business customers – in a survey done for a large technology provider – turn to blogs as an information source. Their most trusted source? Sales reps. That’s got to smart a bit in the Web 2.0 world. It got us talking about the supreme importance of customers and how they’ve been overshadowed in emerging tech. Many startups view funding as the endpoint, racing to secure coverage on blogs read by VCs – and apparently no one else. It’s the meme we return to over and over on The Guidewire: remember the masses. Funding is integral, to be sure, but once you’ve secured it, apply the same drive and tenacity to securing customers and, more importantly, keeping them happy. Will Jiffle eventually become my go-to app for scheduling? It’s too early to tell. But now that I know the company is invested in my satisfaction, I’m much more willing to look past initial snags or setbacks.