Customer Support 2.0

This morning I was reading a blog post by Ben Yoskovitz on customer support and it reminded me of some of my own experience with clients.  It’s basically a truism that one really happy customer might tell two other people about your company but one slightly unhappy customer will tell 10!  Do the math and a bad customer experience for early customers can be fatal for a startup.

SupportThe overwhelming majority of companies today have a very "1.0" view of customer support.  In the early days it usually means having one or a few folks in engineering or QA answer the phones and respond to emails on a "help@" email address.  Some more enterprising companies will include IM for more immediate, cost effective support and then start building a FAQ on their website to address common issues.  As the business grows, the company will hire dedicated support staff on a helpdesk, implement or some similar ticketing system all of which at some point gets viewed as expensive so someone suggests moving it offshore to save money.

Then along comes support 2.0.  Not only is it far better, but it is much less expensive.  A great example of what I mean by support 2.0 is NVIDIA, makers of high end video cards for computers.  NVIDIA hosts a very popular discussion forum as part of their support service.  If you read the posts, there are many and the beauty of this is that customers have a "living FAQ" that addresses many more topics than standard ones could ever do and you will also see that many of the "answers" come from evangelist customers!  Yes, that’s right, customers will help other customers which not only reduces the cost to deliver support but also creates a stickier relationship with key customers.  Empowering your customers to connect in this way is incredibly powerful but some find this frightening…what if my customers start colluding on price?  What if they say bad things about our product/company?  My view is that it is best to embrace your customers.  If they hate your product, don’t you want to hear that?  I have also found support 2.0 to be a very rich forum for finding new product / feature ideas.  And the good news is that developing a support 2.0 community is cheap, fast and easy using tools like KickApps (a hosted platform) or other "roll your own" solutions.