Fast Company

Is Customer Service the New Marketing?

How Thor Muller and the gang at Get Satisfaction have helped thousands of companies and millions of consumers transform the fundamental notions of customer service.

<a href="//www.fastcompany.com/person/thor-muller" class="profile" data-event-category="recirculation" data-event-action="person" data-event-label="thor-muller">Thor Muller</a>Just three years ago, you needed to be a prominent blogger like Jeff Jarvis or Bob Garfield to make an online noise loud enough to inspire a company response to a particular product or service issue. It was about that time that Thor Muller, Co-founder and CTO of Get Satisfaction, developed an online tool that would "allow anybody that same power," to in essence, "get satisfaction by pulling the company in."

Forty months later, Get Satisfaction is well on its way to transforming the way companies interact with consumers, turning customer service into the kind of measurably effective marketing that even John Wannamaker could have fully blessed. Gleaned from my conversation with Muller at Get Satisfaction's San Francisco headquarters early this month, here are eight ways community driven customer service is changing the ways brands go to market.

Get Satisfaction1. Re-humanizing consumer interactions

For Muller, it is simply not enough that companies use their tools. "We really want people to change their whole approach to what it means to talk to customers," he explained. "For a long time, maybe a hundred years, we've been gradually squeezing the humanity out of our interactions; scripting it, automating it, scaling it." Instead of asking people to take a number, "Companies now have to revolve themselves around individuals." Muller noted, adding that in doing so, "we're making the world a better place, certainly more human!"

2. Elevating the conversation from transactions to aspirations

While traditional customer service is often about addressing transactional issues like resetting passwords, Muller believes that community-driven customer support can go much further. "Customer communities at their best are really tapping people's deeper goals, their deeper desires," explained Muller. This requires companies to, "rise above writing help documentation and be more of a good cocktail party host." Muller links this change with the new staff post of Community Manager who is part therapist, part help desk and part cruise director.

3. Reducing the costs of the traditional help desk

For years, companies have sought to drive down support costs with automation and the ironic goal of minimizing human interaction with their call centers. Part of the reason Get Satisfaction has grown so quickly is that it flips this notion on its head, increasing human interaction but decreasing costs by making support more peer-to-peer driven. Noted Muller, "we've seen with our communities at scale typically reduce the number of [service] tickets that go to [call center] agents by 75% or so." Muller referred me to case histories for Mint.com and Yola, both of which reduced "repetitive support by two thirds."

4. Extending support beyond your website to Facebook

While most companies recognize the need to engage consumers on social media, only the savviest have begun to offer customer support on platforms like Facebook. For these enlightened marketers, Get Satisfaction offers a Facebook application in two distinct versions, "one for enterprises who have a lot more demand for customization/controls and one for everybody else," noted Muller. Having a support tab on Facebook gives fans one more reason to "Like" a brand and get the information and support required to encourage and enable over-the-top evangelism.

5. Turning customer support into searchable content

Given the fundamental importance of search to customer acquisition, finding ways to improve organic search results (SEO) is a top priority for most businesses. That said, few have recognized that content generated via customer communities can do just that. Explained Muller, "somebody asks how they can use a particular camera to take better pictures, that is then indexed by Google and then next person who searches finds that conversation. Get Satisfaction] is taking something that used to be a cost center, customer service, and turning it into lead generation."

6. Listening builds trust in and of itself

Dell famously solicited customer ideas and ended up producing a Linux based laptop that no one bought. This kind of listening and responding is not the ultimate intent of Get Satisfaction. While community members are encouraged to offer ideas, Muller does not advocate, "design by committee" or conclude that the customer is always right. "Even if [a brand doesn't] build what I want them to build or do what I want them to do, I may be less likely to change to another product because I feel close to them," explained Muller.

7. Integrating customer conversations with your CRM system

Many sophisticated marketers, especially in B2B, rely on well-honed CRM systems to track leads through the funnel. Get Satisfaction allows these companies to take this one step further by connecting the social web with workflow systems, trouble tickets and project management tools. Explained Muller, "Knowing who a customer is, what their buying history is, and what they care about is important to servicing them well." Suddenly a customer complaint becomes "actionable within an organization," given the CRM integration concluded Muller.

8. Measuring C-Sat on both a qualitative and quantitative basis

While some pundits strive to simplify customer satisfaction to one basic metric like Net Promoter, this may not be the ideal approach for your particular business. Having witnessed thousands of customer comments and complaints, Muller encourages clients to take a "more holistic approach" and "measure satisfaction in various ways." Having developed something called a Satisfactometer, that explained Muller, "might be something fun like an emoticon and other times might be something more structured and numeric," Get Satisfaction is delivering both sides of the measurement equation.

Final Note: Having recently hired a CEO to drive the company forward, Muller is re-focused on his true love, product development, so we can expect even more satisfying features from Get Satisfaction in the days ahead.

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