The Importance of Customer Support & Community Management

As a professional in the field of new media and content on the Internet, I understand customer support & community management from the perspective of the receiving end. However, as a discerning consumer of many products/services, both virtual and ‘in real life,’ I also realize on a daily basis the importance of making the customer happy (that, and the customer is always right … even when they’re really not).

Know Your Customers

While people might like to appear to play fair and pretend like numbers don’t matter, they do. So does influence. When you’re responding to a user, it is important to treat them with respect and to show them real concern/understanding, no matter who they are. On the other hand, when you see that user has a substantial Twitter following or works for a big/influential name company, it is even more important how you communicate with them. They can help build your reputation by a single positive post … or put a crack in it if they’re not satisfied.

Does that mean you should let your user-base control you? By no means; stick to your guns. However, keep in mind that social media has made it all too easy to share your thoughts about a brand … and people are much more apt to rant than rave.

Get Into the Community

It’s essential that you find your target community and become an active part of it. You must know what’s going on, not only related to your site/company vision, but in your community. If this means there’s a hurricane and you tweet out emergency information for your followers, then do it. See that someone in your stream is celebrating a birthday? Don’t be afraid to wish them a happy one.

There are some that will disagree with me and say doing the above is not ‘professional’ enough. From my experience, making a personal connection is what keeps people coming to you and your site; it’s what creates brand loyalty. So if you want to be a robotic, beige-walled, keep the info let out to the public at a minimum, then fine. But when your competitor comes around offering them a warmer community and a community manager that knows how to get in there and connect with the people, then your star will begin to wane.

AirBnB: Customer Service Update

Recently, I wrote optimistically about my positive first experience with web-based vacation rental agency AirBnB. I was satisfied with my first guests (who returned only a week or so later) and my first encounter with “Jared B” on AirBnB’s live chat system. This time I chatter with “Natnaal G,” who was cold and robotic.

Unfortunately, the customer service part my initial review has changed in the past two weeks. Without getting into the details, AirBnB has dragged their feet on paying the money owed to me for the first stay. While Jared assured me that it would be only a couple of business days, it has, in fact, been 13 days since that contact and I’ve yet to receive payment to the proper account. Granted, the initial error was on my part as I put down the wrong email address in signing up, but when a representative of a company/site tells a customer/user anything, their word needs to be kept. If they haven’t been trained on mincing their words appropriately, then perhaps the former eBay customer service guru Monroe Labouisse still has his work cut out for him at the San Francisco based start-up.

In the end, no one is perfect, no company is perfect. No, really. You can drill in all of the restrictions and guidelines and ‘philosophies’ that you want into your team members that deal with the public, but ‘mistakes’ will be made. It’s how you deal with these so-called slip-ups that can make you a success story … or just another failed start-up.