This is one of my favorite customer service anecdotes right now, and I can’t seem to stop blabbing about it.
The story tells of how 30Boxes, an infectious social calendar app, abandoned conventional wisdom in their pursuit of extraordinary customer service. It’s a prime example of how embracing chaos can energize a business. (It was originally told to me by Nick Wilder of 30Boxes on my Customer Service is the New Marketing panel)
The Trouble with Trouble Tickets
Nick, along with serial entrepreneurs Narendra Rocherolle and Julie Davidson, started another company a few years ago, the photo-sharing site Webshots, ultimately acquired by CNET. As Webshots’ customer base and support issues began to scale up they did what every proper technology startup does; they installed trouble-ticket software to respond to all the customer issues. They anointed staff as official reps, established a process that worked with the software, and began to answer customers in this ostensibly optimal workflow.
Here’s the first plot twist: they discovered that almost fifty percent of the support issues coming in through that system went unresolved. Consistently. The remainder of the issues were sheperded through this siloed system by the staff, but were rarely viewed by the product developers or managers. Even with this efficiency-focused software, devoted support personnel, and the best of intentions Webshots was unable to rise to the goal of decent customer service.
Closing Issues by Opening Conversations
When the team launched their new startup, 30 Boxes, they decided to try something different. They opted out of trouble ticket systems altogether. Instead, they set up a forum. Just an old-fashioned discussion board, albeit one with a pretty, minimalist design. They didn’t publish an email form, and avoided any of those trumpeted CRM applications we read so much about. It was just a standard open source forum that anyone could post to.
This time the results were dramatically different. Right away users began to post questions, bugs, product ideas, company praise, and whatever else was on their minds. All this interaction from customers and the company was public, not hidden away in a private database like before, and each day the vibrant interactions pulled even more users into the conversation. All this hubbub created interest and involvement, stoking the passions of the customer community.
Now here’s the second plot twist: Instead of half of customer issues withering away unresolved in a trouble ticket system, on the 30Boxes forum almost 50% of customer issues were resolved by other users! Of the remaining issues, the vast majority were handled quickly by the 30Boxes product team which monitors the forum closely, not as their job, but because they’re eager for user feedback. And the biggest pain point of any customer service system–answering the same questions over and over again–mostly vanished now that all answers were posted publicly instead of sent to a private email inbox.
Just like magic.
New Rule: Wherever you can, keep your conversations with customers public