We got hoisted on a petard today. I think we’re going to survive.
It started with a big complaint. We’re no strangers to complaints. I see them every day, and occasionally, they’re directed at our own company. Today was one of those days. The folks at 37signals directed a complaint at us on their blog. You can read their blog post here.
If you follow the “inside baseball” of the start-up world, you’ll immediately know that 37signals is one of the most respected voices in the start-up community. Nearly everyone uses their Web site’s marketing pages as a model for how to market your own Web site. Everyone, like, totally copies them. (I personally think it’s time for everyone to stop duplicating the 37signals approach to laying out a marketing page, not because I don’t like it (I do) but because it’s so successful it’s becoming cliche!). It’s distressing to hear such a vocal complaint from a company whose products I admire so much, but feedback is feedback. It can be valuable, no matter where it’s coming from.
The crux of Jason Fried’s argument on the 37signals blog, “Signal vs. Noise”: “If you prefer to provide great support on your own site with your own forums and your own help section and your own feedback mechanisms and your own FAQs, well, Get Satisfaction doesnâ€™t play fair.” Jason went on to criticize us for using language on our site that makes it sound like the companies that don’t use our site don’t care about their customers. Specifically, our badge on each company home page said that the unattending company “has not yet committed to open conversation about its products and services.” As Jason offered, “Thatâ€™s unfair and unreasonable. Just because we donâ€™t team up with Get Satisfaction it doesnâ€™t mean weâ€™re not committed to an open conversation.”
Great point, Jason. We agreed with him that this particular piece of language — which was actually intended to indicate whether or not a company had signed our Company-Customer Pact — could be taken another way. Judging by this incendiary blog post, it definitely was taken another way. Conclusion: It was poorly worded. Our original intent when we released the new header two weeks ago was to voice the opposite — that our site is an “unofficial” place for customers to congregate, but that we encourage customers to encourage companies to join the conversation. We don’t want companies to feel compelled to join us. The point is to bring in employees who see value in what we’re doing, who have positive attitudes about us. We’ll never get anywhere recruiting angry employees!
Bad language, yes. But it’s something that’s fixable. So, we fixed it. It took about ten minutes to write it up and make the change live. Excellent example of a valid complaint getting resolved quickly. We wanted to go even further, so we added the word “Unofficial” to company sections on our site where no employees participate. We really do pride ourselves on being as responsive as possible, so we went out of our way to respond.
Response #1: Since the feedback from Jason wasn’t on our site, we responded in the comments section of the 37signals blog. It was a tough room, let me tell you. We didn’t get likened to Hitler, exactly, but some people had some pretty mean things to say. I was seriously impressed that so many of our supporters ended up responding and defending us as well. We have some incredible evangelists who go to bat for us. I think about them whenever I go to bat for other companies on Get Satisfaction, or in other places on the Internet.
Response #2: A number of people, inspired by Jason’s blog post, started new topics on our site to ask us what the deal was and what our policies were. We answered those, too.
Response #3: The comments roared on, as comment threads will do. We responded a bit, although we didn’t want to sound overly defensive. To hammer home our commitment to get this wrong righted, we decided to try something new: a live Webcast. â€¨As you may know, we started a Webcast series last week. The first one was a big success, and we have more planned for the future. Since we have our Webcasting site and equipment set up and ready to go, it was easy for us to simply invite anyone and everyone to our site for an impromptu, no-BS Q&A session. So, we did. It was a great way for us to connect with people who had serious concerns right away. No waiting around for official press releases or carefully worded statements. We’re big believers in honest and straightforward responses, so we did our best to give those.
Response #4: Twitter, et. al. We’ll continue to do our best to monitor online discussions and respond when appropriate. We don’t have anything to hide, and we want our policies to be seen as open — and open to criticism. Most important: We want people to know that we will respond, and as quickly as possible.
Response #5: This blog post, wherein I ask: What did we learn today?
I think we learned that we haven’t communicated the way our site works well enough. We also learned that a simple choice of language can mean a lot. We also learned that there may be other Jason Frieds out there who should know how our site works. We should communicate that to him and others better. We can do better at letting companies — whether they love us or hate us — know about our new features and their options. Again, whether they’re officially on our site or not. For example, we could do better at letting them know about our Company Update topics and how to use them. They allow companies to pin a topic to the top of their company page. Also, with the new redesign, we introduced a Company Message feature. With this message feature, companies can point customers to an official support site or leave any message they want. Don’t want to participate on our site? Tell your customers where you do prefer to hear them, and then quietly lock the door on your way out. We’ll do our best to broadcast your message. Seriously. We’re not trying to hold anyone hostage. If you want to handcuff yourself to your customers because you love them so much — now that we can help you with!
We’re definitely taking away the message that we need to do more than just send out smoke signals to companies about how our service works. I’m confident that we’ll get there, and we’ve already begun releasing new forward-facing pages (like our new home page we blogged about today) that explains how our site works. Our intention has always been to help companies who need to improve their customer service, and we’ll keep working at it. We learned today that there are other companies who aren’t interested in using our site in this way; we just need to make sure they are accommodated, too.
Great feedback, if painful at times. It helps us improve. As always, you are welcome to voice your own opinion in our community.