37 Signals, Inc.
I want to first thank you for taking the time to write up a detailed post about your issues with our service. In some ways it was the model of good feedback: specific, direct, actionable. The only thing missing was your browser and OS details :)
You were angry, and honestly I don’t blame you. We all know what it’s like to feel manipulated. And while I would have preferred you sending us a note, or even posting it somewhere less trafficked than your popular blog, the fact is that Get Satisfaction is a huge proponent of public airing of grievances. You were right to bring it to our attention any way you saw fit. I only wish that you hadn’t implied unethical motives with words like “extortion,” “mafia shakedown,” etc. The fact is, many people hear those words and nothing else, and it compromises years of work by our small but committed team.
But what I really wanted to do, from one product guy to another, is explain how we found ourselves here and where we’re going. I hope it gives you some idea of the kind of people we are, and the vision that drives us. Much of that story was overwhelmed yesterday by one big screwup and the unintended consequences of some well-intentioned design decisions. There are lessons here!
We started Get Satisfaction originally to solve a problem we had ourselves. We’d experienced the pain of delivering customer service via email, but had amazing experiences answering questions in public on our blog. We thought we could build something more results-oriented and social than what was available. Get Satisfaction was born.
After starting it, we noticed that everyone we talked to was frustrated with customer service with big companies. We hypothesized that the companies that needed open, honest customer interaction the most were those that were least likely to embrace it in a programmatic way. So we launched Get Satisfaction not only for companies to set up their own customer communities, but also to let customers start a community space around any brand they liked–to give them the same kind of soap box for results that you have with your blog, Signal vs Noise.
We believed that the more we empowered customers the better off companies would be, whether or not they knew it yet. It was a provocative concept, and we certainly owe much of our success so far on creating this as a “Switzerland for customer service.” For instance, this just popped into my Twitter search feed:
denisess: Get Satisfaction actually works. I’ve been trying to get McAfee support to respond to me for 6 weeks. 24 hours on GS and I got a response.
Because we wanted to make sure we created an even playing field between employees and customers we devised the Company-Customer Pact to foster accountability for both sides. Our values have always been the driving force behind our product design. We benefited from good SEO on these support related pages, of course, but we always tried to be clear that this was a third-party site. Thus the heavy branding on our old header:
In the year and half since we launched we’ve seen the numbers of companies added on a monthly basis skyrocket–but today over 80% of new companies are added by the companies themselves, and these range from huge companies to little tiny ones. It was on the basis of this (and requests by these companies) that we decided to redesign the header and overall framing of the site. We wanted to make it simpler and more neutral for companies to use how they saw fit, whether as a primary support channel or remote outpost. There were branding hierarchy issues between our logo and the name of the company (as you can see above). Due to the minimized branding, we created the Company-Customer Pact badge for companies that signed up to partcipate.
We realized we needed something in this spot for the communities where the company was not participating. This is when the very badly worded badge was added. Released two weeks ago, it was thrown together in the midst of the overall redesign effort and did not get vetted properly. We’ve already seen the consequences. It was most definitely not the result of a strategy to extort.
In thinking about this all day, it occurred to me that the badge was only half the problem. The other half is that the new header design makes confusion more likely when a company is not participating. We solved one problem (confusion for customers on official support sites) and exacerbated another (confusion on unofficial sites).
The other thing is that we currently treat fortune 500 companies the same as little startups, when the situations are very different. It’s important to us that customers who are stymied by AT&T’s phone support be able to use the internet to gain real leverage. But small companies may actually be at a disadvantage relative to the hyper-empowered power users on the Web today. We have to figure out how to deal with that conflict.
Which brings me to the question of where do we go from here? First, we’re in the midst of an ongoing redesign of key components of our system. We’re folding in our learning from the past few years to make for a much clearer, cleaner experience. We’re going to address the core areas of tension that I described in the paragraphs above. We heard a number of great suggestions today in the peanut gallery, including:
- Much more clearly mark areas that are purely user driven
– Put more limits on logo publishing
– Change page titles and descriptions to be clear in search results when pages are not sanctioned support spaces
– More/better tools for setting expectations of a company’s usage of get satisfaction.
These are some of the ideas we’re looking at doing in the very short term, and we’re open to more. We are moving with urgency to make the right revisions.
Our business isn’t about building a better mousetrap, but about fostering new modes of interaction between companies and customers. We don’t always get it right, but we’re proud of the good we’ve done so far. I believe we’ll continue to make progress thanks to honest feedback like yours, and the support of an amazing community.
CTO & Co-founder
P.S. I hope you also get the chance to read Garrett Dimon’s “can’t we all just get along” post: http://garrettdimon.com/archives/2009/3/31/handling_things/ Eloquent, as always.
Edited @ 3:43 4/1/09. “Inethical” is not a word (as a few nice people pointed out), but “unethical” is. Fixed.