Lonely Planet consolidates forum, contributor feedback

Streamlined forum responses used to develop guide books

Lonely Planet has turned to online customer feedback to improve its products, implementing Zendesk help desk software to streamline information from its forums and wider community.

“We’ve had such a fantastic customer community for 37 years, we’ve got a reputation of being good to deal with and we don’t want to lose that,” Lonely Planet’s deputy director of digital, Nigel Dalton, told Computerworld Australia.

“What really impacted it was we operate in a multi-format web world now…you discover when you get on the web its like a fire hose of information can suddenly flow at you.”

The Zendesk deployment ultimately consolidated Lonely Planet’s forum, which has 870,000 contributors at time of writing, on a single platform rather than the mixture of in-house and out-sourced technologies previously used by the tourism giant.

The spreadsheets and databases previously used to collect user feedback were ultimately dumped in favour of Zendesk as well. Dalton said the consolidation allowed Lonely Planet to remain relevant to contributors and move the company forward.

“When you’re working on this scale, you’re not a start up and you’re not a dot com – you’re a pretty major entity,” he said. “You’ve got to think of solutions that, while not losing that personality and touch that Lonely Planet’s famous for, enable you to get some efficient processes in place.”

Lonely Planet developers used the Zendesk API to build a new front-end tailored to its customer base, both online and through mobile platforms.

“Most of the functionality was just plugging into what their platform provides,” he said. “The clever bit about it is using so much of Zendesk, there’s no corner we haven’t explored in one way or another and the automation that’s available and the more advanced features is where we’ve gained a lot of our productivity.

"If you’re going to listen to your customers you need technology… inevitably we have to cover all the bases so we’re confident with Android, iPhone, Java apps and those kind of things and the future is pretty clearly turning to mobile at the moment.”

Lonely Planet chief executive, Matt Goldberg, last month told attendees of the Gartner Symposium 2010 that the company had fostered innovation among IT staff to encourage success of Lonely Planet's online initiatives.

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