Q&A: Your disgruntled customers may be complaining to this man -- and all of the Internet

GetSatisfaction CEO says 'people-powered customer service' site can be a boon to marketers

The Industrial Era emphasized control - protecting what was inside the wall of the company - versus the Network Era, where value is created not inside the company but on the edge of the company - on the network, where it's easier to collaborate with customers and partners. Companies that are embracing the network, embracing openness, are going to where their customers are and are realizing healthy returns and lower costs.

You've said that customer service is the new marketing. What do you mean by that?

Growth and profitability are highly correlated to [customer] retention and satisfaction, which are about engagement and reaching out to customers - the things marketing has always done. Customer support, meanwhile, is isolated and withdrawn in organizations. Given how important it is to affect customer retention and satisfaction, the idea of providing support wherever customers are is very much beginning to overlap with marketing. The most powerful form of marketing is word-of-mouth marketing. Customer service is a point of powerful engagement because people are frustrated or happy and are actively engaged with a company and product at that time.

One of the things that happen when customer service starts to become public is that it becomes possible to very inexpensively - with the right tool and right mind-set - identify evangelists, the people who are most likely to spread the word for you. Because of the Internet, the traditional world of customer service has expanded into the world of marketing.

What kind of pain can this new philosophy create for companies?

Getting used to people being as empowered to say negative things about you as you are to say positive things about yourself. This is the typical reason why companies don't adopt social media - people can say anything they want about us and that is searchable by Google. [They ask] "Why would I adopt something that has the seeds of our destruction in it?"

If you're afraid that the free flow of information is going to destroy you, then you've got real problems with your products, real problems with your company culture. It is interesting that companies like Comcast, which has a terrible reputation, have gotten to the point that they clearly have more to gain than lose by opening themselves.

It's fundamentally transformative, because it does change the relationship of companies and the people they do business with from consumers and producers to one where we are all consumers and producers.

How has the response from companies been so far to complaints from their users?

We have over 3,200 companies being discussed, and over 50 per cent of those are [responding to users]. The number has been rising. We've seen that there are certain companies that have a policy of not responding. An example there is Facebook. Users have criticized [Facebook's] policy of disabling any user they suspect is a spammer. They end up catching what seems like innocent people in the process. Facebook does not respond [to users on Get Satisfaction].

Other large companies, like Comcast, Whole Foods, eBay and PayPal ... have representatives on Get Satisfaction. It can be thought of as early responders providing information and sometimes just a human face that express the understanding of the pain you are going through.

At Comcast, their team is on Get Satisfaction. It is not a technical team but a customer care team. They'll actually empathize with the frustrated user and work behind the scenes to hook them up with a repair person. It is this kind of lightweight outreach that can go a long way in making a customer feel like they are being cared for.

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