Get Satisfaction Snags $6M to Crowdsource Customer Support—To Other Customers

You may have heard of Valleywag, the tech gossip site owned by Gawker Media. But you’ve probably never heard of Valleyschwag—a short-lived startup where subscribers could sign up to receive monthly grab-bags full of surplus promotional goodies.

Late one night in 2006, the Valleyschwag team updated its website with a new feature, sent out an e-mail to all of its customers, and went to bed. “Unfortunately, there was a typo in the link we sent out, and hundreds of Europeans waking up as we were going to bed tried to access the site and couldn’t,” says Thor Muller, one of Valleyschwag’s founders. “They tried to talk to each other in the comment section of our blog, and one person figured out what the typo was. So by the time we woke up, hundreds, if not thousands of people had already seen the solution.”

It was an amazing example of customers collaborating to solve a problem without the company even being involved—and it gave Muller and his co-founders the idea for a totally different business. Today that business is called Get Satisfaction, and this week the San Francisco startup is finally collecting its first big pot of venture money.

The $6 million Series A round, being announced today, was a long time coming: Muller, Get Satisfaction’s chief technology officer, says the recession upended earlier fundraising plans (of which more below). San Francisco’s Azure Capital Partners led the round, with seed-round funders O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures and First Round Capital also participating. With thousands of clients already using Get Satisfaction’s platform to communicate with their customers, and to help customers communicate with each other, the startup is hoping it’s now on its way to dominating a market that’s been labeled “social customer relationship management,” or social CRM.

Definitions of social CRM are fuzzy and rapidly changing, but at its heart, it’s about software that helps companies get more systematic about the way they engage with customers. Many Get Satisfaction clients use the company’s Web-based platform to help their customers answer each other’s technical questions, thereby reducing the costs of customer support. But these online communities also turn out to be good places to collect customer feedback, which can be funneled into product design or marketing efforts. In fact, the comments left by many Get Satisfaction users, and the data they reveal in the process about their needs, wants, and preferences, is the kind of stuff many consumer-facing companies happily pay market researchers to collect.

“Where Get Satisfaction came from, and where it is distinctly placed right now, is online customer service and support communities,” says Cameron Lester, Azure’s founding partner, who is joining the company’s board as a result of the investment. “But although they have great customers who use it predominantly for that, they also use it to get advice about product usage, and to develop new product ideas. When you look at customers like Procter & Gamble and and Zappos and Nike and British Telecom and Motorola…what Get Satisfaction is doing is helping these companies get into a dialogue with their users in a non-offensive, engaging way.”

One big factor that sets Get Satisfaction apart from other providers of customer-support software is the fact that it’s creating a single, cohesive community of consumers.Once you’ve registered as a participant in a customer support forum at one Get Satisfaction client, … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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