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

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your identity follows you to every other Get Satisfaction client. That means the startup has a comparatively deep understanding of the people who use its clients’ support forums.

“Companies have their customer databases, which tend to be pretty shallow and out of date, and tied mainly to transaction histories,” says Muller. “On the other end of the spectrum, we [are tracking] social identities, where customers will be very forthcoming and will share their interests in various social spaces. What we can do is tie together that social identity with customer records, and that creates new opportunities for the marriage of social data—what people are doing, what they care about—back into the world view of the company.”

Through software connectors, Get Satisfaction can channel the feedback and reputation data left by forum users into existing systems such as classical CRM software (e.g. Salesforce) or help-desk systems (e.g. Zendesk). “We aim to be a connective tissue between the outside social space, where conversations are happening freely but need to become somewhat more structured to reach productive outcomes inside companies,” says Muller.

One Get Satisfaction client in the news recently is Flipboard, the Palo Alto, CA, startup whose iPad app lets users browse Twitter and Facebook feeds in a friendly, magazine-style format. The app became so popular after its launch in late July that the company had trouble accommodating the crush of new users. Flipboard’s Get Satisfaction forum became the startup’s main vehicle for communicating information about the software updates and invitation procedures it devised to fix the problem. Since then, the forum has also become a clearinghouse for feature suggestions from Flipboard users (the most-requested feature, right now, is the ability to access RSS feeds from within the app).

Of course, there are limits to the idea of crowdsourcing customer support to customers themselves. During Flipboard’s July crisis, for example, there was little that forum users could tell one another about the situation (I was one of them, so I know). For the first few days, the only truly useful bits of information were the occasional updates posted by actual Flipboard employees.

“It’s like with any channel of communication—it’s only as good as the use you make of it,” Muller says of Get Satisfaction’s system. “I know that as a small company, when you’re trying to put out fires, it can be a devil’s bargain—do you work on fixing the product, or do you communicate? What we would hope is that a little bit of communication can go a long way. Our challenge is helping companies make the most of that. If the end result is that a company is becoming less active and less engaged with their customers, then we have failed.”

In the life cycle of an Internet startup, the third year is unusually late to be collecting a Series A round. Muller says two big factors made Get Satisfaction a late bloomer on the venture scene.

The first was the economy. “We raised our original seed money back in 2007 and we expected to raise a large Series A within a year or so after that, but that was right around the time of the economic collapse,” he says. “So, like a lot of companies, we got creative, and we got laser-focused on … 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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