When Complaining Customers Hit Twitter and Facebook, Assistly is There

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an analysis of the tweet’s content and its author—for example, whether they’ve interacted with the company in the past, and how many Twitter followers they have (a gauge of the complaint’s viral impact). It will use such cues to prioritize each incoming issue for a response and optionally forward it to a specific representative, based on whatever business rules you’ve specified.

There’s also a knowledge base built into Assistly, so if there’s a known solution for the merchant’s problem, you can call it up and send a Twitter reply with a link to a helpful post or article. The whole interaction, meanwhile, is tracked for future reporting purposes, so that you’ll know how often and how quickly you’re resolving customers’ problems. The scenario would play out the same way if the thread had begun on Facebook; the system also supports interactions via e-mail, community forums, online FAQs, live chat, and telephone.

Assistly has raised a bit more than $5 million in venture backing from Bullpen Capital, Index Ventures, Social Leverage, True Ventures, Salesforce.com, and individual investor Kenny Van Zant, an Asana exec who was formerly the chief product strategist at network management software startup SolarWinds. So far, the startup has signed up “hundreds” of customers, Bard told me in late May. While many are fellow Web 2.0 startups like 37signals, Disqus, Fitbit, Performable, Squarespace, Stocktwits, and Vimeo, there are also a few non-Web companies on the list, like DirecTV. Most new Assistly customers have previously struggled to monitor social media conversations using what Bard calls the “Frankenstein duct-tape solution—just Gmail and Tweetdeck.” But others come in search of a simpler replacement for their existing customer-support platforms, such as Zendesk or Remedy.

On price, Assistly is “orders of magnitude” cheaper than traditional customer support software from Remedy or RightNow, and roughly on a par with Zendesk, Bard says. At the moment, the company charges a monthly subscription fee that scales up with the number of employees using the system full-time. (There’s also an hourly “flex” system for employees who need to use it once in a while.) But Bard hints that a major change in the startup’s pricing system is on the way. “It’s a hugely disruptive business model that will simplify the experience for customers and enable even more companies to provide social customer support,” he says.

Bard says he’s convinced that as Twitter and Facebook settle into the mainstream, Assistly will scoop up a large number of small- and medium-sized businesses as customers. “I believe more and more companies will be forced to engage in the public channels, because the effect of not participating will be significantly more detrimental than participating,” he says. “Hopefully it will change the DNA with companies so that they become more customer-centric. The question used to be about metrics like ‘How do we lower the average call-handling time?’ and today it’s about customer satisfaction.”

Assistly is certainly giving off a competitive vibe, but it doesn’t need to destroy Zendesk in order to succeed, Bard says. “I think the space can sustain a couple of leaders,” he says. “My perspective is that it’s actually really good for us to have one another. We push each other further and are preaching the same thing, which is helping our customers deliver more support, which at the end of the day is good for everyone.”

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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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