Community driven support can hurt your startup - An interview with Paras from VWO

Visual Website Optimizer is a spilt testing software from the stables of Wingify founded by Paras Chopra in 2009. In less than a year of existence, VWO has acquired over 4000 users with some prominent names like Rackspace, Foursquare and Groupon in their customer list.

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A few weeks back, I had an exciting conversation with Paras on Start-ups in general and Support in particular. What caught my attention in our conversation was his interesting perspective on Community driven support and how it impacts start-ups. He mentioned that he is more convinced about the cons of such a channel than the pros. In an age when there is lot of frenzy around online communities and the importance of driving community support using platforms like GetSatisfaction and UserVoice, he has his reasons to believe why implementing that is not the best idea.

Here's what he has to say on the subject...

Community Support to a large extent is impersonal "For large organizations where support costs are considerably high, offering community driven support makes sense as it brings down costs substantially and is much better than outsourcing to a third party. Though it is inferior to the conventional email/chat/phone support the substantial reduction in cost justifies it. But in start-ups where the volumes are considerably low, it is better to engage customers in a familiar medium like email which they are comfortable with than familiarizing them with a new system. Also, a channel like email offers start-ups the opportunity to engage with the customer at a more personal level. If it is common wisdom that Support should not be outsourced in the early stages of start-up, this is no different.

Email has another benefit, especially if your customers include enterprises. Usually those people are comfortable with email as they can CC their colleagues and use their email client's (Outlook) features to keep a tab on issues. They may not be as comfortable with the support platform that you plan to use.

Support is not just the process of helping your customers use the product better but an opportunity to show him/her your commitment towards making him happy in doing so. So probably it is not wise to obsess with creating a platform where users help each other unless you hit the absolute bottle neck of not being able to scale Support."

Easy for customers to be negatively influenced "In the initial days, when you haven't gathered sufficient following for your idea yet, it is easy for the customers to get influenced by each other's opinion. Most times the unhappy ones are the loudest and the sentiment often trickles down. It is much easier to negotiate with customers on an individual basis than address them as a group. Especially on sensitive issues like pricing, I would rather address problems individually than let customers influence each other."

Competition has a channel to spy on you "Discussion forums provide a great opportunity for your competitors to understand the market needs by studying your customers. I don't fear competition. In-fact they keep me on my toes. But I am not too keen on providing an opportunity to my competitors especially at the cost of good customer experience in this case." This is definitely a bold and different perspective on this subject Do you see a disadvantage or any particular advantage in implementing such a channel? What has been your experience?



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Nithya Rajaram
Nithya Rajaram