Get Satisfaction is a Complaint Aggregator, one of many showing up on the web. Some  companies use them as their ‘complaint site’, or monitor the comments, questions and customer service. But other organizations do not know about them nor use them as their official site. 37Signals, a Software organization, recently took Get Satisfaction to task for the lack of transparency. The Get Satisfaction site does not make it ‘evident’ to the user that they may not be on the organization’s official web site.

I have reproduced part of the 37Signals article to give you a concrete example of how this site works and what problems it could cause if you are unaware that this isn’t the official support site.

I personally was mislead when I tried to get my blog accepted by Technorati. I ended up at Get Satisfaction and finally was accepted by Technorati.  I am still getting message streams from the question I posted. It appears the response from Technorati is spotty. I have put in my own responses to others queries, and other non Technorati staff tried to help me. As a user, I was unimpressed with Technorati, not realizing this was not their official site.

But it may not have been their fault.  This could be happening to you. Be aware and take preventative steps, not only with Get Satisfaction but other complaint aggregators.

Here’s the 37Signals story. Read the full article at this site.  In this article “GS” is short for “Get Satisfaction”.

The 37Signals’ Complaint

Why we care about the customer experience

I thought I would use this opportunity to talk about what customer experience means to us and why we’re upset about this GS situation.

A customer experience is the sum total of a bunch of small experiences. Logos, words, brand names, copywriting, interface design, functionality, trust, expectations, suggestions, follow-throughs. All of these things point somewhere. In the case of the GS pages, they point to an official place to get answers, report problems, share ideas, and get “Customer Service & Support” from the company in question.

The problem is that GS pages look, act, read, and feel official. And for some companies they are. GS is a useful tool for companies that choose to use it. But check out the difference between a page for a company that chooses to use GS and a page for a company that has no idea what GS is. Tiny tiny differences I bet 9 out of 10 of people hitting that page would never notice.

A small disclaimer in 9px text in the top right, and a single mention of “Unofficial” near the top of the page don’t go nearly far enough to make this absolutely, without-a-doubt-clear that this is not a company-supported or official place to get help. You should be smacked in the head with either “This is official!” or “This is not official. The real official place is over here…” Big, bold, colorful, impossible to miss. It should be the clearest thing on the page, and people should be reminded of it often (like right after they post a question).

Is Get Satisfaction a slogan? A company?

Remember that most people who hit a GS page don’t know who GS is. They didn’t search for Get Satisfaction, they searched for a company or product name to get customer service or support. A customer recognizes our company name on the page, but they don’t know who GS is. Is GS even a company? Or is it a tag line? “37signals: Get Satisfaction” on a support page seems like a reasonable interpretation. If GS is going to host pages for 14,000+ companies, the burden of absolute clarity is on them.

So when GS puts up a page unknown to us that uses our logos, our brand, and our product names, and then combines it with phrases such as “Customer Service” and “Customer Support”, I get upset. And when I see customers who’ve been misled to think this is an official place to get support (because of the names and logos and wording), I get upset. And when I see our customers that have asked questions with the clear expectation of getting an official answer, I get really upset. None of our customers should be confused by a third-party using our names, brands, etc. Period.

How our customers could be confused

Let’s look at this from a customer’s perspective. Let’s assume they hit the 37signals Get Satisfaction page from a Google search. Different combinations of searches for “37signals” and “customer service” or “support” bring Get Satisfaction’s page as high as #3.

So here they are.

The red boxes are mentions of “37signals” and the blue boxes are mentions of “Get Satisfaction.” On my screen it’s 8 to 2 in favor of 37signals mentions. I don’t know if that’s for SEO purpose or for another reason, but I do know that every additional mention of 37signals reinforces the expectation that this is “the official place” to get a question answered by 37signals. Why else would the company name be everywhere?

The first thing I might see on this page is this:

A bold “Ask a question about 37signals and their products” headline with a big text field below it. That’s an invitation to begin interacting with this page. “I had a question and now they are asking me to enter it.” Again, this feels like “the official place” to get that question answered.

Or maybe it’s not a question… Maybe it’s a problem I’m having. There’s a tab with a red alert icon that says “Report a problem.” If I’m the customer I’m thinking “When I report this problem the company will be notified of it.” Except that’s not what happens. But they don’t know that. There’s no mention of that anywhere. Not before or after they report the problem.

So I start entering my problem and then I’m asked to select the product I’m having a problem with. How do I pick the product? I see 3 product logos. Sure looks official to me. Logos reinforce the mental connection with official.

Then, right before I’m done posting it, they say:

The page says “We’ve estimated the likelihood of your problem getting noticed”. We? Oh, “we” must be 37signals. Who else would “we” be? 37signals is the company I pay every month to use Basecamp and their name is plastered all over this page. And their products are listed right here too.

And then I spot… “the likelihood of your problem getting noticed.” You mean 37signals may ignore my problem? “What the hell?” is what would be going through my head as a customer. The bad experiences compound: First, the fear they may be ignored, and second, the reality that they will.

Wait…What is this site? Is this for real? Let me click the “About” link and see.

“We aim for the software sweet spot: Elegant, thoughtful products that do just what you need and nothing you don’t” – yup, that’s 37signals. This is the company.

So the customer asks the question or reports the problem and nothing happens. The bad experience blossoms and gets worse every day it’s left untouched. And then other customers who stumble onto this page see it and notice that questions aren’t getting answered. And it snowballs. Soon it becomes a big sore spot – invisible to the company, but bright red for customers. This is bad.

See what I mean?

Hopefully this scenario helps you understand why we’re bothered by GS’s general model and execution. It’s confusing. I can imagine a dozen other scenarios where people could land on this page, see our name over and over, recognize our logos, see options to ask questions and report problems, and expect to get official resolution.

Thanks for listening

These issues don’t just affect 37signals, they potentially affect thousands of other companies. We’re lucky – we’ve discovered our GS page. But think about the hundreds (thousands?) of other companies that have yet to discover they have an unofficial GS page. Questions are piling up, customer expectations are being broken, and trust is at risk. Thanks for listening.

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Adele Berenstein

Adele Berenstein is an Experienced Customer Satisfaction Executive, recently retired from a Large Global IT Organization after a long productive management career including Sales, Marketing, Services, teaching and education center management and most recently, 19 years in customer satisfaction management. She turned around divisions with customer satisfaction problems, implemented measurable improvements and management systems, and implemented programs to prevent problems from ever affecting customers.

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