I just wrote about social networking, talking about the necessity of creating a sense of intimacy for the survival of such sites.
I've been asked more about where I'm coming from when I say something like that.
It has to do with providing great customer service. At craigslist, I've probably interacted with around fifty thousand individuals over the last few years or so, via email or message boards. Despite myself and my social issues (see "My Life in Nerdistan") I think I have some sense of what people are looking for online.
Some years ago, I realized how frustrated I was dealing with customer service, whether it was internal (at IBM) or external, like dealing with the phone company. I figured it's better to get constructive than whine.
So, even though we have a very small team at craigslist, fourteen of us, we have the equivalent of over five people directly involved with customer service, and we're hiring someone new.
Good customer service has a lot of obvious benefits, and you've read about them elsewhere. For reasons I never get, in most American corporate culture, customer service is treated as an afterthought, and it's routine for many companies to waste the time of customers, etc. I could speculate as to why, but it's not worth it.
Instead, I extol another virtue regarding the performance of customer service duties at the highest levels of any company. If you're a chairman or CEO anywhere, probably the only way you stay in contact with your customer reality is to do customer service. I've met some CEOs who are good at such connection, like for a major software company I know, but that's the exception.
For that matter, how can you assure customers that their emails will be answered?
That's the exception these days, not the norm.
It's commonplace to observe that companies that don't listen to their customers won't survive.
I'm committed to always doing a significant amount of customer service. My title is "founder, chairman, and customer service rep" and it's going to stay that way.
Does anyone know of a better alternative?