Customer Experience in the Land of the Blue LilyPad

Part One: CommentLuv

Several weeks ago, a great new feature started popping up on blogs all over the Internet. The feature (aka plug-in, aka widget) is called CommentLuv, and I instantly wanted it, badly, for this very blog. I expected to see massive growth in comments on blogs that use it, and I wanted to be one of those. Creating a community here, sharing Experience Design stories, tips, and tricks is a big part of the big picture.

CommentLuv, to explain it briefly, encourages bloggers to comment by finding their own latest post and writing its title as a linked (clickable) footnote to their comment. You can see it in action (where I first did) here; it’s also in use here, and here.

Why is this bound to cause explosive growth? One, a bit of vanity (like everyone else, blog writers like to see themselves in the mirror). Far more importantly, publicity. If you are a blog frequenter this may shock you but many people do not know that clicking on a commenter’s’ name will take you to their website if they have one. Linking back to yourself within a comment, too often or too blatantly, is considered rather bad form. (I do it, but discretely, if I think it helps a conversation.) This plug-in promotes you without making it look gaudy, so that experienced and inexperienced readers will know not just that you have something to say elsewhere, but also that your latest post may have interest for them. Classic advertising: Attention, Interest; if the Desire is created by your post title, the clickable Action is right in front of the reader. Simple and glorious.

At the first place I saw it in action, I stopped and asked the author, David Airey, what that snazzy new feature was and where I could get it. He told me, and I sent an email off to the plug-in’s creator, drooling. This is when I found out it can’t be had for TypePad right now. The programming to work with TypePad was not of the kind he normally does, and he couldn’t get any useful help, so he’d decided against it.

I was not deterred. I asked a couple of programmers I know if they could help him out, but none of them had the specialized knowledge necessary.

I was not deterred. I opened a ticket and asked TypePad, since I couldn’t find anything on their Knowledge Base (FAQs) about how to contact them re: Rockin’ New Widgets They’ve Got to Make Available to Attract Customers With Cutting-Edge Features.

This is what I wrote:

Dear TypePad,

I am writing because there is a relatively new plug-in out there that I really believe you would like to know about. I found out about it a few days ago, wrote to the blogger whose site I saw it on, and then wrote to the plug-in’s creator….

The plug-in searches for a commenter’s most recent post (on their own blog), and creates an automatic link to it at the bottom of their comment, like a signature. You can see it in use on http://www.logodesignlove.com/ just click on any individual entry that has comments.

You can tell from the email [which was] below that I’m not in any way affiliated with the man who created the plug-in. I have no interest other than thinking that if TypePad could help this guy out with whatever knowledge he lacks to make it happen for TypePad, it could be a real boon to Typepad bloggers. Basically, I wish I could have the thing, because it’s a fantastic way to encourage comments! The two sites I’ve seen using it are getting comments like wildfire, which increases your blog’s standing, and who doesn’t want that!

… I hope you’ll consider helping this guy to get his cool plug-in to work on TypePad….

Regards,

Kelly

They wrote back, saying that Help couldn’t do anything, I should check their parent company’s FAQs.

I was not deterred. I checked said FAQs, discovered they were written in Klingon, and decided since at last I was in the correct place, I would write Six Apart (TypePad’s parent company). Here’s naïve: not only had I expected someone from TypePad Help to take the initiative and run down the hallway to the appropriate person and make this happen, whether it was technically their job or not, I still expected this from Six Apart.

This was their response:

Recently you requested personal assistance from Six Apart Support. Below is a summary of your request and our response.

Thank you for allowing us to be of service to you….

Hi Kelly,

Thanks for your message, … if you are looking for help for a developer on how he can get his plug-in working with TypePad, you would need to have him join the Six Apart Professional Network. [This is the place where Klingon is spoken.]

Thanks,

TypePad Technical Services
Six Apart, Ltd.

Very personal. Not going to make it happen, and don’t care if he makes it happen, either. Sorry, not seeking money-making, customer-delighting innovations at this time (or any other).

Finally, I was deterred.

You can not see CommentLuv in action on the Maximum Customer Experience Blog.   🙁

Part Two: Subscribe to Comments

So it’s Friday. I’m working on two projects at once, and I have four “little” personal (blog) projects planned for my loosely-termed “weekend,” it’s late afternoon, and I’m hungry. Taking five minutes off, I’ll just peek at Men With Pens, I say to myself. I get accidentally (?) involved in a long comment discussion, which I will not repeat here, during which one thing I meant to deal with long ago but never got back to is brought up: allowing commenters here at the MCE Blog to subscribe to comments. No problem, I say, everybody’s got that; before I even respond on MWP I’ll go get that taken care of…

Not.

All I could find in the Knowledge Base was info about getting an RSS feed for comments for your sidebar. Better than nothing, but not what I really want. Even that’s a process. It involves asking permission for TypePad to turn the thing on, so I wrote to them:

Help says, “open a Help Ticket to request that your account be enabled for comment feeds.”

So, please enable my account to have comment feeds. Thank you.

Because the one thing I can say is that the folks at TypePad do respond, they wrote back several hours later.

TypePad Customer Support said:

Hi Kelly,

Thanks for your interest in beta testing new features in TypePad. [Huh? The Knowledge Base did not say this was a “beta feature”?]

At this time, we are able to make the changes to your account that will allow you to see the new features. Please be aware that Advanced Templates and Mixed Media Layouts are not fully supported with these new features, so if you use or switch to either of these, you may experience problems.

If you notice any problems after we switch your account, please update this ticket and let us know as soon as possible.

Please respond to this ticket if you would like these changes to be applied to your account.

Thanks

I can’t make this stuff up. I wrote back:

Yes, I do want to be enabled for comment feeds. That’s what I wrote in the ticket I opened.

I already use Advanced Templates. Does this mean I can’t use comment feeds? What kind of “problems” might I experience?

No offense if you’re a person, but this feels pretty auto-generated since you’re asking me to ask for something I just asked for, and telling me that if I “switch to” Advanced Templates I may experience problems.

Thanks,

Kelly

Their response: *Crickets chirping.* [Granted, it is now the weekend. I expect this annoyance to continue in a day or two.]

It appears that I will be deterred again.

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, I wrote to a person who might know a workaround:

I find it odd that comment-related improvements, which make blog readership jump through the roof, are not #1 priority. Getting email updates about comments is OLD everywhere else. It’s almost a sign that you’re on TypePad if you can’t subscribe. With CommentLuv, I thought they’d be climbing past me to help the author once they saw what it could do for their users/customers.

All this, to give readers incentive to comment, to make your Experience more engaging, and frankly to make me happier with TypePad (because successful blogging makes bloggers happier with their service). Their immediate customer is happier, and the customers (readers) of their customer are happier, too. I wish.

I have taken mild flak for staying with TypePad. I can code passingly well, I’m a designer, I’ve tweaked their Advanced Templates mercilessly since day one, so why am I here?

The plug-and-play aspect is a good part of it. I don’t have time to deal with the inner workings of the blog so I’m happy to pay someone else to. Fewer errors, no nitty-gritty. I can be a do-it-yourselfer and not find I’ve made one little boo-boo that takes down the whole function. That leaves me a few minutes for merciless tweaking.

They have been prompt and great about Help Tickets; even though their answer is not always right, they try again with good cheer, and I’ve mostly been able to get issues resolved. (However, the same person does not help you from start to finish of a ticket. Irksome.) Even at my level of coding knowledge I’ve got to be trying trickier stuff than most of their customers, so at the Help Desk their willingness to work on a problem until I’m satisfied is super.

I originally liked that a lot of high profile writers were using the service: if Seth Godin and Keith Ferrazzi and Church of the Customer are all happy, what’s not to like? Yes, cyber-WoM played a role. The little flaws seemed surmountable.

Why Doesn’t TypePad Want Your Comments?

Because I’m not their target customer. I think that’s what it boils down to. It appears that TypePad wants me to move on. I want rich features they don’t want to offer. I’m always trying to find ways into the code to make improvements.

I’m still happy I don’t have to build the mousetrap.

I’m loyal and I want to grow with TypePad, but they don’t want me to grow with them. They don’t want to reward readers for commenting. They don’t want smaller blogs to see explosive growth of community. Smaller, newbie-blogs are their bread-and-butter, and that’s who they’re looking at: undemanding, technologically challenged first-timers, who want up-and-running in a night (I liked that, too!).

The funny thing is, while I may be chafing because I know these improvements are readily available to other bloggers, even newbies’ blogs could benefit from email and RSS Subscribe to Comments, and CommentLuv. Like in any business, seeing measurable growth makes it easier to keep investing (time, energy, money) in the venture. Engaged readers and lively comments are the intangible “profits” of blogging.

Entropy rules, I do have real work to deal with, and sometimes it’s fun to try to create change from the inside, so I don’t know if I’ll be going anywhere just yet. Hey, maybe they’ll hear this. C’mon, TypePad, delight your customers!

Dos and Don’ts for Your Business:

Do provide robust FAQs on your website. For as often as I’ve had to open a ticket, I can’t tell you how many times I haven’t had to. It’s not always as beautifully organized as I’d like and can be hard to understand, but it’s very comprehensive. I’ll bet you don’t have near as many Frequently Asked Questions, so what’s stopping you?

Do make Customer Service prompt. TypePad always gets back to me fast.

Do make Customer Service as satisfaction-guaranteed as Sales. Your current customers find a lot of your new customers for you, if they’re happy, and believe it or not, I’m generally happy with TypePad.

Don’t disregard trends in your industry. You don’t have to jump on every bandwagon, but if the parade passes you by, all but the most loyal customers will follow it.

Don’t ignore growth opportunities your loyal customers attempt to throw in your lap. (This will not happen to you very often, so go for it!) At the very least, if there’s a reason you can’t pursue it, tell the vocal customer why not, with no corporate-speak.

Don’t let your hierarchy become so rigid that staff with great ideas can’t find their way to your Innovation Department. Empower everyone.

Do remember: Your problem is selling your Solution (to increase your revenues). My problem is [growing my business, finding great employees, making my kids/spouse/dog happy, looking sharp in the morning, getting to work on time, finding a new restaurant to impress a client, wanting a good night’s rest away from home, growing my blog readership…] whatever. Solve my problem and you’ll solve your own.

What do you think? Can you miss an opportunity for growth by focusing too closely on what’s worked in the past? Is TypePad losing ground, or just Pinpointing their target market?

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson