Monday, October 18, 2010

Customer Service

I work about 4 1/2 miles from my house.  If I take the main road to work, I pass a Fred Meyer with a Starbucks in it.  The main road has about 15 million stoplights, however, so I take the "back way," as I like to call it.  Even with this route, I can still hit a Starbucks on my way to work-I just have to turn at Fourth Plain instead of going through it and in a couple of blocks, I am at Starbucks.  There is also a Starbucks inside the Safeway by my work.  Of the three, this is the one that makes the least amount of sense to go to as it is actually past my work.  But this is the one I go to.  And the reason I choose this one is the barista that is there in the morning.

She knows her customers.  She might not always know us by name but she knows us by drink.  I don't have to tell her I would like a tall caramel (or raspberry) mocha frappucino with chocolate drizzle.  I just have to tell her what flavor.  She knows I hate the taste of coffee and has perfected making my frappucino so it does not taste like coffee.  If they come out with something new, she knows if I will hate it and if I want to try something different, she comes up with something I will like.  She is an example of excellent customer service.  She makes her customers happy.  And that is how it should be.

Sadly, there are companies out there that just don't get it-that don't really feel that good customer service is necessary.  And sadly, in some cases companies manage to survive just fine without it due to lack of viable competition.  A prime example of that is Meetup.  For the past two years, I have been a huge supporter of Meetup as it has greatly helped me to meet new people, make new friends and get off the couch instead of wasting my life away moping over what could have (and I still feel should have) been.  Because of the groups I am in, I am learning the area in which I live better and am trying new places and things I probably wouldn't have otherwise.  The Meetup platform is still good for what it was designed to do:  use the Internet to get off the Internet. 

Unfortunately, there really aren't any platforms out there that do all that Meetup does and they know this.  They know that organizers can threaten to take their groups elsewhere but at the end of the day, there is really nowhere else for us to go.  So they can get away with treating group organizers-their customers-like crap.  They can be condescending, ignore our pleas and requests all they want and there is nothing we can do about it other than complain and shut down our groups completely.

Over the past couple of years, Meetup has been trying to become more and more like Facebook.  Every new "feature" is designed to make the site either look more like or integrate more with Facebook (and now Twitter).  And the more us paying customers complain, the more it is crammed down our throats.  On their idea and suggestion forum, the number one complaint (with over 600 votes) is to remove a pop-up asking members to publish their RSVPs to Facebook.  (The next most asked for item only has 181 votes).  The response to the complaints that rolled in after this "feature" was implemented was to add an option to publish to Twitter as well and for Meetup to add the pop-up for when members join new groups and rate events.  The customers have asked for the option to at least opt out of this pop-up; the response was for it to be added to even more places.  The concept that not everyone suffers from "look at me" syndrome and feels the need to announce their every move to the entire world is just not something Meetup can comprehend.

And now they have added an obnoxious yellow banner across the top of the screen to "announce" important news-like they just came out with an iPhone app.  Which they also announced in the new features section.  And sent out an e-mail from the co-founder about.  Which is great.  If you have an iPhone.  Which I don't.  So being told there's now an app that is totally useless to me multiple times is annoying.  And as an organizer, I am paying for them to annoy me.  At least the obnoxious yellow banner can be closed-for now.  I'm sure that once enough users complain about it, the option to close it will go away.

Today I discovered a new banner-this one white.  I was looking to see who is signed up for the next Food Bank project I have scheduled with the fun group.  The banner said to look for more "XYZ" with thumbnails for other groups.  I thought "hey, this might be useful.  I might find a new group I am interested in."  So I clicked on one of the thumbnails and was taken to a list of groups:  the one I am in, one in Massachusetts, one in New York and one in California.  Really?  How is this even remotely close to useful information?  Seriously.  I live in Washington.  What on Earth possesses these people to think I am going to be remotely interested in a group on the other frickin' side of the country?  So here we have yet another annoying, useless advertisement.

The response to this:  they feel that these things help promote our groups in a positive way and help them grow into live communities which is the entire point, blah, blah, blah.  Since only a handful of people are taking the time to complain, everyone else automatically loves the changes. 

More and more I am becoming a disgruntled member of Meetup.  I pay for my group and I haven't left because I am currently organizing the only group specifically for young widows and widowers in the Portland Metro area (that I am aware of).  I can't close down a group there is a need for without having somewhere else to go with the functionality of Meetup.  And I like (most of) the people I have met in the groups I am in.  I just don't like the company running the show that much these days.

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