Interview with Konstantin Guericke, co-founder/VP of Marketing at LinkedIn

I was exploring LinkedIn, a social network for professionals a few days. The site is very interesting and you can actually meet new people that can help you once you’ve added a few people you know to your contacts list. These guys have seen startup after startup, so I decided to send their press department an email and ask if I could ask someone some questions about customer service. Konstantin Guericke, co-founder and Vice President of Marketing answered my questions.

Question and answers on the More page.

  1. Question: As an entrepreneur, do you think that customer service is important to companies, especially startups?

    Answer: It’s hard to get profitable as an Internet startup since revenue is uncertain. The key is to lower your customer acquisition costs. The good news is that word-of-mouth has always been the most effective way to market a product–the even better news is that “word of mouse” increases the potential of word-of-mouth at least 10-fold. As an example, six million professionals have joined LinkedIn in the past three years. A whopping 90% joined due to the invitation of another member, and we never had to spend any money on advertising. This brings us to the importance of customer service. People only recommend you when they are happy with the overall experience. When you first launch your product, generally the value you provide is fairly minimal, it may not be clear to members how your site works and your site has many flaws. So, per registered member, you get way more inquiries than at a later stage. The early members are generally going to set the tone, and it’s going to be positive or negative–the difference often being the quality of service you provide and how quickly you fix the problems with the site. This doesn’t mean you can ignore your customers later on, but it is especially important to delight your early customers. You also learn a ton from the questions that come up. For at least six to nine months, our founder in charge of the product answered all incoming email–we wanted to make sure we really knew our customers and evolved the product to meet their needs.

  2. Question: Do you think a company’s dedication to customer service can either
    make or break a company?

    Answer: It depends on your business. However, these days news travels fast and
    very far. Many customers research their vendors before they make a decision, so it’s important to know what people are saying about you. I always check the blogs and respond whenever I can. I never have people post things under my name. I think not just the blogger appreciates that, but also other customers who see the blog and my reply feel a little more comfortable with LinkedIn as a service when they see an executive engaging directly with their customers–even if those customers are not paying customers, but only using the free Personal accounts that LinkedIn offers. I also use mailing lists to spot customer service problems–you can bet that someone is going to post their bad customer experience. Now, sometimes there are people who are very unreasonable. That can be disappointing, but I think others see their unreasonableness and feel good about you if they see a compassionate, reasonable response from an executive.

  3. Question: How much of an influence do you think customer service has on a company’s brand?

    Answer: Ideally, your product is so good that people don’t require customer service because good customer service is expensive. If a lot of our six million members sent requests to customer service, we’d have to charge a lot more than we do for LinkedIn to remain profitable. However, you don’t get there overnight. By incorporating customer feedback into the product and how we explain the product, we’ve been able to limit the number of inbound customer service inquiries even though there is a link to customer service on every page of LinkedIn.

  4. Question: Do you believe that high quality customer service can mean more word of mouth referrals?

    Answer: Absolutely, I’m a firm believer that great customer service increases word-of-mouth referrals. It may not always show right away, but as your brand strengthens and people feel good about your site, they are going to recommend it to more people. That’s what we have seen on LinkedIn.

  5. Question: LinkedIn has been used to resolve customer service issues in the past. How so?

    Answer: I think executives are increasingly becoming aware that all of their employees are in some shape or form part of customer service. With the advent of LinkedIn, it is easy for someone who is unhappy with your product and doesn’t get good service from your employees to escalate the issue to an executive. Now, that executive can do nothing, just refer you back to customer service or they can do something exceptional. While as an executive you can’t be providing exceptional and personal service to all the members who inquire, I think there is huge payback in
    occasionally going out and surprising and delighting your customer. The following blog illustrates how a United Airlines executive turned a negative situation in a positive one that had the blogosphere humming for quite a bit: [link]

  6. Question: Besides LinkedIn (of course), which companies do you think consistently provide excellent customer service?

    Answer: It’s interesting. I just upgraded my wife’s computer from Windows 98 to Windows XP. In the process, I became locked out of my system. I found out that I get two free calls to Microsoft, which isn’t bad. I was expecting to be on hold for a long time, but I think it took less than five seconds to get to a human. A pleasant surprise. I then had to get transferred and wait for a bit, which was OK because they had set the stage in a positive manner. But then things took a turn for the worse–there was no easy solution and my call got dropped. But they did call me back. They have called me back five times now, so they are trying really hard from a process perspective. What is frustrating though is that they are always calling just to schedule someone else to call, and nobody calls who can solve the problem or even tries to solve it. But, you know what, I feel they are really trying hard, and that earns you a lot of patience from the customer. However, are they efficient? My guess is that they should focus a bit more on substance and not just on process. They’d probably spend less money and get their customers’ issues resolved more quickly.