We talk a lot about online support on this blog. But what about real-life support? Turns out, it’s a big new trend.


Basecamp Delivered

During one of the many great talks at UserConf 2012, Chase Clemons of 37signals (and the amazing SupportOps blog) told us about Basecamp Delivered, a brand new program by 37signals he described as “basically in-person, real-life support.”

It was inspired by a customer who was in the office for a marketing photo shoot. Before she left, she mentioned that she had a Basecamp question and a support team member sat down with her and walked her through the issue. The woman “absolutely loved it” and 37signals decided to take that idea and “blow it up.”

Chase explained how simple the execution was: “we went to Austin, rented out a couple of rooms at a local hotel and set up meetings with 24 customers.” There were two teams, twelve customers each, and 30 minutes for each customer. Anything was game, according to Chase.

“Many folks just wanted us to look at how they were using Basecamp and see if we could tweak some things or give them some advice about how things could work a little better.”

Why did people love such a simple event? Because it was a personal connection. Because the company was accessible. Customers got to speak to a real person. It humanized the company.

Chase acknowledges that this doesn’t scale – you can’t reach all customers this way – but insists it’s worth it to build stronger connections with those they do meet with. They’ve already held their second event and have more planned in 2013.

OmniFocus Setup

Inspired by Chase’s talk, The Omni Group (makers of Omnigraffle) announced something daring in December of last year. For the first year ever, they wouldn’t have a booth at a certain prominent Mac software expo. Instead, they’d throw a more personal event called OmniFocus Setup. Brian Covey, Support Manager at The Omni Group, spoke to me about why they changed their event strategy after over a decade.

“We’d had in-person interaction/support events with customers before, usually at our booth on the show floor,” Brian said. “The opportunity to do something focused directly on support (as opposed to sales/product demos) in a quieter/more collaboration-friendly setting really was great.”

expo hall

“A trade show booth means it’s loud, you’re on your feet all day, the next booth over may have a presentation that involves looping the sound of breaking glass all day long…” OmniFocus Setup allowed a more personal interaction with existing customers, rather than a superficial moment with hundreds of non-customers (including many who weren’t the target audience).

The event started out with a group chat on a broad topic. Then, similarly to 37signals, they broke out into individual 30-minute sections. One of the best parts? “Halfway through we had probably 10-15 users helping other users while they waited for their session.”

Is this the same as marketing to potential new customers at a big software expo? Certainly not, but it cemented relationships with existing customers. And, as the Harvard Business School points out, increasing customer retention rates by 5 percent increases profits by 25 percent to 95 percent. So it’s absolutely a boon for the bottom line. And if it also decreases support costs because these users are now uber-informed, that’s a win-win.

It’s easy to get focused on online support because there’s always more to do. But The Omni Group and 37signals have shown that there’s much more we can do. Here’s to taking the time to explore new opportunities!

Starting your own live support event? Let us know in the comments!

Live music photo courtesy of Montecruz Foto

Table photo courtesy of Chris Blakeley.
Expo photo courtesy of Annick Press.