How we as individuals are treated in customer to business relationships can have a huge impact on our lives. How we view a business and decide whether to engage them and stay engaged can largely depend on how we are communicated with, treated in times of crisis and ultimately how relationships form over time. This is the beautify of decentralized blockchain networks where anyone can participate in validating the network - we choose how and life we engage on our own terms.
I think a lot about customer/user support and community engagement when it comes to new types of business models. Specifically related to blockchain infrastructure, we see open source software built and deployed into the world and the end users, normally early-adopters, rush to experiment with it. While this is all very exciting stuff and it’s fun to be on the cutting edge of this technology, we clearly need to continue to focus on user experience and support in more community integrated ways when it comes to blockchain technology and products and services built upon it.
On a recent AMA hosted by Chris Remus of ChainFlow.io, one of the topics discussed was how Proof of Stake network validators operate their businesses involving technical support and community development. Several of the major validators on popular networks are a single person doing all of the operations and maintenance. As a one person shop, Chris shared that his ideas of having a profitable business around this validator model need to be deferred in the interest of setting up for and building a long-term vision.
I am not technically confident enough (yet) to set up and secure the necessary server infrastructure to run a validator on any of these networks, however it has become an aspirational goal of mine as I would like to contribute to growing the ecosystem in ways beyond just buying tokens, holding them and maybe delegating them to professional validators. I do however delegate to several different professional delegators across several different networks and have thought through some general ways that all of these businesses can stand to improve their customer service, marketing, community, support and prospects of longevity through simple tactics most traditional business-minded people will find familiar.
In order of what I believe to be the most A) effective B) time efficient for solo or small operation validators C) concise, I suggest to each validator to consider their approach to the following support and community channels for greater business development and marketing effect long-term.
A DECENT WEBSITE
Let’s go ahead and state the obvious - you need a website. It doesn’t need to be flashy, but if you’re going to attract and maintain delegators to your validator business, you need to have at least a website that says the who, what, when, where and why’s of your business and give people a way to get in touch with you.
This will go against conventional wisdom in terms of what many businesses in the blockchain space do to “support” their customers and users. To many, email support seems like a boring, stressful and burdensome way to interact with folks because they associate it with the massive amount of unread emails in their own email inboxes that they hope will just go away. However, I feel if you’re going to pick just one channel of support as the bedrock of how you communicate with people, email would have to be it. You could deactivate every other channel of social media and still get by effectively with email and here’s why - expectation setting, privacy and follow-through.
When someone sends you an email, it’s stored on your mail servers and hopefully (depending on your setup) secured and private. It goes to your inbox and you can answer that person in short form, long form, however you like. You can even set up an auto-responder to tell the person emailing you how long you’ll take to respond to them and under what conditions. We take for granted how amazing email is for business because social media gives us all the flashy and endorphin surging gratification our phones can deliver.
When I was the first and only dedicated support person for MetaMask when they blew up from 30,000 users past 1,000,000 users, I found the best thing I ever did for the community of people who had urgent questions was to stop the madness of promising to get to every question in chats and social media and narrowed the channels down drastically and made email the primary channel.
We also found that using a ticketing system such as Zendesk, HelpScout and others helped with organizing, analyzing and scaling email responses over time to make the process more efficient as it grew, rather than just more hectic.
Chat apps and forums are important for community building, but they absolutely suck for support in most scenarios. If you are a small business owner, do not use chats and forums as the main way to support users.
I enjoy dropping into Telegram and Discord chats. Especially when people I want to talk to are in there chopping it up. But as we are in a distributed and global ecosystem, the chance that Sally in Boston is going to be in a chat with Billy from Hong Kong at the same time to as an important question about something mission critical to a delegation error or slashing event is unlikely. Forums are slightly better for this because unlike single-threaded chat rooms where a question can easily get buried by lots of other chatter, notifications and timestamped conversations can be easily revisited in an asynchronous way. Unless you’re going to have “office hours” where the person who can answer all the questions is guaranteed to be active in a chat, it’s often times an ineffective way to communicate.
As mentioned to why email is so awesome, you’re able to set expectations to when you’re going to reply to people based on whatever criteria you think is appropriate based on everyone’s needs and abilities. If you’re a one-person business, you should not open yourself up to being made “available” on your chat channels all the time otherwise you'll never get any work done.
I am an avid user of social media for personal use and I think it’s fun to interact with brands through it was well. However it’s not a good channel for support. It feels satisfying for a consumer to get the attention of a brand or CEO through social media, but that same consumer would bristle at being asked to disclose personal info about their issues over social media. It’s not a private or effective way to answer questions.
THE BEST YOU CAN DO
All of this is, of course, my opinion. I have supported major projects in the blockchain space with over a million users, but never in a situation where I was a validator in a PoS network. However, I feel some of the lessons learned from my experiences carry over and I am happy to expand on these ideas and grow them with the people doing the actual work.
The most important thing that a PoS network validator must do outside of the technical functions of their job which preserve and grow their delegators funds is communicate as effectively as possible in the good times and the bad. Choosing the channels that best suit a business culture and sticking to them is more important than using any single support channel. Making sure that users and customers can get in touch with you and know what's happening with your business will in turn grow trust and loyalty over time which is better for everyone as we grow.