App developers could learn from Facebook’s customer service

Every Facebook developer is familiar with Facebook’s development languages: Facebook Platform runs on FBML, FQL, and FBJS, and developers learn those languages in order to create great apps. But while developers comb Facebook’s Wiki in order to figure out how to use the fb:photo tag, they rarely take the time to build up other parts of their operations critical to their success. Remembering customer service, however, can be just as important as remembering a semi-colon at the end of a line of code.

Facebook has consistently provided strong customer service for its users. While recent conflicts between customer service and advertising options have grabbed headlines (see Facebook’s controversial ad program “Beacon”), Facebook typically responds closely to user interests. A look at former Facebooker Karel Baloun’s book shows that Facebook devoted early manpower and dollars to its customer service team. That meant listening to users in order to improve the product.

This is an issue that frequently affects app developers. Developers expect to release their app, receive acclaim, and then watch the checks roll in. Real maintenance is a lot more difficult and time consuming. Just as Facebook has a customer service team, developers need to dedicate their own resources to monitoring the application directory listings and email support addresses for their apps. It can be the difference between success and failure on Facebook Platform.

The application “About” page is the most important place to monitor what users are thinking. It’s important to closely watch user discussion, and then respond appropriately. Users appreciate active developers. Keeping an eye on the About page can entail everything from answering user questions to deleting spam and competititors’ reviews. It’s not a heavy job, but it is a consistent one – one bad review can be detrimental to an app for a day, so keeping watch is crucial. After spending hours writing code, it makes sense to spend at least a few minutes listening to users.

Recent changes in Facebook’s Application directory have made customer service more important than ever. Developers need to become especially active due to the new compulsory “Reviews” board, which lets users leave any review they like. More positively, Facebook has allowed users to become “Fans” of applications. The ability to update fans on an app could raise daily active user rates and give a boost to applications. More fans means more publicity for an app. Customer Service pays real dividends.

And that’s why Facebook has always put an emphasis on listening to users. Developers should too. Like Facebook, developers face conflicts between service and business: look at the rampant spread of user-abusing forced invitations. However, it’s important for any developer to recognize the role that customer service plays in their app’s success. Code is obviously crucial, but it should definitely be supplemented by a conversation with users, even after the last file has been pushed.

Phil Edwards is Director of Business Development at Lonely CEO Media, a Facebook application development and consulting firm