The Art of Customer Support: StumbleUpon and Flickr under Review

Customer Support: Flickr vs. StumbleUponIf you ever wondered why Yahoo! will always be behind Google, the total absence of personal customer support is one of your answers. Yahoo! almost never dignifies users with a personal answer – not until it is too late.

Yahoo! has some great services, including MyBlogLog and Flickr, which are two of the most popular among bloggers. Yahoo! also happens to be a huge business – but being big is not an excuse when it comes to how you treat your customers.

Google always sends a personalized message to user questions, and if we talk “big” let’s face it: Google beats them all.
Small endeavors like StumbleUpon provide irreproachable client support because they want to build reputation and to remain leaders in their niche. But when you get down to the “how” StumbleUpon is without a doubt the best example of what customer support should really be like.

Flickr Customer Support – Inexistent

The idea to contact Flickr support came to me when I discovered the bizarre behavior of Bulldog Reporter on Flickr.

What I wanted to know was whether uploading thumbnails followed by detailed description and links aimed at a “selling” page were ethical use of Flickr. The content of my message below:

Is this kind of use allowed by Flickr? It seems a spammy use to me publishing thumbnails of people, followed by bios and sales pitches with links to
the site… but I could be wrong. I would really appreciate your input on this.

The question received an automated response:

Thank you for contacting Flickr Customer Care. If you feel that someone is violating the Flickr conditions you can report abuse. To report abuse please use the Report Abuse link at the bottom of all Flickr pages. This is the best and fastest way to get this information to the correct team. Thank you again for contacting us. If you have any other questions, please feel free to reply to this email.

Now why would I report abuse when I am not sure an abuse took place? My next attempt to get an answer to the question received no official response, not even an automated response. See, you can feel free to reply to an email, and they will also feel free to answer back. Or not.

This doesn’t seem like a big deal, does it? But from a user’s perspective it is. Bulldog Reporter was spamming Flickr – without even knowing. Obviously either my message or my blog post was read by Flickr, because today you’ll see no links on Bulldog’s account. This means that someone from Flickr explained to them that self promotion is against the TOS:

Don’t use Flickr for commercial purposes.
Flickr is for personal use only. If we find you selling products, services, or yourself through your photostream, we will terminate your account.

I am glad that Bulldog’s account was not terminated – they definitely don’t deserve an extreme measure and besides, my question had a very clear purpose: if Bulldog’s model was a viable one, I wouldn’t hesitate to follow it. I have now pictures in my Flickr account that already generated thousands of views: of course a link on a page with so much traffic would be beneficial. But I made it a habit to use public services with cautiousness, especially social networks like Flickr, where the main purpose appears to be sharing photography and artwork with other users, not sharing links.
I assume there is one good reason why Bulldog’s account was not terminated by Flickr: Bulldog is a “pro” member – which means that they pay Flickr to use their account. Would Flickr terminate a paying customer without fair warning? Not even Yahoo! sinks that low. As far as paying customers go, Flickr probably has some reminiscence of customer support. I’ll have to become a pro myself to be sure.

StumbleUpon Customer Support – Class All Over

StumbleUpon has a bit more than 7 million users – Flickr had that many in 2007 and we cannot know for sure how many registered users the network has today: it’s a well guarded secret apparently. But the number of users is of little importance: Flickr was no champion of customer support in the past either.

StumbleUpon, which is not a Yahoo! service but an eBay-owned startup, has a totally opposed customer support policy. I contacted SU support because I couldn’t find “Romania” among the SU categories, which made it difficult for me to categorize a site about Romania.

This was my message to SU support:

I think there are enough Romanian users to justify Romania to be added at the list of proper topics. If you could, please add it, I would really appreciate it. A personal reply from any of you to this request will also be appreciated.

The reply from StumbleUpon came promptly after a couple of hours. It was personal, all right: in Romanian, addressed to me (it’s nice to feel that you are a valued customer), followed by the link to the SU profile of my interlocutor and also followed by a standard reply to questions such as mine in English.

The 100 Points Questions…

Do you see why SU is better than Flickr in matters of customer support? Do you understand now why customer support matters and why ignoring any influencer is bad branding?

…and Their Answers

By addressing a question with a personalized answer, SU engages dialogue, builds reputation and generates a positive user response towards its brand. The benefits go even further: good customer support generates positive customer reviews (like this one) and enhanced word of mouth visibility.


  1. Interesting post. I definitely agree with you that customer service is important to every company as it is the public face of a company. It is the side that people see when they interact with the company so it is necessary not to overlook that when you are running a business.

    Jeff’s last blog post..Hammer Mills, Sifters, & Grinders at International Poultry Expo

  2. I agree with you in the sense that, yes customer support is important to user satisfaction. But for some sites I think have excellent customer support is expensive and pointless.

    And, I’m not sure if flickr really need to have good customer support. Although I do agree that yes some users may find it frustrating that flickr does not return their emails, but I am sure a lot of their questions are very basic. As I think the majority of flickr users should not need to ask flickr any questions, I think that their decision to not provide descend customer support is justified.

    Ty’s last blog post..What Are Tanning Bronzers?

  3. I loved your thoughts here, Mig. That’s why those companies who have excellent customer service will be able to survive through the hardest economy crisis ever!

    wilhb81’s last blog post..These Collectable Items Can Make You Fortune!

  4. I definitely agree. Communication and customer service is an issue in many more companies than the ones you focused on here. I am a trainer behind e-mail responses for a company, and ones like the Flickr response you mentioned at the beginning of you post are not permitted. A response like that seems as though the responder didn’t even read the writer’s question. My expectations are for responders on my team to answer regardless if they’re thanking a customer for sharing a positive experience or writing a language sensitive response about a frustration involving the company. The key is to acknowledge the writer and their time, and be empathetic to them even if we cannot change anything. Simply simply providing information that creates a better understanding of company policies satisfies sometimes customers. I train responders to treat writers like you’d like to be treated. I wish other companies would get their responders thinking about a few things before hitting that send button – If you were the writer would you like the response you’re going to send? Does it answer all questions/concerns brought forth? Is it understanding and sensitive to the writer’s feelings, or abrasive and cold? Does the customer know you read their message?

  5. Flickr will indeed delete a Pro account for no reason. It happened to me . . . no notice, no warning, nada. Account gone and Flickr refusing to answer my requests for answers.

    And the problem started on the GeoCities side of Yahoo where they terminated my Yahoo ID (again no reason other than boilerplate ‘you violated the TOS’, no responses to queries. I had a GeoCities web page many years ago and abandoned it.

    Result, no Yahoo ID and thus no access to my Flickr Pro account. After a week of email both Yahoo and Flickr support for an answer, then asking Flickr to find a way to give me access or give me a refund, the Flickr account disappears and I’m reported as no longer active.

    Yaho services is indeed nonexistant and their attitudes definitely arrougant.

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