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EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 2228 - February 22, 2010 - ISSN 1539-5065    2 of 2

Craigslist Founder Craig Newmark Talks about Customer Service

By Ina Steiner
EcommerceBytes.com
February 22, 2010




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Craig Newmark is founder of craigslist.org and is its most famous customer service representative. In this interview, we asked Craig about customer service to see if he had advice for online sellers, and to find out more about the man behind the online-classifieds giant.

AuctionBytes: On several sites, such as Twitter and Linkedin, you describe yourself as "customer service rep and founder at craigslist." Why do you list them in that order?

Craig Newmark: I earn a living doing customer service, which keeps me in contact with what's happening with everyday people in real life. Founder's nice to contemplate for a moment, then it's back to work.

AuctionBytes: How many customer service representatives are employed at craiglist?

Craig Newmark: To some extent, we're all involved in doing that.

AuctionBytes: How many hours per day do you personally devote to performing customer service for craigslist?

Craig Newmark: My days are pretty mixed, usually eight am to ten pm, with time off personally, also for my public service work, so I don't really know. I work every day, have done so for around fifteen years, including weekends and holidays.

AuctionBytes: If I send a request for customer service to craigslist, what are the chances I'll get a response from you as opposed to another employee?

Craig Newmark: If you send it to me, craig at craigslist.org, I'll respond, will either handle it or ask for help.

AuctionBytes: Tell me the typical problems a craigslist customer might have.

Craig Newmark: There isn't a typical, it's a pretty broad range. Speaking very generally, I hear about spam, trolling, and misbehaving apartment brokers in New York.

AuctionBytes: I noticed you retweeted a post about Kayak's Paul English and his philosophy about having engineers answer phone calls from customers. (http://www.inc.com/magazine/20100201/the-way-i-work-paul-english-of-kayak.html) He said the second or third time they get the same question, they'll actually stop what they're doing and fix the code - then the company doesn't get those questions anymore. Does that happen at craigslist, and at what point do customer service questions actually change the way craigslist does something?

Craig Newmark: I don't know how to characterize it simply, but our engineers do seem interested in serving the customer directly and I've seen results.

AuctionBytes: Can you think of any feature on craigslist that came from a customer suggestion?

Craig Newmark: Essentially all features and policy on craigslist come from community suggestions, true from day one.

AuctionBytes: Are you satisfied with craigslist's current level of investment in customer service and fraud and safety?

Craig Newmark: Please remember that's a private matter, we don't disclose.

AuctionBytes: Many of our readers are small business owners who provide customer service on a daily basis. What advice do you have for them regarding good customer service?

Craig Newmark: Treat people like you want to be treated. Maybe remember the last time you got good, or bad, customer service.

AuctionBytes: You travel a lot, do you have tips on keeping up with customer service while on the road?

Craig Newmark: I've become a big fan of WiFi on planes, carry a 3G WiFi hotspot, and check on how good hotel Internet connectivity is. (Maybe I need an intervention.)

AuctionBytes: What are some of the companies you think give exceptional customer service, and why?

Craig Newmark: Zappos, for one; they're obsessed, and in a good way.

AuctionBytes: Overall, do you think ecommerce companies provide good customer support? If so, why? If not, what is lacking?

Craig Newmark: Customer support quality varies very widely from company to company. All suggest that they're serious about customer support, and many fulfill that commitment, and many don't.

AuctionBytes: What's your most memorable (or most unusual) customer service question of all time?

Craig Newmark: Can't remember one.

AuctionBytes: I notice you put photos of birds on your blog. Tell me about that.

Craig Newmark: I love nature, if it visits me. With several bird feeders and a coupla bird baths up, I can do some entertaining bird watching without leaving the house. After all, I'm a couch potato.

AuctionBytes: You have become a social activist, becoming involved with the Sunlight Foundation, OneVoice and other organizations. What got you started in activism?

Craig Newmark: I'm no activist, but I feel that this decade will prove pivotal in human history, with people connecting over the Net to do big things. I feel I should stand up, and help the people doing the heavy lifting, then get back to TV.

AuctionBytes: Are there any people that inspire you or use as role model in your activism - for example, Bill Gates or Al Gore?

Craig Newmark: Again, not an activist. I'm inspired by my rabbi, Leonard Cohen. Maybe I find inspiration in the broad rank-and-file of American business and government, people who sometimes believe in something, despite the daily grind.

AuctionBytes: You seem to have a special passion for helping veterans. What are you trying to accomplish, and why is it important to you?

Craig Newmark: Well, if someone is willing to take a bullet for me, I should stand up. Mostly, I'm helping get vets the educational and medical benefits they've earned, and related rewards like back pay. I do that by helping groups including the Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

AuctionBytes: How can people learn more about these issues and your involvement?

Craig Newmark: Probably easiest to check cnewmark.com, my blog, also my Facebook page, facebook.com/craignewmark, and on Twitter, twitter.com/craignewmark. You'll see I'm either amusing myself, promoting the work of others, or amusing myself.

About the author:

Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com.

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