One advantage that Wolfire has over a lot of other companies is the level of customer service we provide. We often respond to new emails within the hour. We monitor our forum. We read all of our blog comments. What is most unusual though, is that pretty much anytime we are awake, anyone can contact us live and one of us will personally respond. My AIM is osxii and my MSN is email@example.com. Add me to your buddy list!
Some developers adopt the attitude that customer service is a chore and only with great reluctance address the emails that are piling up. Communication with their community is shunned instead of celebrated.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when I want to contact another game developer, company, or whoever, and it's just not possible. Either they don't list their email, or flat out don't respond. It seems kind of snooty and in many cases it's just bad business. At Wolfire, we try to do the exact opposite. I don't care who you are, whether you're the head of Electronic Arts or an 11 year old kid who likes to play Lugaru. Everyone is welcome here.
I'm just a humble engineer, but here are a few of the benefits we've seen after having a live chat widget for a while.
You never know who will contact you
Live chat lowers the barrier to contact us. It's hard not to say "hi" when you have a widget on your screen. Sure, some people would have contacted us via email anyway and things would have still happened, but it's so much easier say hello and get things done on AIM or MSN. For instance, we've done impromptu interviews, been contacted randomly by a number of distributors, and have met a lot of other indie developers and other cool people through our live chat.
Live chat prevents pile-up
By having an open IRC chat room and a live chat widget, if someone has a problem, we address it immediately. Things don't "get lost in the mail". The dreaded pile-up of emails never happens because things get attention in real time. Maybe it's just me, but it's a lot easier and ultimately faster to help someone over AIM than it is over email.
Good support breeds good supporters
How can just a few guys answer every question anyone in the community has? The truth is, we can't. But because we're active in the community, plenty of people are willing to help us out. We're eternally grateful to the people in IRC and other people who take charge on the forums, helping newcomers with tech support so that we can focus on development. A few shoutouts off the top of my head (there are many more): Jo-Shadow, Ltp0wer, Ozymandias, Skofo, and Nuky.
It helps encourage evangelists
We pay attention to a lot of people. Some people, I admit, don't contribute a lot and it's just a fun diversion. However, every once in a while, someone who contacts us decides we deserve their support, and helps to spread the word about Wolfire and Overgrowth. For example, Silverfish has done a great job on our ModDB page, which has been invaluable for spreading the word.
I have a few questions for you guys.
What can we do beyond live chat? Is this sustainable long term? How can we get the remaining "red" companies to return our emails?