28. November 2012–
Online dating company eDarling just opened a physical shopfront. Should Facebook and Twitter do the same?
Online dating service eDarling plans to open a physical shopfront in Berlin, to give it an edge over rivals as it prepares to roll out a new premium service.
The company went live in 2009 as a Rocket Internet-backed clone of US market leader eHarmony and now claims 13 million users across 16 markets, most recently Chile and Mexico. It expects to break even for the first time this year.
"Kind of a personal trainer" for online dating
The new space in West Berlin, due to open early next year, will house trained consultants offering two levels of support. Basic customer service will be free. A premium service will pair customers with a personal matchmaker, who will search for possible matches, suggest them to the client and even make first contact.
The hope is that the walk-in option will convert those who might not have considered online dating, as well as those who've heard about it but not yet signed up. Having face-to-face customer service is a clear point of difference in Germany's saturated online dating market. "It demonstrates we're there, we have infrastructure, we're reliable," eDarling co-founder and CEO David Khalil said.
The company has already opened the doors of its Kreuzberg headquarters to start testing the new services.
Offline – the way forward as competition increases?
There is some precedent for online companies going offline in this way but not so much for customer service, and especially not for major companies. Those who need help at Facebook and Twitter are offered online help centres and an automated form; Airbnb steps it up with a contact phone number and live chat.
In the online age, maybe the whole idea of in-person customer service is redundant. For some companies, though, it will be a useful way to gain an edge as the consumer internet matures and competition increases. And, if signs of user discontent (such as privacy scares and that legal notice meme) escalate, maybe a comfortably physical, human presence will eventually be a worthy investment even for Facebook. Those with hacked accounts on Twitter might argue for the same.
For eDarling, the test run in Berlin will prove whether it's worth opening similar spaces in other cities or countries.
Image courtesy of Flickr user ClickFlashPhotos / Nicki Varkevisser
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