Switchboard Hearts: Reflections

What a trip this has been! In just four short weeks, we visited Chicago, Oberlin, and New York City; threw four different parties; met individually with close to 20 people; and talked with more than a hundred. We met current students, recent grads, older alumni, wheelwomen, Switchboard operators, school administrators, and community managers. We made old friends and new ones. Veteran Switchboarders and Switchboarders-to-be hosted us, fed us, and shared their stories.

In one month, across the span of the midwest and northeast, we met with these hundred or so users, supporters, and friends—members of the Switchboard family. Whenever you step out of your office and into your community, when you open your ears to your users and build on your relationships with friends and customers, you are bound to learn something. It turns out you learn a lot, perhaps more than you know at the time. We wanted to share a few of our favorite lessons with all of you.

We learned that Switchboard is something people can believe in. It isn’t every day that you ask your users to let you buy them coffee and they come knocking down your door with their success stories, their feedback, and their overwhelming support. More than a few people who told us that they “loved Switchboard and would be happy to do whatever they can to help.” It might be because, as one user said “It’s not always about achieving the task [of your ask or offer] but about connecting with people.” Or it could be because Switchboard, as one young alumni put it, “helped [them] be less afraid about life.” But for all of the praise our users had for us, we can return it twicefold. We are so lucky to be able to say that our users are some of the most thoughtful, brave, generous and optimistic people we know. Across the board, the Switchboard family is a family of doers, builders, and helpers—every single one of them.

Our customers have told us that Switchboard is special because it can be integrated into almost everything they do. They love it because Switchboard lets their community define success for themselves. And they embrace Switchboard because they understand that most good things emerge from strong relationships. Whether these are the relationships between students and professors, older alumni and recent grads, peers sharing with peers, or between people anywhere that share your passions and experiences, these relationships are what build communities. We are immensely grateful to have found partners in academic administrators and in individual community leaders who completely believe in what we do.

From our mentors we have learned that there will never be a substitute for the human touch. In spite of membership numbers in the millions, companies like Etsy, Kickstarter, and Meetup continue to support their users with dedicated community managers every day. After talking with our friends, we can confirm that maintaining a high quality of community involves talking directly with people, listening to what they need, and showing appreciation for their contributions. At Switchboard we are human first. It’s in our writing, it’s in our customer support, it’s in the way we appreciate our users, and it’s in the standards of care and connection we set for all of our communities. And we have yet to be let down. Care begets care. Generosity leads to generosity. Be more human than company, and you won’t have a user-base, but a family.

If every Switchboard is greater than the sum of its parts, then Switchboard the company, the dream, is greater than the sum of each of our individual communities. We are nothing but for you. Here at HQ we are trying to build a house, and you have made it a home. And what a bustling and productive home it is! The Switchboard Hearts tour may have come to an end, but you fill our hearts constantly. The parties are over, but we want to carry the spirit of celebration and of appreciation through every year. If you are in Portland, I invite you to reach out and join me for a cup of coffee. Send us your thoughts, your hopes. Send us a postcard, a love letter, or list of ways we can improve (you can reach us here). A home is a place with an open door. We’d love it if you stopped in to say hi!