trends

BDSM: Customer Service and Customer Care

Alex Henderson
The adult Internet is extremely diverse in 2009. Internet erotica boasts a wide variety of themes and niches, all with their own audiences and fan bases.

Different fan bases have different customer service needs, and that includes the BDSM audience. BDSM erotica often is described as an adult entertainment niche, but rather than being one big niche, it's a broad range of niches, microniches and subniches. BDSM erotica includes everything from spanking websites (GoodSpanking.com, BadGirlsPunished.com) to steel bondage websites (ShackledMaidens.com) to tickle-torture websites (TickleHorror.com, TickleJam.com). Some BDSM sites are heterosexual, and some are gay (Leatherboundsex.com, LeatherMen.com). But whichever area of BDSM a webmaster chooses to focus on, customer service and customer care are downright critical.

Moe Styles, the New York-based founder/president of AmateurBound.com, noted that while BDSM is a much smaller market than vanilla porn, one of the great things about having a successful BDSM website is the fact that BDSM fans can be extremely passionate and extremely loyal. Styles speaks from experience; he has been producing amateur BDSM content since 1999, and he attributes his 10 years of success on the Internet to his obsession with customer service.

"AmateurBound has been very profitable for me — I left my day job 10 years ago because of the profitability — and I think one of the reasons my site has been so successful is because of my customer service," said Styles, who has worked with more than 100 BDSM models along the way. "I try to run the site and take care of the members as if I were a member myself. I'm usually online all day long; if someone has a problem, it's usually taken care of within hours instead of days. I've had many compliments on my customer service; I take care of problems as quickly as I possibly can. And I have no problem giving someone a free month if they have a problem."

Styles said that for about eight years, AmateurBound.com experienced an average of "15-20 percent growth every year." However, he added that in recent months, business has decreased "by about 30 percent," which he attributes to the overall economic downturn in the U.S. and other countries. But Styles chooses to look at the glass as 70 percent full rather than 30 percent empty, and he believes that a combination of exciting content and attentive customer service has inspired most of his customers to keep their memberships even during a severe global recession.

Styles also pointed out that what is exciting to one BDSM enthusiast might not be the least bit exciting to another, noting that a crucial part of customer care involves understanding what turns fans on and making sure you give it to them on a timely basis. In the case of AmateurBound.com, that means maintaining an amateur BDSM focus.

"The concept of AmateurBound has always been amateur BDSM with no fancy studio and no expensive equipment," he said. "In 1999, I felt that amateur BDSM was a niche that no one was really hitting on, and I've promoted the site as bondage the way you would do it at home."

One of the things that adult webmasters need to keep in mind is that BDSM enthusiasts are not monolithic. Loyal customers of AmateurBound.com don't expect Styles' site to resemble ViolentChicks.com or StrictWomen.com, which are examples of femdom membership sites that cater to the fantasies of submissive males. Styles explained that there are plenty of hardcore submissive men who enjoy being tied up and dominated and prefer a site in which all of the dominants are female and all of the submissives are male, but that isn't his audience; on AmateurBound.com, customers expect to see him dominating an abundance of submissive women.

Thomas Roche, public relations manager for Kink.com, said: "The most important thing for BDSM customers is authentic content that represents their real interests. There is a lot of material out there that is sold as BDSM but doesn't seem real, and BDSM enthusiasts can definitely spot that a mile away. … Each subgenre or microniche has specific expectations, but authenticity remains the most critical factor. Content created by actors or directors who don't get turned on by the fetish they're playing with is going to be less reflective of the interests of the niche consumer.

"I think the most common misconception," he continued, "is that BDSM consumers are unsophisticated and can be marketed to without understanding or caring about them. In fact, they are some of the most sophisticated consumers. The big mistake that webmasters make is in assuming BDSM consumers are exactly like other porn consumers."

Styles warned webmasters that because BDSM fans have a voracious appetite for new content, timely updates are critical. Styles recalled that before he founded AmateurBound.com and turned the site into a full-time job — back when he worked on a loading dock in New York City — he visited Europe two or three times a year on average. But Styles has had such a hands-on approach to the site's updates and customer service that he hasn't had time for European vacations in recent years. Customer service, he said, can be time-consuming if a webmaster takes it seriously.

"If I join a site and they are missing updates, I hate it," Styles said. "In the 10 years that I've run the site, I've never missed an update — and I never will. I don't care if I'm on my deathbed. I just had quadruple bypass surgery, and I updated my site from the hospital. I'm kind of anal about my customer service, but I think that's why I still have 70 percent of my business even in this recession."

Exactly how much worse the current economic downturn will get remains to be seen. Roche noted that one advantage BDSM membership sites have in a recession is the fact that they are much more affordable than other BDSM-related costs, such as high-end BDSM equipment or sessions with a professional dominatrix.

"I think everyone's being affected by the recession, which is actually a great opportunity for BDSM (membership) sites," he said. "Someone who is cutting back on his or her expenditures will cut professional sessions — a few hundred dollars — before he cuts joining a BDSM paysite, which costs a lot less. BDSM erotica can be a lifeline for those for whom it's not practical to be living a BDSM lifestyle right now for whatever reason, money being one of them."

In a tough economy, Styles said, customer care and customer service are more important than ever — and the BDSM websites that go out of their way to treat their customers well will be the ones that have the best chance of weathering the economic storm.

"I have members who have been with my site for the entire 10 years," Styles said. "They've been with me the entire time that my site has been open, and I know that's because of the customer service. With a BDSM site, you really have to do everything you can to take care of your customers."

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