Some Customers Suck

After reading David Frampton's rant about the impact a small minority of mean-spirited customers has had on him, I wanted to send him an email saying that it'll get better.

But I couldn't do that, because it won't get better.  I started selling software on the web in 1995, and the problem of nasty customers has plagued me since day one.

Don't get me wrong: I've talked with enough other developers to know that I've had it easy compared to many of them.  The vast majority of my customers are great to deal with, even when they have a complaint.

But there's always that small fraction of customers that suck. 

They're used to dealing with companies that sell them crap and then ignore them, so they treat it as a rare opportunity to vent their frustrations when they find a company that actually has a real person answering questions.

They toss insults at you, threaten to bad-mouth you all over the web, post mean-spirited reviews on download sites, and demand IN ALL CAPS that you change your software to meet their needs RIGHT NOW OR ELSE.

When you try to help them, they just get worse.  And they do this even if they've never paid you for your work, and never plan to.

Being forced to deal with these miserable people is enough to make you want to stop providing support, but that's a mistake.  I've always believed that the key to creating great software is to talk with those who use it, to understand what they need and want from your product.  If you step away from support, your software will suffer.

You can, however, step away from bad customers.  If they have a valid complaint, sure, address it, and treat them with the same respect that you wish they'd show you.  But if they bad-mouth you over something very minor and demand that you reply immediately, either wait a little while before answering or just ignore them completely.  You're better off without each other.

The worst thing you can do is let these people ruin your day.  After all, it's not like they're making you look bad.  Think about it this way: if you go to a store and witness someone screaming at the cashier, who looks worse? Everyone knows the customer is being a jerk, and they feel sorry for the cashier.

I've been able to keep doing this for over 15 years by understanding that these people aren't just unhappy with me: they're unhappy in general.  You can't change that, and you can't let it change you.

10 thoughts on “Some Customers Suck

  1. We’ve found that providing short video howto-torials (we use Camtasia) and adding to the FAQs on every new issue has dramatically cut down on the calls and emails. Interestingly, a large portion of these smaller number of calls are prospects and, occasionally, customers that we fire, the perpetually unhappy and disgruntled. On occasion we demand a credit card number before starting to read from these FAQs, and close quickly with something like ‘…Is there anything else we can help you with?’

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  2. I don’t remember where I read it, but I think is absolutely fantastic advise: think about your customer support “persona” as a puppet. You handle it, but it is not *you*. Your customers talk to it, but not to *you*.
    (Actual sock puppet and funny voice optional.)

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  3. Your right. Some customers do suck. Similarly, some products suck and tech support reps suck and business models suck. Suckiness is usually tied to unrealistic expectations. Is the SLA fair, is the pricing fair, are the prerequisite skills fair, is fair fair. Reasonable (and unreasonable) people frequently disagree.
    What I’ve found is that people who work in tech support have tough jobs but they also have a lot of discretion. Treating them right isn’t just the human thing to do, it helps you achieve your preferred outcome.
    If you think providing computer tech support is bad, try working as a support rep for a health insurance company. Sick people are looking for money to recover previously incurred costs from a company that is motivated to not pay.

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  4. What is truly repulsive to me is when a so called developer decides to launch a rant about his customers. After reading this rant, I have no intention of spending the $20 for the pro version. I would suggest finding a better way to rant than in a forum where you are going to cheese off more customers.
    For what it is worth, I spent several years working tech support for Borderbund/The Learning Company and I am now a programmer in my own right…so I do know how bad customers can be. You didn’t make the problem any better with your rant.

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  5. Hopefully you won’t conclude that I suck for saying this, but a little constructive feedback – I have been a user of Feeddemon, and a happy one. I understand you’ve decided to charge for it (and I read your post), which is certainly your right. I like it, and will pay for pro – but it actually took me a few weeks (maybe I’m just an idiot) to figure out why I was struggling to get 4.0 to do what it used to (and in fact, it even did it for a while – did you remove Feedstation later?). It was only through searching through the help links and posts and blogs that I really figured out what happened. Maybe I just missed something, but I assume you want people like me to pay, not give up in frustration (which I almost did).
    One related thought, though. Do want you want to do. Don’t let the bastards (like me?) get you down. But also, there’s no point in telling your customers (even some of them) that they suck – other than venting, which is what you don’t like them doing.

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  6. I agree with jackbrewster. We too have used FAQ and that has helped scale the customer questions down. But we also make tutorial videos as well and that works great.

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