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Andy Brice
Successful Software

Doug Nebeker ("Doug")

Jonathan Matthews
Creator of DeepTrawl, CloudTrawl, and LeapDoc

Nicholas Hebb
BreezeTree Software

Bob Walsh
host, Startup Success Podcast author of The Web Startup Success Guide and Micro-ISV: From Vision To Reality

Patrick McKenzie
Bingo Card Creator

How to deal with cheeky customer

Any suggestions on how to approach the following (we're talking here about B2B software in the UK, around GBP800 worth)...

- customer contacts us, looking for a product and working to tight timescales
- they use our trial and want to go ahead
- software installed in their environment, everything fine, we invoice them (30 days terms)
- 30 days go by, customer hasn't paid
- we chase them, they don't pay
- eventually we hand it over to debt collection, customer now says there's a security issue with the software
- we ask for details, offer to resolve the issue, they don't really seem to be able to point to anything other than a vague "our auditors told us"
- life's too short so we say: "OK, we'll forget about the invoice" and they say the software has been removed from their system

So far so good, we've wasted some time on all of this but we can put it down to experience.

A few weeks pass... the software sends us an error message e-mail from their system (upon installation the system defaults to sending error messages to us, the setting has clearly not been changed.)

So they're using the system (to some extent) in spite of the fact that, allegedly:
- it's been removed from their server
- they can't use it because of the "security issue"

What would your next step be? Go back to the debt collection people? Approach the customer directly with a "caught you out" attitude? Approach the customer with a more conciliatory message along the lines of "look, you're still using the software, let's put this on a proper basis, you pay us and then we move forward". Go to a lawyer?

I look forward to your suggestions!

Advice Seeker Send private email
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
For me, I'd write it off under "Bad Debts" against profits, so it costs nothing, apart from time.

Life is way too short to stress about this kind of thing.
Scorpio Send private email
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
+1 Scorpio, and now that you decided not to stress about it, wrote it off, and thus have nothing to lose, write them a letter anyway, what's the worst could happen? they say nothing?
m.g. Send private email
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
I would probably phone the highest person in the organization I could and discuss it with them. But be professional and stick to the facts.

NB/ In the UK directors can (theoretically) go to prison if someone in their company is using unlicensed software.
Andy Brice Send private email
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
I wouldn't say this is cheeky, this is a lot worse than cheeky.

The way they are screwing with you and lying to your face, for me, is the issue. That sort of attitude is what escalates situations to doing whatever it takes to take them down, no matter the financial cost.

Realize that we are talking about an especially outrageous situation. This is not the normal case of a customer having too many copies at once or such, but they are openly working hard to defraud you.

If it was me, I'd hire an attorney and tell him "Do whatever it takes to takes these assholes down hard. Cost is no problem." and then enjoy whatever results as money well spent.

He might file lawsuits for fraud, theft of services and copyright infringement, for example. Whatever he thinks is best. And when they had had enough and begged to settle, I would tell him "No settlement. Destroy them."

Again, this is only for quite outrageous levels of misbehavior. I have never had a "customer" as bad as the one you describe.
Scott Send private email
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
A long time ago I worked for a firm that provided credit to purchase automobiles.  Car owner was behind on payments, a collection agent contacted the owner, the owner said there was a problem with the car, and owner wasn't going to make any more payments until the car was fixed.  The collection agent said "that's terrible, let me make a service appointment for you at the dealership",  and the collection agent arrived at the dealership to seize the car after the owner left the keys.  It's a paradox, most people are stupider than average, so this was a very effective collection method.

If the amount of this invoice is enough to make a visit to the customer to provide on-site service worthwhile, then that's your opportunity to remove the software.  After all, if you can't fix their problem satisfactorily,  why wouldn't they want you to remove all traces of it from their system?  It's too late now to do my suggestion, but before you follow Scott's advice, you should do a cost/benefit analysis.  You don't want to spend all of your profits to get a small measure of personal satisfaction.
Howard Ness Send private email
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Howard is correct. We are doing well enough that it wouldn't be a problem to do that. Realize it costs big money to hire lawyers and you'll never get that money back any more than the RIAA gets the money back they spend on prosecutions against downloaders. The reason you do it is to send a message.
Scott Send private email
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Do you have any way to disable their copy? Even if you do not use online activation you can still disable their license keys from the next update version of your software. If your software is essential to their business they will be in a bad situation when they are unable to get any newer versions in the future.

Of course if you have so much extra money you can also do what Scott says.
B2B Send private email
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
"eventually we hand it over to debt collection"

Then you have washed your hands of the commercial side, if someone else owns the debt then presumably they paid you for it.
Tony Edgecombe Send private email
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
I agree with B2B. If you're using proper licensing then you can just revoke the product key and the problem is solved. This way they wouldn't be able to use your software unless they paid-up.
Wyatt O'Day Send private email
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Write their legal department and tell the you have evidence that your software is being used illegally.  Lawyers hate that crap.
Darren Send private email
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Just make sure to calm down before deciding if you want to make life harder for your paying customers with activation, dongles, and such.
Dmitry Leskov Send private email
Thursday, September 29, 2011
I agree with your sentiment, Dmitry; don't make hasty decision in the heat of the moment. I even agree that *crummy* licensing can make customers' lives harder. However, the idea that *all* hardware locked licensing makes customers' lives harder is a silly meme. It's just not true.

It's like saying *all* politicians are corrupt. Or maybe you turned on the TV to see a news report about police brutality and from that report you conclude that *all* police are bad.

Or, to put my point in more colloquial terms: the existence of bad apples does not mean *all* apples are bad.

I do agree that there are some truly awful licensing products out there. Hell, we compete with them every day. But a well designed hardware-locked licensing system will be easy and completely seamless for even the most inexperienced users. You know the type of user I'm talking about: the one that calls you up and says "I turned on my Microsoft Firefox and my Word document isn't showing."

This level of ease-of-use requires massive amounts of user testing. User testing that we've done (and continue to do) with LimeLM, http://wyday.com/limelm/ .

Strong licensing needn't make life hard for customers. Generalities often sound true but rarely are true.
Wyatt O'Day Send private email
Thursday, September 29, 2011
^ ... He says without irony while using a generality. ;)
Wyatt O'Day Send private email
Thursday, September 29, 2011
You have to love Wyatt's vendor-jacking in threads like this one..."Sure, no one likes it when they find fingers floating around a can of soup they just opened up on a cold winter's night - once ready to enjoy the hot comforting taste but now ruined because someone decidede to defraud you with their schemes.  That's where LimeLM comes in, with our mind-numbingly easy-to-use licensing technology, we've effectively made the protection and security of your IP and apps as simple as breathing air.  Stop handing over your software to villains: http://wyday.com/limelm"

Of course I jest - I think your posts are relevant and you utilize an opportunity to educate users and inform them of your proposed solution.  I use similar techniques in the forums and blogs I regularly visit, minus the overt product links (those are in my signature).  The overt thing (usually) gets the message deleted from the thread.
BI Baracus Send private email
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Ok, back to the topic at hand: Are these messages sent back to the OP's headquarters legit or is it possible Consultant X has remote desktopped onto a machine and they're just "goofing off" clicking on random programs, plugins and what-not and that its much more innocent and less malicious than it all really seems?
BI Baracus Send private email
Thursday, September 29, 2011
>> You have to love Wyatt's vendor-jacking in threads like this one...

Sorry, it wasn't intended as shilling. I mentioned our product in order to avoid generalities. I could've mentioned our one competitor that actually makes high quality licensing, but I cannot speak for their products. However, I *can* speak for our products.

If Dmitry's post didn't appear then neither would have mine. I was merely responding to the common "strong licensing is evil" meme. I offered our product as a "arrow target" of sorts.
Wyatt O'Day Send private email
Thursday, September 29, 2011
OP here...

Thanks for your comments, a good illustration of the wide range of attitudes and approaches that make this forum so interesting.

Licensing - it's true that tougher licensing would've prevented this, it's something to consider for the future. On the other hand, this is very much an exception and it's something that generally we've never needed to prioritise.

With suggestions from "ignore it" to Scott's "jihad" option I'm not sure there's a consensus. I'm inclined to leave things for a little while and see whether they approach us, given that the errors indicate they're trying to get a particular feature up and running. After all, the best option would be for the customer to realise that they would like to have the software on a proper basis, come grovelling back, pay the money they owe and become legit.

I'll post back if anything interesting develops.


Advice Seeker Send private email
Thursday, September 29, 2011
"Sorry, it wasn't intended as shilling. "

The ads are bad enough, but are tolerated, but please don't lie to our faces about it. Of course it is shilling. You must think we are stupid.
Scott Send private email
Thursday, September 29, 2011
... or it was just as I said.
Wyatt O'Day Send private email
Thursday, September 29, 2011
>I mentioned our product in order to avoid generalities.

Heh. Low key and relevant plugs in response to other posts are ok, but there isn't much point intending they aren't plugs. We weren't born yesterday.
Andy Brice Send private email
Friday, September 30, 2011
Perish the thought of mentioning one's software products/services in a forum dedicated to non-software matters.

[wipes up sarcasm]

I think that it is good marketing.


Gene Wirchenko
Gene Wirchenko Send private email
Friday, September 30, 2011

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