* The Business of Software

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Bingo Card Creator

Customer demands support but won't pay for it.

Hi

Like many ISVs I charge for support after an initial free period (support takes up 25% of my time and therefore I need it to represent close to 25% of my income as well).  Most users are happy to pay or they don't need support which is fine.

On the occasion where a user asks for support but hasn't taken out a support subscription I'll respond with a pleasant "We can't help you without a support subscription but here's how you can take one out". And then they'll either pay or decide they can live without an answer.

However I've got this guy now who is being extremely belligerant. He's had my product for a year and a half and he's only just started asking questions. He said straight he won't pay for support but when he gets the standard email he becomes extremely belligerent, threatening all sorts and claiming that the source of his query is a "fault" or bug in the software. Each new request for support starts with a rant about how it's "yet another" fault - which I know full well it isn't and could answer his questions easily if he had support.

This is happening on a weekly basis now and it would be so easy to back down and just answer his questions but that wouldn't be fair to my other users who pay, it wouldn't be fair to me who relies on support income to pay my bills and would open the door to any other cheapskate who thinks they can jump up and down to get free support.

Anyone come across this situation before and any advice on how I should handle it?
Gazinhio Send private email
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
 
 
In general terms I'd keep keep all communications in written form and always respond in a manner that you'd be happy to have read out in court.
So be courteous, consistent but stick to the terms of your licence agreement especially now that he's shown himself to be a dick
Drummer Send private email
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
 
 
I'm sure you are an honorable person but I have had the experience of finding overt issues (by my definition, granted, but let's assume I'm reasonable) in a product within 5 minutes of installing it, and them refusing to help me until I pay extra.

To top it off, they were hopelessly vague about how much support they would give even after paying (they used a weird system of credits but could not remotely explain what a credit meant).

That is a real pisser. 'Support' should not mean 'fixing flagrant problems', and if you do pay, it should be clear that you get X hours, or X problems, or what have you. (In my experience, it's usually 'unlimited' which of course is preferable!)

Also, it might come down to how long the 'initial period' is, and whether or not you have a 'free trial'.
GregT Send private email
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
 
 
Also, sorry, not to nitpick but I disagree with your 25% / 25% reasoning. It's pretty normal in business, and to some extent the software business, for 'support costs' to be embedded in the sales price. Of course, you need to do the math to make sure it all works out, and that doesn't change the essence of your question.
GregT Send private email
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
 
 
Life is too short to deal with people like that.

Tell him you're sorry the product has not met his expectations and refund him his money.  Ask him to uninstall the software and be done with it.
Doug Send private email
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
 
 
@Greg T
I give 6 months free support for my product before people have to pay for it. That period is built into the sales price but how can I possibly build indefinate support into the sales price? Like I say he's had my software over a year and a half.  I don't have complicated systems of support credit - they get 6 months and after that they pay me a yearly subscription fee - that's it. I have over 2,000 users of my product and there is no problem or fault with the areas of my product he's asking about - they're straightforward questions that I answer several times a month.

He's basically coming at  it from the point-of-view "It's a bug and if it's not tell me how to use it to prove it to me that it's not". It's quite a clever approach cos he's trying to force me give him support by way of defending my product. I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't.
Gazinhio Send private email
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
 
 
@Doug
If only! Already offered him that but he says he's too involved with the product in his business to stop using it which is why I can't understand why he won't pay the quite nominal fee I'm asking. It's as though he has a principle against paying for support at all.

Really I'm looking for some advice as to how to handle it as far as getting him off my back - any terms or phrases anyone has used to explain in business terms that they have no right to support which you've used to get similar customers off their backs. I know I'm well within my rights to limit support to paying customers only and my license terms cover me if he attempts to go after me claiming a faulty product (which I know it isn't and I'm pretty sure he knows it isn't as well - it's a tactic he's using).

Like I say it would be so easy to just give in and answer his questions - it would certainly take up less of my time. But this guy is a bully and I need to protect my support income.
Gazinhio Send private email
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
 
 
Look at it from his point of view. He sees that there is a fault in the software.

He's not going to get off your back until you "fix" the fault or you somehow convince him there is no fault.

I think your options are either
(a) simply ignore his emails
(b) give in and help him out
Nick Moore Send private email
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
 
 
> Like I say it would be so easy to just give in and answer his
> questions - it would certainly take up less of my time.

If responding to his emails is taking up more time than that, may I suggest you get some boilerplate response and some automated way (there's probably a FF add on or some software that makes this delightfully easy), and every time you see his email, slam the Automated Response! button and away it goes.

The language may be something along the lines of, "We are not able to provide free technical support for customers that ask for free support beyond the free support time period (currently six months from purchase), **including any discussion about alleged bugs or flaws in the software**." 

> But this guy is a bully and I need to protect my support income.

I am of the school that says he deserves nothing but ridicule.
Racky Send private email
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
 
 
@racky
That's exactly what I do but it was having the standard "you have to have support before we'll help you" which got this guy all worked up in the first place- he didn't like having his question ignored and dismissed. He claimed it was "feedback" - so that's how I've been treating it - it's feedback that I've agreed to look into - but he wants a response and the only way to provide one which will prove it's not "bugs" is to effectively give him the answers and the support he wants which I'm loathe to do. To address both the only response I can give him is "we've looked into it and we can find no fault." That's not gonna cut it with his guy.
Gazinhio Send private email
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
 
 
@Nick Moore
Ultimately you  may be right. One option I've considered is to ask him to pay for support but promise if his queries are due to bugs I'll give him his money back. Whether he'll pay or not is a different kettle of fish.

At the moment my tactic is to make him wait while I "review" his feedback. My reasoning is that even if ultimately I have to give some form of support to get him off my back at least he'll have had to wait weeks to get a resolution rather than half an hour if he'd just paid up. On the other hand he may get fed up and just pay to get answers - although from the tone and attitude of this guy's emails that seems unlikely.
Gazinhio Send private email
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
 
 
You owe him nothing regardless of what he might think.  +1 to the auto responder idea or write a final email telling him you will no longer respond to emails until he has ponied up for support.  Once he stops getting responses he'll either give up or pay.
Mark Nemtsas Send private email
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
 
 
> they're straightforward questions that I answer several times a month.

Do you mean that you receive the same/similar question several times every month? if yes, probably your documentation is not complete....

is 25% allotted time for support requests a standard amount for ISV?
fp615 Send private email
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
 
 
> To address both the only response I can give him is "we've looked
> into it and we can find no fault." That's not gonna cut it with his
> guy.

So what if it doesn't cut it?  That's his problem, right?
Racky Send private email
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
 
 
+1 to the auto responder idea. When he complains about the auto responder, use the auto responder on his complaint. When he finally offers to pay for support, well, use the auto responder on this mail, too. It doesn't sound as a good idea to have this "customer" on paid support. More like your final nightmare.

"it's feedback that I've agreed to look into"
Is it written down in a signed (and paid) contract? No? So what. Term's changed, bye.
Do you have agreed to actually answer it?
Secure Send private email
Thursday, August 15, 2013
 
 
@fp615
I sell to small businesses, the vast majority of whom are non-technical and many are computer illiterate. Many of them simply would never even consider opening the Help file in a million years and many would rather pay me to answer questions - that's the value I offer in charging for support - saving them time by answering their questions rather than spending their own time looking it up. That's why I spend 25% of my time on support not because my documentation is incomplete. That's not the issue here. For example my software is used to handle more complex billing situations than you normally find in a standard invoicing app. As part of this the application includes some core accounting functionality including dealing with double-entry bookkeeping (either for internal reporting or export to an accounting package). This guy clearly doesn't understand how this works cos he thinks it's a "bug" that a bank account is debited when money goes into it. Clearly anyone with even a basic knowledge of double-entry knows this is how it works (debit=increase in value of an asset). Why the hell however should I give this guy this advice for free to prove it's not a bug.

In regard to just ignoring him - I'm not comfortable with doing this. Primarily because he's already reported me to the local trading standards (I know cos he CC'd them in on one of his email) and doubtless he will take it further if I ignore him and will likely spit venom on every related forum he can as well as write letters to national small business organisations who I'm affiliated to and who are source of a lot of my business.

I'm in a catch 22. It looks like my best bet is to make him wait to realise he's not getting a free support service but eventually give him just enough information to prove there's no bugs without being particularly helpful.
Gazinhio Send private email
Thursday, August 15, 2013
 
 
every time I had to interface to double entry accounting packages I had problems understanding how it actually works :-)
so it seems he needs more a accounting tutorship than a support contract from you.... you may send him links on articles about double entry accounting...

I understand this is a catch22 situation and a difficult one to solve but perhaps shifting his attention away from the program....
fp615 Send private email
Thursday, August 15, 2013
 
 
> he's already reported me to the local trading standards (I know cos he CC'd them in on one of his email) and doubtless he will take it further if I ignore him and will likely spit venom on every related forum he can as well as write letters to national small business organisations who I'm affiliated to and who are source of a lot of my business.

This is one of the reasons why I don't think I would never deny any user a basic level of support. In this situation that would be sending him links to your documentation, faq or some online learning resources. You aren't being unfair to your existing customers in that case because he's only getting access to something that's already available.

You need to pragmatically avoid the risks you cited above, as you say I don't think ignoring / auto-responding him gives you the best chance of doing this.
Jonathan Matthews Send private email
Thursday, August 15, 2013
 
 
That's just one example. Every time he comes up with something that he doesn't understand or expects something different, instead of looking in the help for paying for support to ask a question he screams "bug!" and then demands me to explain why it isn't a bug and to do that I would to effectively give him support. I'm pretty convinced he knows what he's doing and I'd suspect I'm not the first software vendor he's tried it with. I suspect he gets a kick out of it.

As I said earlier I think my only real option here without ignoring him or point blank refusing to help him (which worries me what he'll do next) and without actually giving in to him is to deal with it as though someone completed a bug report, review it in due course and report to him some time later that it's not a bug and give the most basic information about why it's not a bug so he doesn't actually feel like he's got support. At least that way he won't feel like he's dealing with a pushover but still got some form of response so he doesn't have a leg to stand on if goes running off to some trading standards organisation to complain.
Gazinhio Send private email
Thursday, August 15, 2013
 
 
Dont Ignore it!
It will spread on forums as a complaint faster then he's likely to mention his bad experience on forums weather hes write or wrong.
Its not a path you want to go down.

Here is what I'd suggest.

Say, Ok Mr User.
You can have 15min of my attention in 1 session.
Via a tool like teamviewer, or showmypc  so you can see what he's stuck on quickly.  If you determine it to be a bug that could affect more than a handfull of users,  Fix it in your application and move on.

If it turns out hes just too dumb to understand how to use your software, then simply your software.  It will help other users.

If if the software is ok, and hes just too dumb, refund him and get him out of your yes.  Yes even a refund from 1.5 years ago, is worth it if your license is not much more than 100 bucks.

Take this as an opportunity to improve your software.

Agree to help this user with a 15min remote desktop support free of charge.  If you determine nothing can be fixed in software, it will be the last free support session.

I've done this, and you'll be surprised what you learn about your software.  Do this for you, not for him.
NewGuyOnTheBlock Send private email
Thursday, August 15, 2013
 
 
@NewGuyOnTheBlock
Thanks for the advice, I have no intention of taking the advice of those who say to ignore him - that is just going to make it worse and I'll lose control of the whole situation. However doing a remote access support session is way more than I'm prepared to offer to this guy. He'd simply expect the same service for his next query and get even more irate when I deny it to him next time.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I've already offered him a refund but he doesn't want it so that's not an option - he even issued a veiled threat that if I did just throw his money back at him he'd come after me for the time and money he's invested in setting up the software and inputting his information for his business (my license terms expressly state he can't do this but I don't need the hassle of him trying).

This is not about the software or how to improve the software etc. I know for a fact that his queries are not related to bugs as they are questions I answer all of the time for new users or for people who pay me. It's about a user trying to get support for free by attacking the software as a tactic.

I suppose I'm trying to walk a line between not actually giving in to him and providing hime with direct support but giving him enough so that he can't go after me or bad mouth me on the net or to important business organisations.
Gazinhio Send private email
Thursday, August 15, 2013
 
 
How much is the cost of your yearly support fee?
How much is it that he's not willing to pay?
Are you willing to share your support fee cost that you want him to pay?
NewGuyOnTheBlock Send private email
Thursday, August 15, 2013
 
 
Tell him firmly but politely that you have investigated all the bug reports he has made to date but no bugs have been found. Remind him that you have a support package where he can receive training and extra help. And further remind him that you cannot continue responding to all his requests for help unless he is reporting a genuine bug.

Create a new support package:

5 hours / 5 issues of support/training for $200.
(You decide the actual amounts, but make it sound like a good deal).

For every genuine bug that he reports to you, you will credit him with 1 hour / 1 issue.

Hopefully, one of these packages would be enough to demonstrate how knowing the basics makes everything work much better and get him off your back. If the price is attractive, you might get him into the habit of paying for support.

Throughout your communications with him you must be clear that you are trying to help him and that your objective is to get him using your software proficiently.
koan Send private email
Thursday, August 15, 2013
 
 
If you have 2000 users then why don't you set up a dedicated forum for users of your software where they can give one another free support?

If the bugs are just a reflection of his lack of understanding of simple things then other users would soon put  someone like him right.

It's probably too late for this character though. If you've been fair with him and you're certain that it's his ignorance and not your software that's to blame then I think you should stick to your guns.
This is especially true if you know his identity. 
If he has half a brain he should know that he can't get away with libel/defamation online and not potentially face legal consequences.
Drummer Send private email
Thursday, August 15, 2013
 
 
@NewGuyOnTheBlock
How much is the cost of your yearly support fee?
For his system it's $120

How much is it that he's not willing to pay?
As far as I'm aware he's not willing to pay anything

Are you willing to share your support fee cost that you want him to pay?
Not sure what you're asking but I can't afford to share any of it - if he ever does pay (and I'm pretty sure he won't) he'll use up $120 very quickly so if you're suggesting I discount it for him - no chance!
Gazinhio Send private email
Thursday, August 15, 2013
 
 
I think it was Scott who recently said on this forum that having a lot of good reviews and then one horrible review by a ranter is actually GOOD, in that it makes the guy seem like he's crazy and therefore actually seems like his bad judgment is at fault, not your software.

I know that for me, if I read a ton of solid reviews and users speaking rationally and positively about some product and then there are a small minority of raving dissenters, it doesn't sour me on the product (at least I don't think it does; consumer psychology is often hidden to us...perhaps citing a study on this is in order, but I am not willing to search for one right now). 

I've seen this a number of times with cheap motels, where the reviews are insanely negative and then I've ignored them, stayed there, and it was usually basically fine (a little scruffy but not horrible).  From their reviews, though, you would have thought the motel was little more than room with an army cot floating in a cess pool.
Racky Send private email
Thursday, August 15, 2013
 
 
If he is continually insisting it's a bug then create a bug report form that he can download as a PDF, fill out and mail/email back to you.

Be polite explain to him and explain any bug related issues must be handled through a bug report form. The report will be looked into and he will be contacted if there is an actual bug with a fix. After reviewing report it may be re-categorized as a support request which is prioritized to handle request from those with paid support first.

Some places I know will take support requests from customers without paid support plans but you're told every step all customers issues are important but by not paying for support your questions will be dealt with last whenever the company gets around to answering it.

Basically if you don't have a process already for bug reporting implement a simplified one (could be email only). With those reports treat them strictly as bug fixes. No training, no explaining, etc... If its a bug, here's the patch you can apply. Or no it's not a bug, the software is operating as it should, and if some explanation is needed here's the link explaining what the result conforms too. Address the issue as there is a bug not go into a discovery to see if you can get to the result he's after.

It sounds like a messed up thing to do to a customer but if they try and get something by claiming it's actually something else treat it as you would treat that something else.
TrippinOnIT Send private email
Thursday, August 15, 2013
 
 
>As I mentioned in a previous post, I've already offered him a refund but he doesn't want it so that's not an option - he even issued a veiled threat that if I did just throw his money back at him he'd come after me for the time and money he's invested in setting up the software and inputting his information for his business (my license terms expressly state he can't do this but I don't need the hassle of him trying).

Give him the refund anyway.  And let him continue to use the software for free.  He will create a hassle for you in any case.  If he does try to "come after" you (you mean a lawsuit?) that will be a hassle for him, too.  Imagine if you had to file a likely hopeless suit every time you needed support for a product.

And steer him towards some of your competitors.
Dora Send private email
Thursday, August 15, 2013
 
 
I agree with this.  Support is what lets you generate revenue in a lot of businesses.  Without knowing the prices (if he bought a 100k license, you fly someone out to walk him through is problems. .99 iphone app, you might reply to his email), it is hard to say what the right response is.

Fighting about if it is a bug or not is a wast of time.  There is way too much gray area where it works they way you expect it but not the way a user did.

In this guys case, I would have answered his initial questions for free.  I figure if I normally offer support for like 30 days and this guy has never used any of that time, he sort of deserves one or two questions. Maybe he didn't start using the product until recently.  If you gave him 30mins of time early on he might have been happy with the product and been willing to buy support when he realized he needed more hand holding. Obviously though that time is long past.



--
Also, sorry, not to nitpick but I disagree with your 25% / 25% reasoning. It's pretty normal in business, and to some extent the software business, for 'support costs' to be embedded in the sales price. Of course, you need to do the math to make sure it all works out, and that doesn't change the essence of your question.
Foobar Send private email
Thursday, August 15, 2013
 
 
"I think it was Scott who recently said on this forum that having a lot of good reviews and then one horrible review by a ranter is actually GOOD"

I think that was another guy who said that, but the reasoning makes sense to me, it could be that way.

It's hard to say what triggers my suspicion on reviews. I think it's a lot of reviews that don't have many details. For example, some movies on imdb all the top reviews mention they saw it at a preview event. So that means they didn't pay and the director was there and asked them to post a nice review.
Scott Send private email
Thursday, August 15, 2013
 
 
Related story. I had to deal with a government office and I heard from a number of people, some who had relatives or friends that worked at this office, to watch out for "Estella" who worked there and was a real witch, crazy, etc. Anyone but Estella.

As it happens I dealt with Estella, who was the only rational and educated person there in a den of corruption and incompetence.
Scott Send private email
Thursday, August 15, 2013
 
 
"the motel was little more than room with an army cot floating in a cess pool."
You must have stayed at the same place as me in Racine, Wisconsin.  Domestic car manufacturers did a lot of research (none of which is publicly available as far as I know) on customer satisfaction in general and word of mouth in particular in the eighties.  Now everyone and their dog wants you to fill out survey cards, but it was novel when GM and Ford starting doing it 25 years ago.  Of course, car dealers who got poor report cards preferred to invalidate the results than improve their service, so most people still prefer visiting their dentist over the local dealer.
Howard Ness Send private email
Friday, August 16, 2013
 
 
Scott, don't forget a lot of people are lazy.  I've posted lots of "reviews" for apps where I've just said "Great!" or "Recommended".  I assume that looks like a fake review but it's not.  Sometimes I just can't be bothered writing a story and just want to quickly give it a thumbs up to reward the author.
PSB136 Send private email
Friday, August 16, 2013
 
 
What's the learning opportunity here?

It may be to better define support levels going forward.

Or it may be that your documentation sucks, or that there some GUI elements that need to be redefined to make the software work better for everyone.

I don't worry so much about the customers who call up and abuse support. I learn a TON from them and try to feed it back into development.  I worry instead about the customers I never hear from, who may have drifted away for reasons that they didn't even care enough to tell me about. Those people keep me up at night.
Darren Send private email
Friday, August 16, 2013
 
 
I agree with Darren completely on this. The worst is when you deploy a complex new feature and get absolutely no complaints about it. People complain when they get part of the way. If they can't make any progress at all, they figure there must be something wrong with them or their system - especially if they google their problem and no one else has said anything. When I get no feedback it usually means there is some catastrophic problem with it, such as it is totally incomprehensible, or utterly broken.
Scott Send private email
Friday, August 16, 2013
 
 
I'll have a contrary opinion to the above two posters here.  There may be nothing to learn here other than the user in question is a high maintenance tool who has a bug up his butt and no matter what you do he'll never be happy.

You started this topic wondering what you can do with him and further on it was revealed that he wasn't the problem, it was the threats he was making that were the problem.  You may come up with some way of working through his current issues but as sure as the sun rises tomorrow there will be more issues with him and more threats down the road.  Because he knows the aggressive approach and threats work.

My advice, again, is to ignore this guy and let him post his negative comments and move on with improving your product, your web site, your marketing and so on.  It's not worth your time and if you continue to placate people like this they will be a constant anchor about your neck.

*MY EXPERIENCE* I have been threatened several times with reports to local BBB's, chambers of commerce and forums.  Some of them went through with it, most of them didn't.  In my experience the people who make these threats come completely out of the blue with the threats.  It's not a matter of a soured relationship, but rather the method they seem to think is appropriate to get what they want.

Threats were usually designed to do one of two things.  One, get a refund, which I give without question anyway.  Or two, to get on-going on-call free support like the guy you're dealing with.  In the second case I have always refused to deal with the people.  If they continue to throw threats about I refund their purchase and inform them that while they were free to continue to use my product they were no longer entitled to any support at all.
Mark Nemtsas Send private email
Friday, August 16, 2013
 
 
Mark I don't feel your post there is really "contrary" to mine, there's a large area of overlap here.

Very few people leave bad feedback merely to harass for no reason. Even when their questions are incoherent and they are just plain wrong about the product, there's nearly always something that can be improved, especially after more than one person has the same general sort of confusion. Sometimes it results in recording a video, or doing a research project and making an insanely detailed step by step tutorial. Making these things for one customer and adding it to the customer support resources often helps others as well.

Could there be customers who are simply malicious and troublesome? I've had a small number over the years, so yes. In my case they happen to stumble into my political opinions somewhere, manage to figure out it was me (not a trivial exercise since I am cautious not to post last name, precise location or name of company, but doable based on details I post if they already knew me through my products), and became unhinged and started sending me threats. In these cases it's not about the product though and they didn't file BBB reports. but crazed customers who issue threats of violence do exist, and yeah, refunding their money so they no longer are entitled to use a support pretext to contact you is a good and reasonable approach.
Scott Send private email
Saturday, August 17, 2013
 
 
Just to be clear, when I said "come after me" I meant in a legal sense and not a violent sense - I hope I never have to deal with that type of thing!

Seriously this is not about buggy software or about bad documentation (I once advised him to read the documentation and you want to see the size of the email I got back! He's never opened it and never will) - I get overwhelmingly positive feedback from my users. This is about one user who is trying to get something for nothing.

The guy bought the software from me 18 months ago on a special offer to upgrade to my product from a similar/competing product (because that product has been dropped by the publisher). I didn't hear from him for nearly 12 months, likely cos he bought it on offer and it took a year for him to get around to switching. I was aware of this and gave him support for some time, although I wasn't obligated to do so.  However this couldn't go on forever.

The main problem here is that he is constantly comparing my product to his old one and when my software works in a different way or produces something different he thinks it must be a bug in my software and that's when he jumps up and down. However he still doesn't get that his old product and mine are not like-for-like and that they work differently. Even though I've proved to him time and time again that my product is superior to his old one (which hasn't been updated since 2008) he's still in the mindset of how his old system works and anything different must be "wrong".

Since my post started I've had to reply to him with one of his queries and had to give a brief explanation of why it's not wrong and how our software works. He responded thanking me but followed it with another question to which I told him *again* he had to pay for support. So far no response to that. I think this is gonna rumble on for a while but I'll stick to my guns without actually ignoring him completely.

I suppose some people buy a product and think that entitles them to on-going support and to charge for support is simply not cricket. Despite the terms of available of support being made available at the point of sale he clearly brushed that off and considered that it didn't apply to him. However that POV makes no consideration for the time involved and the cost of providing that on-going support by the vendor.

Thanks for all of your advice.
Gazinhio Send private email
Saturday, August 17, 2013
 
 
@Scott,

I agree, sometimes trying customers are a great opportunity to learn and improve documentation.  I have a plethora of "insanely detailed step-by-step guides" and they are a great resources. 

The more I read about the OP's troublesome customer the more I think there's not a lot to learn there.  Just a customer to divorce.
Mark Nemtsas Send private email
Saturday, August 17, 2013
 
 
@Gazinhio:
Just a thought, by your last description: Could it be that he is not aware that you're not the vendor of the old product? That from his POV, you've provided an upgrade from *your* old version, completely breaking the functionality he was used to?

> "However he still doesn't get that his old product and mine are not like-for-like and that they work differently."

Uh, I had an acquaintance like this. He knew enough to install and use stuff, but had no idea about what happens under the surface. He was scanning his old family photos and making films on video CDs from them. Constantly installing the newest video cutting tool with promising features from another computer magazine's CD, and then wondering why the new tool starts when he clicks on the films (well, because it reassociated the file extensions...) and how he could get his old tool back. Gave his PC away for a clean reinstallation every half year or so.

He always asked me "How can I do X with this tool Y? You know this computer stuff, you can tell me." No, I don't have any idea. There are a gazillion of tools out there, each from different developers with their own ideas of doing stuff, each with different feature sets, and even for identical features, with a gazillion of different possible workflows and configurations. Where you have a wizard in tool A, you have a big dialog in tool B, you can use the foo resizing scheme in tool C, but only have bar available in D which is faster, but with less resulting quality...

He just didn't get it that there is not THE ONE WAY to do things.
Secure Send private email
Sunday, August 18, 2013
 
 
@Secure
You could absolutely be right. The publisher of his old product contacted me to offer a transition path for their users as they wanted to drop the product but didn't want to just throw their users into the wilderness. In return for a promise to offer a % of users a free upgrade to my product and to offer a discounted upgrade for the rest and to write some data conversion facility, I got their user list and their . I saw this as such an opportunity that I also released a Version x that made things more familiar for these users and also plugged some holes that my product didn't address that theirs did. Within 12 months this enabled me to increase my user base by nearly a third so it worked out well. However there are 2% of users who used their product for years and just can't handle the change although I've managed to service these people as well. Just this one guy can't handle it and from the way he talks and interchangeably refers to my software as his old software - when I point it out to him (which I have done many times) he say's he's fully aware but I sometimes get the impression that he thinks that I acquired the other product completely and "butchered" it to make it different as he does seem to scoff when I mention that it's a completely different product.

However that still doesn't justify why he feels he should get free on-going support - I know for a fact his old vendor charged for support - how well they enforced it and whether they charged enough I don't know but could well explain how they couldn't make it sustainable and eventually dropped it.
Gazinhio Send private email
Sunday, August 18, 2013
 
 
OK, from now on, when he emails, respond:

"Dear Bob, I would be happy to discuss this with you, but as we have discussed on several occasions, your support contract did expire 18 months ago. Without a current up to date service agreement, the only other way to provide support is prepaid hourly, 4 hr minimum, $120/hr. Prepaid hourly service is only a better value if one has very brief occasional questions, perhaps one a year. The annual service subscription at $249 is a much better value, but you are free to choose either one whichever is more convenient. Thank you for contacting us, and I look forward to answering your questions after you have become up to date on your service contract. Sincrely, Gazhinio"
Scott Send private email
Sunday, August 18, 2013
 
 
Gazinhio, do you happen to know how old this user is?  Some of what you write suggests to me a stereotypical older (post 60s) person. 

In your correspondence, have you always stayed in full on "business speak" mode, or have you ever addressed him/her as a person and said more or less what you've said to us, that this is your livelihood and it's not fair to others?  I'm not saying you necessarily should do that--I don't know--but sometimes I wonder if a person just gets really frustrated being treated like a customer more than a person, if you see what I mean.
Racky Send private email
Sunday, August 18, 2013
 
 
@Racky
I don't personally know how old the guy is but from his voice on the phone I'd suggest he's mid-late 50s or older.

I've kept all correspondence with him very business-like and have always been courteous and explained things to him in a very matter-of-fact way. I have explained things to him in terms of "support income is vital to the running of our business and we take every measure to protect our income streams as I'm sure you do in your own business." But have never made it a personal level such as "I need it to pay my mortgage" or anything like that.
Gazinhio Send private email
Monday, August 19, 2013
 
 
@Racky
I have however told him it wouldn't be fair to others who have paid and made the comparison that if he paid and he later found out we'd given support to someone for free he'd be extremely annoyed.
Gazinhio Send private email
Monday, August 19, 2013
 
 
"I have over 2,000 users of my product and there is no problem or fault with the areas of my product he's asking about - they're straightforward questions that I answer several times a month"

And

"I sell to small businesses, the vast majority of whom are non-technical and many are computer illiterate. Many of them simply would never even consider opening the Help file in a million years and many would rather pay me to answer questions - that's the value I offer in charging for support"

If a question comes up regularly, there is often a GUI solution that doesn't involve the user opening the documentation. Could be that you have a wrong default setting, that your terminology conflicts with that of your old competitor, etc.

The trade off is that fixing these usability problems will eventually reduce your support income (but might increase your sales)

That said, about this specific customer, the problem is that you DO NOT WANT this customer. And if you haven't realized this yet, you DO NOT WANT to sell this guy a $120 support package. In less than a month, that support package will have you working at a $5/hour rate for a belligerent, unpleasant customer.

Forget about selling a support contract. Concentrate on getting rid of this guy once and for all. My answer would be more along the lines of:

"Dear Mr. X,

Sorry, it is obvious that in spite of my best efforts, you are not satisfied with my software and I am not able to meet your requirements of free unlimited support.

For this reason, I have decided to grant you a full refund, should you want one, even though the standard warranty period has expired 15 months ago.

From this point on, I will only accept communications on the subject of a refund, nothing else. If you wish a refund, please fill out the refund request attached and return it to this email address or by mail to ...

Once again, I apologize that our software and support policies were not consistent with your expectations and needs. I wish you good luck finding a more suitable solution.

Sincerely yours,
Gazinhio"

Attach a refund request/disclaimer for him to sign and pay the refund. If he doesn't sign, don't pay. And don't get suckered into discussing your software, practices, or anything else. From that point on, no matter what he sends you, your reply consist of "Very well. Do you wish a refund? Please fill out the refund request form"

You're not a slave. You are not obligated to work for free just because someone threatens you. Besides the threats are mostly empty: If he reported you to the BBB for no reason, be sure he has done the same for many other people and they know what the deal is with that guy. Unless you really screwed up your initial responses, this guy is probably unpleasant with everyone, not just with you.

As for forums, you can always post a copy of the email above and invite him to take the refund. It's good advertisement for you.

In this situation, the WORST case scenario would be if he actually paid for support, unless you are sure that by helping him clear the first couple hurdles you will solve all his problems with your software for ever (in which case you should have done it long ago for free)

Anyway, it's just my take on this. The client has already demonstrated that he is unreasonable. No reasonable explanation or help will do any good. You are not going to magically make him a better person by working for free or giving him freebies. You need to get rid of him.
Sylvain Galibert Send private email
Saturday, August 31, 2013
 
 

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