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Stephen Jones

Needy, entitled user again

Some of you may remember complaint postings from me over the past year or two about a particularly needy and entitled-minded user who I have to deal with because part of my job is customer support.  Here is another good one:

He's hired a new coworker and is training her to replace him when he retires this summer.  He's been pestering me to write some documentation on how to use the editor.  I keep pointing him to the very fine documentation provided by the vendor who supplies said editor.  No dice, he refuses to use it.

So we had a nice user's group convention last month, and during my presentation he asked again.  Again, I referred him to the already-existing (and available on the web) documentation.  After some discussion with him and the others in my class, I commented that it would be a good topic for a "tips and tools" document that we could produce for all of the users over the coming year.

So I get an email from him this morning, reminding me that I agreed to write documentation for him and could he have it soon please? 

<ramt>
Yes, dear,  since of course you are my ONLY FREAKING customer, I will do that at once, yessir massa.  </rant>

Seriously, would I be a total biotch if I downloaded the doc from the web and sent it to him?  Okay, more seriously, I do plan to write a tips and tools when I have slack time.  But I really do resent him being demanding and trying to twist what I said into a promise.  I guess I'm not really asking for help from you guys, mainly just empathy.  Or maybe What Would You Do replies.
carrie cobo1 Send private email
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
 
 
"He's been pestering me to write some documentation on how to use the editor.  I keep pointing him to the very fine documentation provided by the vendor who supplies said editor.  No dice, he refuses to use it."

I recently had a high profile customer who could not use our documentation to do something very close to what he wanted to do because it was not specific enough. So, as an experiment, I had a new section written addressing his specific situation in a step by step manner. It cost be about $5000 on salary for a good tech writer for this, but it was an experiment to see what would happen. The documentation was utterly superb and I usability tested it against neophytes and there were no problems. The customer get the documentation, then sent a bunch of angry emails and left phone messages on  how the new documentation was utter crap. We then had him do phone support during which we read the directions to him over the phone, and at last he was successful.

In the end I believe either he has reading comprehension problems or would not read the documentation for some reason.

There is no cost justification for doing this, so I think that in the future some clients just are going to have to be dropped or learn to deal with our "complete crap software", as he put it.
Scott Send private email
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
 
 
I guess my point is that with your specific case, I believe that the only thing that will work is if you come to his house and personally teach him how to use it. So you have to decide if you want to go to that level, or if not, how to tell him no.
Scott Send private email
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
 
 
And with the personal lessons thing, yep, we have done that, and that is why I recently posted here about offering paid classes in how to use the software once a year as an option for these sorts of customers. It's probably about different learning styles. Some people will never be able to understand written directions and that's all there is to it. They also can't follow video instructions, by the way. They have to be personally shown how to do things that deal with their specific situation, in person, in a step by step manner.

And yes, many of them have PhDs etc. The "famous people" are much more likely to be in this category. If someone like George Lucas telephones you for advice on using video editing software, you can bet that he is going to act as if he has an IQ of 60.
Scott Send private email
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
 
 
Oh, yeah, we offer training.  And the session at the user's group that I mentioned was... training.  It just didn't focus on the editor.  It's not like we don't try to help our users.  This one just expects everything to be done his way and at his beck and call.  I'm going to be really, really glad when he retires.

I've mentioned it before, but it's been a while, so this is what really bugs me about this guy.  I have many times helped him over the phone and in person.  The more I help him, the more he demands help - and the same help over and over again.  I'm very sure that he's manipulating us to do his work for him.  It's the old "play dumb and they'll get fed up and do it for me" trick.  I'm pushing back now, and I'm sure he thinks I'm a total jerk.

Oh, and this is the customer agency's "technical support" guy.  He doesn't even have the excuse of being computer illiterate.
carrie cobo1 Send private email
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
 
 
carrie: you say he won't read the vendor documentation. Why is that? Is it possible that the vendor documentation is simply difficult to comprehend but you know it well enough that it seems OK?

This reminds me of an ongoing conversation I had with someone on a non technical forum last winter. The person was trying to make a door open and close automatically and I tried over and over to help but my suggestions were just being ignored. Then it occurred to me that he was probably reading everything I said, but simply not understanding it and not wanting to seem stupid by asking for clarification. I was finally able to help him by giving very detailed, step by step instructions that avoided any use of technical terms at all.

What I'm trying to say here is put yourself in his shoes and see what that does to your perspective. Sure, you're really busy and have lots of people to support, but this person is probably just as busy and he may have a problem that many other customers do but aren't complaining about.
farmboy Send private email
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
 
 
Some people are just like that. Say "we've given you all the documentation we have on it... is there any thing else I can help you with today?" and don't let it bug you.
CC Send private email
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
 
 
Farmer:
"carrie: you say he won't read the vendor documentation. Why is that? Is it possible that the vendor documentation is simply difficult to comprehend but you know it well enough that it seems OK?"

Probably and this is a fair point.  The documentation is comprehensive and I do know that this guy is in the group of users who "don't want to know why or how, just give me the steps to follow".  But keep in mind what he's asking for is documentation for the EDITOR.  Giving him exact steps to follow would entail sitting at his desk every day that he wants to edit a file.

Also, I have agreed to write up some sort of cheat sheet.  No problem.  I just resent his demanding it asap.  And the real reason why I'm so crusty with him (I'm very patient with everybody else) is that one month after I give him the cheatsheet, he WILL be calling me asking to be walked through whatever he wants to do again.  I've given him lots and lots of step-by-step documentation on various things that he promptly loses or never looks at again.
carrie cobo1 Send private email
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
 
 
1) He's retiring. The problem is self-terminating. Get a direct line to his replacement and see if she has read and understood the vendor docs. You will find, I guarantee, that the replacement is totally frustrated with him as well. Don't let him poison the well. Offer to help her extensively during this learning phase. You may have a friend for life.

2) If this happens in future and it is brought up in the user group meeting, rather than have a pissing match in an open session with one cantankerous user, ask how many others are having such great difficulty with the documentation or program usage. If others agree it's a problem, it's really your problem. Fix it. If only one person is befuddled then it lets everyone know (except him of course) that he is the problem.
SumoRunner Send private email
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
 
 
I'm a little confused: is this guy asking you for documentation on some editor program that your employer doesn't actually sell?  Are you dealing with an internal customer?  The dynamic isn't quite clear (so if possible, I'd like some documentation on it).

Anyway, SumoRunner's advice is sound; his retirement solves the problem for you.  In the interim, you might be able to get away with telling him something to the effect of "we're working on the cheat sheet, and you'll be notified along with the other users as soon as it's ready."
Justice Walker Send private email
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
 
 
You made it cheaper (time + money + risk) for the customer to call you and ask for help then it would be for him to search for, read, and comprehend the information for himself.

Game Theory teaches that human social interaction is the result of each party attempting to optimize their time, energy, and money while at the same time reducing their risk. To this end, people create "game plans" based on their current knowledge of the playing environment.

This customer is deciding that he can use your free and liberal support (the game environment) to help minimize his time, money, energy, and/or risk.

There are solutions to the problem of having needy customers that have worked to varying degrees for many larger corporations.

Increase his Time cost:
He would start finding other ways to solve his "problems" like reading the manual or searching his past emails for that step-by-step walk through you developed for him if you only answered his questions on the condition that he first fill out a 20 question customer-support survey or just plain put him on hold for 20 minutes.

^This is largely why corporations love these:
"Press 1 for sales.
Press 2 for sales support.
Press Q for customer service."

Increase his Money cost:
Charge for "extended support" or "premiere support" this change of game-play environment will cause your customer to reevaluate his game plan.

^Many software companies make you pay for support. For corporate customers this is especially effective at increasing the perceived risk because the person who needs support usually isn't the person who ends up paying for it.

Increase his perceived Risk:
Increase the customer's perception of "risk" by requiring that he give you his credit card, account, or personal information over the phone each time he calls.
Jon-Carlos Rivera Send private email
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
 
 
>> So I get an email from him this morning, reminding me that I agreed to write documentation for him and could he have it soon please?

I'd respond in the vein of  "... I made the statement in general and for the entire user community, and as such I'm making sure it's complete and accurate.  Unfortunately, other business concerns have interrupted completion of this documentation, which really only restates information already available in <your help doc name here>.  I'll be happy to forward a copy once it's ready for publication, probably about <some date after his anticipated retirement>."

'course, they don't let me talk to customers much here :-P
a former big-fiver Send private email
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
 
 
Is management aware of this problem?  Have you quantified for them the man-hours you spend in a given week/month dealing with his non-issues?
Jason Send private email
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
 
 
From Justice Walker:
"I'm a little confused: is this guy asking you for documentation on some editor program that your employer doesn't actually sell?  Are you dealing with an internal customer?  The dynamic isn't quite clear (so if possible, I'd like some documentation on it)."

Yes, exactly.  The editor in question is supplied with the OS, as is all the pertinent documentation.  We don't support the OS or it's accompanying utilities.  He is not an internal customer.  We do sell software that runs on this particular OS, and he is one of those external customers.  He could in theory call HP, which is the vendor of the OS, but I'm sure he won't like that answer any more than me telling him to read the provided docs.

This is the same customer who called me once to complain about a bug in another vendor's software - because they weren't responsive to him and he felt that I was.

But, as someone else posted, he's retiring soon, and the problem will fix itself then.  I just felt like ranting here because he's just sooo audaciously abusive it's hard to believe I'm not making it all up.
carrie cobo1 Send private email
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
 
 
Perhaps your company should charge for support, with a certain number of hours of free support coming along with the product. That way your company wouldn't be losing money supporting this customer.
Larry Watanabe Send private email
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
 
 
Oh, yes, I long ago stopped responding to him immediately.  I take days to respond to his emails, and if I see that it's him on my phone, I usually let it go to voicemail and call him back later.  Every other customer gets an immediate response, but he no longer does.  Doesn't stop the demands, interestingly enough.  He just seems patient enough to keep asking every few days or every week or so.  I have to basically totally shut him out.

Also, yes management is aware.  I made them aware a couple years ago, when he literally was calling me every five minutes every day.  I had to flat out refuse to work with him in order for them to take me seriously.  (I later heard through the grapevine that the manager just took over dealing with his calls and complained herself about how entitled he was.  But she never laid it on the line with this customer, just quietly fumed.  Very effective - NOT!)
carrie cobo1 Send private email
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
 
 
carrie:
"This is the same customer who called me once to complain about a bug in another vendor's software - because they weren't responsive to him and he felt that I was."

What the...?

Please tell me there's a support contract in place that charges him hourly or per call, because otherwise he's wasting a huge amount of your time and your employer's money.

The only other justification I can see is if this guy (or his institution) is a big enough customer that it's worth all this screwing around.
Justice Walker Send private email
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
 
 
Scott obliquely brings up a good point: there are lots of people with reading disabilities of one sort or another. Not to mention all the non-English native speakers trying to get through the documentation.

This is probably an area where comprehensive video tutorials would help. This is something I need to work on myself, as all I have now is one video demo.
(User deleted) Send private email
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
 
 
@"What the...?"

what the hell? be brave. be bold =]
Victor the Python Artist Send private email
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
 
 
+SumoRunner.

Whether you succeed with this customer depends entirely on what the replacement person thinks of using the editor.  If the replacement can use the editor with no problems, the problem is indeed self terminating.

Sumo's second suggestion also limits the damage in the event that the documentation is usable by everybody but one user.
Walter Mitty Send private email
Thursday, May 28, 2009
 
 
Wouldn't it be a hoot if your needy, entitled user and the co-worker who makes the entire department look bad, described in another thread, were one and the same person?
Walter Mitty Send private email
Thursday, May 28, 2009
 
 
Dear ENTITLED USER.

As was mention during out most recent user group convention, I made mention of a "tips and tools" document that we intend to write. This particular document is anticipated some time before Jun 2010.

In the mean time you are welcome to consult and contribute to our user supported Wiki (http://example.com/wiki).

Carrie Cobol
Code Slave Send private email
Thursday, May 28, 2009
 
 
Thanks everybody.  I did email him back with a slight correction to what he said, that I promised to write a tips and tools for EVERYBODY.  I also said that I had a heavy workload and this kind of stuff has to be done in my spare time, which is true.  (My company is a defense contractor so I'm not supposed to spend any time on work that isn't paid for by a customer.)  So I told him that while he waits for me to finish the doc, he can try using the online help, and I told him how to access it.

Which also sort of peeved me, or made me feel justified in my peevedom.  I actually started the doc so that I wouldn't be lying to him.  As I was in the editor trying some function keys to make sure I correctly wrote what they did, I was reminded of the online help:

F1 - displays a keypad layout with all those function keys and details of what they do
F2 - displays a list of control function key (like Ctrl-A) and what they do
Pulling up a command prompt and typing HELP - gives you lists of advanced commands and what they do.

Very, very good, eh?  Which really was exactly what he's been pestering me for, and it was there all the time.
carrie cobo1 Send private email
Friday, May 29, 2009
 
 
carrie cobo1: "Which also sort of peeved me, or made me feel justified in my peevedom.  I actually started the doc so that I wouldn't be lying to him.  As I was in the editor trying some function keys to make sure I correctly wrote what they did, I was reminded of the online help:

F1 - displays a keypad layout with all those function keys and details of what they do
F2 - displays a list of control function key (like Ctrl-A) and what they do
Pulling up a command prompt and typing HELP - gives you lists of advanced commands and what they do.

Very, very good, eh?  Which really was exactly what he's been pestering me for, and it was there all the time."

I am not a needy, entitled user, but consider.  Why did you forget it?  I wonder how many others have.  I wonder how many other have never known about it.  Maybe, the program could do with a tweak.

I found out accidentally how to move units quickly in Civilization III.  I would have preferred not finding out accidentally.  It can be very difficult to find out some things in that game's documentation.

Sincerely,

Gene Wirchenko
Gene Wirchenko Send private email
Monday, June 01, 2009
 
 
Gene, keep in mind this is NOT my software.  It's the editor that comes with the OS provided by Hewlett Packard.  Doing *any* training or additional documentation for it is purely out of the generousity of my heart, it's not my job since I don't work for HP.
carrie cobo1 Send private email
Monday, June 01, 2009
 
 
Too bad.  A small tweak can sometimes make a big difference.

I remember when I finally got to visit where the software that I maintain is used.  The data entry clerk was very pleased about one recent feature add.  It took less than one line of code.  She did not have any comment about the code that I had sweated over.  Oh, well.

Maybe, a very short cheatsheet (that could even be taped to computers):
"F1 - displays a keypad layout with all those function keys and details of what they do
F2 - displays a list of control function key (like Ctrl-A) and what they do
Pulling up a command prompt and typing HELP - gives you lists of advanced commands and what they do."

You say that others are not having problems, but maybe, they are just quieter about it, so they might benefit from the above.

Sincerely,

Gene Wirchenko
Gene Wirchenko Send private email
Monday, June 01, 2009
 
 
@carrie

"Gene, keep in mind this is NOT my software.  It's the editor that comes with the OS provided by Hewlett Packard.  Doing *any* training or additional documentation for it is purely out of the generousity of my heart, it's not my job since I don't work for HP. "

Sound of large buzzer going off........

Carrie, you're (maybe) wrong.  If you're selling a turnkey package (i.e. hardware and software) then you most certainly could be responsible for documenting all this stuff.  If the only way to use your product is to use this editor, then the editor may be your responsibility.

I do customer support (only as a sideline now) but can tell you that if you specify the HW and SW, there's a pretty good chance this IS up to you.
schlabnotnik Send private email
Monday, June 01, 2009
 
 
I disagree, somewhat.  The product we sell runs on Windows and requires SQL Server, but we do not consider ourselves beholden to our clients to provide instruction on either of those products.

We can and do work with them on the setup & configuration of SQL Server, but have punt-points where we tell them they need to talk to Microsoft - backups, for instance.  We'll provide basic instruction and an initial setup, but they're told they need to get training so they can do it for themselves.  The customers who've ignored this , and there have been a couple, pay straight-up consulting rates, no discount, if we have to recover their systems for them.  Maybe it's economically justifiable for them, but it's a no-value-added activity for us.

At some point, and I've gotten in trouble for saying this before, people have to know something about the tools they use.  Otherwise you end up like this person:
 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/bradford/7962212.stm
a former big-fiver Send private email
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
 
 
+1 big fiver,  exactly the case.

They don't need the editor to use our software.  What we've sold them is "legacy" software that's a few decades old (it was new when they bought it, they've had it for 30 years).  At that time it was fairly standard in mini-computer (now called enterprise) applications to provide the customer with the source code.  And training on how to modify it if they wanted to.  (With a nicely worded contract about what to do if they totally hose it up and we have to come bail them out, of course!)  Back then many companies hired in-house programmers to support this kind of software, although I'm noticing that these days the people that get hired barely know a computer from a televistion set. 

So this is the scenario that I'm dealing with.  We provided him with the production system which is all he really needs, but also the source code and the dev environment in case he wants to muck with it.  But they do NOT need to.  We will happily do all customizations for them.

And yeah.  We need to dump this business model asap.  It's a support nightmare.
carrie cobo1 Send private email
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
 
 

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