This is a follow-up to my post from a couple of weeks back on The Perils of Making Customers Pay for Support. We’ve been getting some pretty interesting comments, and invariably, most arguments there seem to turn towards two interrelated premises:
a. Why should your nicer non-complaining customers be subsidizing the noisier ones?
b. Charging customers for supporting them deters stupid requests, or at least adds an ROI to servicing ID10T errors.
Interesting. This raises a whole new can of (quite unintended) worms – there is no reason you should be servicing those idiot customers, right? Let me start by breaking the suspense right away- I vehemently and completely disagree with the very notion of idiot customers, idiot support queries or idiot issues. And here’s why:
The problem with IDIOT errors and Stupid requests
Remember the old PC tech-support joke where a lady calls in about a problem with her cup holder? After a few troubleshooting steps, the support rep finally figures she’s been talking about her DVD drive all along. That’s just one of the thousands of hilarious “idiot” error examples from the last decade. In fact, the idiot error was once so famous, it goes by a whole bunch of names – user error, ID10T error, PICNIK (Problem in chair, not in keyboard), PEBKAC (Problem exists between keyboard and chair).
But wait a minute. Users can’t really be idiots… If I built something for you, and you’re not able to even get started with it, who do you think is the idiot?
Lucky for the rest of us, while the industry was coming up with witty acronyms, a few smart people, further south (and a logo that looked a lot like a fruit), started worrying about usability – building products for the people who eventually used them. Little click-wheels with tactile response replaced clumsy buttons on MP3 players. And that changed everything.
The biggest problem with the idea of user errors is it allows support teams to conveniently forget that they are in business because of their ability to solve very specific problems of a very specific customer.
There are no user errors. Your users aren’t here to learn, understand, feel and “engineer” your product. That’s your job. Your users come to you to get their problems fixed, and your success depends on your ability to solve it for them. If 80% of your customers think your DVD tray is a cup holder, it’s probably time you put one there!
But what about edge cases and feature request nightmares?
You create things and put it out in the market intending to change the way people look at something. Let’s say you just built the perfect 12 inch wooden ruler. It is art, made of strong-yet-soft wood. It is so precise, the International System of Units could use it to set dimension standards. You believed this would become every carpenter’s first love. Just that it’s found more love with truck drivers because it’s perfect to scratch their back with.
This is where most entrepreneurs meet their demons. Why are people using your product in a way that it is clearly not intended for? How do you support customers you never set out to have? This is so wrong. Perhaps you should just pull the plug on your entire operation.
Or you could embrace your new customer base, pivot, and win.
The deal with edge-cases is, sometimes, they open you up to that new market you never knew you could serve. If Airbnb had back-pedalled when people who had no intention of attending a conference wanted to couchsurf, they would’ve been extinct already.
Of course, if you had the entire carpenter community, and just a couple of truckers on board, you might be better off not supporting the back scratchers, but you’d never know unless you opened your eyes and support lines to those edge case users. There is a fine line between saying NO to a customer when you really have to, and just outright closing your doors to suggestions. It’s called common sense.
When you are new and trying to make a headway, edge cases and pivots are probably not a bad thing. Support every customer, listen to every request, and work on the most promising ones. Let a hundred flowers bloom – one might just be your chance for a $1B investment.
But what about all those Tantrum-i-zers?
Agreed, there are some customers who fall to the ground, and flail their hands and feet until you serve them. For the most basic of support issues at that. It’s probably something trivial. It may even be earth-shatteringly important for all it’s worth but after the fourth time around, you feel like punching through walls.
Now would be a good time to step away from those walls and put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Your customers definitely have more fun ways of spending their time than screaming at your support agents. So first, if your customers are actually taking the time and effort to get in touch with you, you should be genuinely glad that you’re so important to them.
And second, most customers actually feel bad to come to you with relatively “stupid” questions – like “how do I get this thing working”. After all, when was the last time you didn’t know something very basic and walked away feeling good?
At the end of the day, these handful of angry tantrumizers are helping you realize the ground realities affecting the larger majority of your customers. Better still – they are giving you an opportunity to build better products for your entire user base.
But.. but it couldn’t possibly be YOUR fault, could it?
At the end of the day, your customers have a choice – to choose you, or to walk away. And you have the choice – to either earn this customer, or not. But if you can’t solve the single problem of a single customer you tried so hard to acquire, you’ve failed. The idiocy is probably closer to home than you think…
After all, if your customers think your DVD tray is a cup holder, (a) your support hasn’t invested enough on evangelizing the DVD tray, (b) your marketing isn’t really targeting the right users for your culture, and (c ) your product management seriously needs to consider putting a cup holder on the cabinet!
PS: If you still worry about idiot customers, see how a stupid support issue at 2 a.m. made Ron Burley’s Broadcast Software into the company it is today.