When is it Time to Fire Your Customers?

I’m a huge advocate in the idea that providing excellent customer services doesn’t mean that you unconditionally tolerate customer behavior ranging from abusive to, in some cases, laziness.  I certainly believe a line exists that customers can cross where it’s no longer mutually beneficial to continue your partnership with them, but identifying where that line is can be a hazard in and of itself.  Below, I’ve outlined a few times when I’ve felt compelled to “fire” customers:

1. Their use case represents a hazard to themselves, their users, or the reputation of our product.

Working on a customer’s site a few years ago, we noticed they were using Ninja Forms to store (not process) the users name, credit card information, and address.  We warned this user that this was incredibly dangerous (they were storing these in plain text), not PCI compliant and likely in violation of their merchant agreement, and they replied that they would look into an alternative solution.

A month later, this same user returned with another issue and we found they had added the users birthday, mothers maiden name, SSN and more to the still present credit card fields.  Their excuse was that this site was for managing instrument rentals online and they needed this data to submit to the credit bureau if instruments were not returned.  Since we had already warned the user about the dangers of what they were doing and continuing support for them would mean that we were complicit in their actions, we immediately revoked their product licenses.  After all, we could no longer continue to support their use case, and support and updates are what they were paying us for.

The user was outraged, they stated that we had no right to tell them what they could and couldn’t use our product for after they had made the purchase.  I politely pointed them to our terms and conditions (which state we can revoke a license for any reason), pointed out to them again how dangerous their use case was for them, their clients, and their users, and that we had already warned them that this wasn’t a use case we would support.

To protect ourselves (imagine the potential headline if the users site is breached and Ninja Forms was used to hold all of this sensitive data), this customer’s client, and their client’s users, we did the only thing that we could.

2. They refuse to help themselves no matter what resources are provided

These are the users who open a ticket with credentials to their site, describe your use case, and demand that you set it up for them.

To be honest, we indulge these users a fair amount.  Everyone gets the benefit of the doubt the first few times.  If the use case is simple enough, we’ll often make the changes for them (usually accompanied with screenshots or a short video of how to make those changes) and provide the user with a link to the documentation for the feature.

In once instance about a year ago, a user was having an issue with one of our addons.  We answered 20 tickets from this user in the span of one month.  One of those tickets was a minor bug, but the other 19 questions from the user were all clearly answered in our documentation which was linked in every single response to the user.

On ticket 21, we informed the user that we were happy for their business, but that the cost of supporting them at this point significantly exceeded the price they paid for the addon and that continued support requests for questions already answered in the documentation would ultimately result in us needing to terminate our support agreement and provide a refund.

3. Insulting our product or support team

As in the screenshot at the top of this article, I don’t take berating my support team lightly.  If a user is frustrated, that’s one thing.  If they take out their frustration on my team by calling us “total idiots” or any other similarly colorful phrase, depending on how egregious the violation they might get one warning, or their next reply from our team might be their last.

We’ve had a handful of users over the years who have crossed this line.  In one circumstance it was so bad that they took to Twitter to personally call out, every few hours for a several days, how terrible our product and support were.  I think they assumed that this would get them better service, but we feel that if you hate our product that much that you deserve a refund so you can find something that better meets your needs.

Interestingly, through a customer service workers community that I’m a part of (shout out to the Support Driven community!) I learned that this individual in particular was known by four other companies and did the same thing to them.  Firing that customer honestly felt good.  He continued to berate us on social media for some time for revoking his licenses and providing the refund, but since he was already doing this anyway there was no downside for us there.

4. Threatening with bad reviews, BBB complaints, or lawsuits

This is a one way ticket to license revocation.  The instant someone mentions starting legal proceedings against us, we immediately end our partnership with them, including their support agreement and revoking their licenses.  Since this inevitable further angers the user who has threatened us, the next reply they get will be from our companies lawyer, who has access to our support system as well.  In every case so far, this has ended the dispute rather quickly.

There’s no need to be afraid to do this, either.  In fact, this is industry standard practice for customer service at most organizations.  When I worked in call centers, every time a user threatened any kind of legal action against our company the only reply I was permitted to give was “Please hold for our legal department” when I would pass the call straight to them.

Threatening lawsuits is no joke and should not be treated lightly.  There are only two reasons to do this: Users think the threat will get them better service (I have a hard stance against rewarding threatening behavior with a faster response) or they are serious.  In either situation, this is not a customer you want to continue partnering with.

Similarly, when users threaten with bad reviews we politely let them know that we are looking into their request but that threats against us or our support team aren’t going to expedite the process for them, and that (if anything) they likely disincline us to help them.  Most of the time, these users will apologize to our team for lashing out from their frustration.  Sometimes, though, they double down on their threats.  In our experience these users are likely to leave a bad review anyway and even if they do have very small circles of influence (threatening others to get your way doesn’t lend itself to large circles of influence, after all) and they usually end up fired.

Those are my metrics for knowing when it’s time to fire a user. Let me know in the comments (or on Facebook and Twitter) what yours are!  Tomorrow I’ll post about the “how” of firing users to try and ensure minimal backlash especially from those deeply vested in your product.

The Attitude Guaranteed to Improve Your Customer Service

There is a trap that everyone who works in customer service/support falls into at least a few times in their career (if not more often).  The sad truth is that some customer service “professionals” live in this trap, in perpetuity, leading to poor customer experiences as well as their own burnout.

The attitude that customers are idiots is a slow killing poison and given enough time will dismantle from within even some of the best companies, products, or services.  All too often when users come to us for help, their needs are painfully simple.  It’s tempting to ask “Did you even read the documentation?” or “What do you think the giant button labelled (insert feature here) is for!?”  These requests can be common and mind numbing for those who answer them day after day.  It’s easy to forget how foreign these products or services were when we first started using them.

For this reason, I’ve chosen to approach every support ticket with this thought in mind:  “Whatever this user is coming to me for help with, it’s our/my fault.”

That single thought has the potential to revolutionize the level of support you provide to your users, but it’s also incredibly difficult to adopt on a regular basis.  It’s difficult to learn to point the blame inward instead of outward.  It goes against our very nature as human beings.

That really obvious, easy to use feature that that’s confusing them?  SOMETHING in that feature is not as obvious or easy to use as you think.  Respond as if experience with the product has blinded you to this reality, and after providing assistance to the user go ahead and ask what, if anything, would have helped them in the product without them needing to contact you.

Users who don’t understand your product because they’ve not read documentation?  Where is your documentation?  Do you link to it from within your product in the places where it might be most relevant (this is a project we’re working on for Ninja Forms right now).  How clearly written is your documentation?  Is it just a list of features in your product or what they do, or is it written as a clear, guided solution to whatever your users most common problem is?

In the end, users are contacting you because there is a problem you have the power to correct:

  1. The product UI/UX isn’t as friendly as it could be
  2. Documentation is hard to find or unclear
  3. Marketing copy for the product is unclear or accidentally misleading
  4. A bug or appearance of a bug in your product

If we aren’t willing to concede that there is ALWAYS something we can do better in our products or in our documentation, our ability to innovate is vastly undermined.

The good news here is that your support interactions are an absolutely treasure trove of data on who your users are, how they’re using your products, and what their needs are!  As a product or service owner, these are the most valuable data points you can have to grow your product or business.  To do so, however, requires a great deal of humility and self-awareness.

Here’s my challenge for you this week…answer every support interaction from this position of humility.  Recognize that for this user to come and ask for your help that you’ve let them down in some way before this point, and make a list through your day of the ways you could have stopped that user from ever needing to contact you.  You’ll likely learn a few not-so-surprising things about your product or service…but I’d be willing to bet you’ll learn a great deal that wasn’t already on your list as well.

Ask Your Users These Three Questions to Improve Your Customer Support

Almost daily I come across at least one support request from a user that reads the way Miss Teen South Carolina answers this question:

It’s always frustrating for me not because I’m bothered, but because more often than not this kind of request means this user is likely to get frustrated with me for the increased time it’s going to take to figure out what their issue actually is and get it resolved for them.

I’ve always encouraged our support team to ask three questions, and recently we just went ahead and added these questions to our support form and we’ve already noticed a decrease in our RPR (Replies per Resolve) stat, meaning users requests are getting answered faster our overall customer satisfaction has increased.

When you encounter the issue, what specific actions are you taking? – What is the user interacting with?  What page are they on?  What button/link are they clicking?  Which tools, specifically, are they interacting with?  The number of support requests we get where users tell us something is broke but not what or where they’re seeing the issue is pretty frustrating…but the reality is that most users simply aren’t aware how the extra context can help in troubleshooting their issue.  Asking them for it up front makes the experience better for everyone.

After taking those actions, what are you expecting to happen? – What is the outcome the user is looking for?  This question is especially useful in determining how well the user understands how the product works, including whether it is appropriate to send the user documentation on how to achieve their goal, or even whether or not their goal is something your product is designed to do.  For the latter, these can also reveal some pretty interesting feature requests or improvements for the product, so as far as we are concerned this question is a double win.

What is happening instead of your expected outcome? – Here’s where you’ll get the meat of your response.  What is broken?  Is the user getting an error message?  This question can also help you find potential breaks, misses, or confusion in the design/UX of your product.  Simply put, this is the question that helps you understand what in your product or service doesn’t meet the customers expectations.  Sometimes it’s a bug, sometimes it’s a feature request, and sometimes it just means we have more room to create clarity for the user and their experience with our product.

If you don’t want to add these questions directly into your support flow, they can help in other ways as well.  As an example, we’ve just implemented a policy at Ninja Forms where our support techs are required to restate these questions with answers in their own words before escalating to our development team.

It’s also not a bad practice to make sure that before sending any kind of a response to the user you can answer these questions regarding their issue.  If you can’t, it’s likely you’ll end up wasting a response or two while you figure out the root of the users issue.

I’ve seen some pretty great benefits from adopting these questions, but I’d love to hear if/how any of you are solving these issues in your support queue.  Leave a comment or hit me up on the contact page!

A Bias for Action – Avoid the Only True Failure

Working at Amazon was one of the coolest opportunities I’ve ever had.  I was only there about two and a half years, but my professional growth during that time was astounding.  I learned more about leadership, humility, and even life there than any other experiences I’ve had in my adult life.  Looking back, I can attribute most of the growth towards Amazon’s leadership principles.  I jumped in head first abiding by those principles, and now that I’m 3 years removed from Amazon I’m still all the better for knowing them.  Some ideas are just too good to shake off or unlearn.

The usefulness of the principles comes in cycles.  Sometimes you’ll exemplify some of them and be weak in others.  As you work out your weaknesses, you’ll inevitably realize you’re failing at another one along the journey.  For me, I tend to cycle through the list about once a year, consciously or not, while working to be better personally and professionally.

This time around the principle is a “Bias for Action.”  Amazon defines it thusly:

Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.

If you read my post from yesterday, this likely rings a bit familiar.  I’ve struggled a lot recently with just doing what needs to be done.  Frequently I get caught up in the planning more than anything:

  • Do I need to get into the gym?  Well then I better make sure I have the right gym bag, the right shoes, the right headphones, good gym shorts, etc.
  • Is it time to hone my writing skills with a professional blog?  I better waste three weeks trying to find the proper domain name.  I better spend two weeks getting all of the ideas I want to write in order.  I better research other blogging tools and calendars, tinker with Calypso and Gutenberg to make writing easier, etc.

At some point, though, you just have to start.  You have to have that “Bias for Action.”  Take a calculated risk!  Creating the perfect plan in most cases is a likely waste, especially when the benefit of starting even if you fail is still a better reward than never starting at all.  We learn more from failing, anyway.

For me, going to the gym at all, even if underprepared, is better than not going.  Starting to write something, even if it ends up being garbage, gives me the practice to write that killer post down the road.

Don’t be afraid of failing…after all, the only way to truly fail is to never start.

Sharing this post is a bad idea

Why do we so often fail to meet the goals we set for ourselves?

For a few years now I’ve REALLY wanted to blog. I’ve had so many ideas I’d love to flesh out in writing…to talk through and get feedback on. Blogging is something I’ve been really, really excited about! I’ve talked to others about how excited I was to start maintaining my blog regularly, asked for tips and tricks from really experienced bloggers in my space, evaluated tools, taken small courses on how to blog…I’ve done it all! All except blog, it seems. Check the dates on my last several blog posts…it’s embarrassing.

As an overweight individual, I’ve struggled with weight loss my entire life. I’ve read book after book on the best methods to achieve my goals. I’ve purchased memberships for gyms that I’ve never set foot in after the first week. I’ve purchased specialty meal programs only to binge on ice cream or something later in the day. I haven’t stuck with anything for more a year despite all of the steps I’ve taken…despite my motivations to be healthy for both my wife and daughters so that I can be present in their lives for as long as possible.

As one who loves to learn, I’ve purchased many courses to help teach me new things. I’ve started courses in development to learn JavaScript, PHP, C, database design and more. I’ve purchase courses on marketing to learn AdWords, Google Analytics, growth hacking, and other modern marketing techniques.

I have a shelf full of books on customer service to help fine tune my skills further. If there’s anything I can claim expertise at…customer service is my jam! Yet it’s been months since I’ve cracked one open and really dove in to grow myself.

Now, don’t get me wrong…I’ve read a lot of other books recently (in fact, I credit this blog post to some of them that I really want to talk about soon.) My point is that if I’m really honest with myself, I’m more enamored with the IDEA of learning than I am about learning itself at this point in my life. I’m more enamored with the IDEA of weight loss, blogging, and so many other goals I’ve created than I am with actually pursuing them.

I am, however, self aware enough to recognize it in myself. That, to me, is the best starting point one can have when pursuing life change…recognizing real imperfections where changes need to me made instead of superficial ones. My problem isn’t that I don’t blog enough, that I’m fat, or that I’m too dumb or distracted to learn. My problem is that I’ve failed to recognize for years that the value in changing all of these situations lies in the passion for the PURSUIT of them, not in the ideas or values themselves.

This is also backed by science. I feel like in the back of my mind I’ve always known this but at a business conference last year I had the honor of sitting in on a session led by my amazingly insightful friend Chris Lema. He talked specifically about when we purchase materials or courses to learn a new skill, that the purchase itself triggers the same pleasure center in our brain that actually learning the skill would.

Think about your own life…how many times have you bought a course and talked to friends about how excited you were to go through it, or bought a gym membership on January 1st, posted your New Years resolutions online to the cheer of your friends, only to give up by February? “Symbolic Self-completion” is the term coined by University of Texas at Austin professors Robert A. Wicklund and Peter M. Gpllwitzer. In a study conducted by the psychologists, they learned that those who keep their intentions private are significantly more likely to complete their goals than those who go public with their goals.

Their proposed explanation is rather simple. Telling others of your noble goals makes one FEEL noble. It increases one’s sense of self. Announcing the intention to lose weight makes one feel as if they’re already on that journey, even though in reality they’ve never started the journey at all! This results, paradoxically, in reducing ones’ desire to actually begin the journey while their ego feeds on the false narrative they’ve inadvertently created.

Sharing this blog post is a dumb idea if I want to meet the goals I’ve set for myself for all of the reasons stated above…but I’m going to do it anyway. Hopefully someone else comes across it and it helps them become self aware enough to realize where they’re broken. In my opinion, that’s the true first step of the journey.

And, after all…I did actually, finally write a new blog post. 🙂