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My Question is “You Suck”

Some help with handling those support questions that aren’t questions, and reviews that should have been support questions.

If you’ve ever watched Survivor, they have a Tribal Council at the end of each episode, where they discuss things and decide who to vote off the island. In the grand finale, however, they instead discuss whom to give the million dollars. Every previously voted off tribe member gets a chance to ask the two (or three) finalists a question. Miss Alli, from the classic days of Television Without Pity, used to love/hate when someone would step up and use their time to shout, insult, or otherwise berate the finalists. She called that “My Question is you suck.”

Whenever you do support, you will invariably run into people who act exactly like that. If I had a dollar for every time someone left a support ticket with “This sucks!” I wouldn’t need to work anymore. And those people are really annoying, because you want to reply “Well thanks, and over here in the constructive world…” but you absolutely cannot engage them. As the Survivor yahoos quickly learned, feeding the fuel for someone who’s ranting is about as useful as keeping the rain off with those little paper umbrellas you get with fruity drinks.

My question is … this code is crap My question is … this code is crap

Something to keep in mind, Tech Support is not “Customer Service” per se. When someone needs tech support, while they totally need someone to be ‘nice’ to them, they really need someone to fix their problem. Customer Service is all about building a relationship with the customer, figuring out their needs and wants, and basically selling them something. On the other hand, tech support is being told “This is my problem, fix it.” While that certainly happens to people who work at hotel desks (“There’s no hot water…”) it’s the meat and milk of life for anyone who writes and/or maintains software.

To this end, you’re really not ‘servicing’ the customer, nor are you taking time to build a great rapport with them, you’re trying to fix what’s wrong. Certainly doing this provides a service to the customer, but making sure the person comes back (or stays) is often secondary. After all, if we can fix the problem, you’ll come back, right?

When someone just says ‘You suck’ or ‘Your code sucks’ there’s very little you can do about it, if they’re not willing to give you a concrete example of these things. I have, on occasion, replied “Patches welcome! I’m always happy to improve my work.” That’s pretty much the best I can do. When the reply is that I, personally, suck, then I hand it over to anyone else. There’s nothing I can do here, so it’s time to ask someone else to help me out.(If you’re the solo dev, it’s time to cut your losses, say that you’re sorry you can’t help them, and walk away.)

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My question is …. this plugin gets one star because it doesn’t work My question is …. this plugin gets one star because it doesn’t work

How Jaquith Reviews Code
Mark Jaquith Reviews Code. Credit Mark Jaquith

Everyone hates the ‘review that should have been a support question.’ Invariably we’ll get it. The plugin doesn’t work, screw you. And when we go back to look at the person’s post history, we see never once did they, in a place you can find, ask you ‘How do I make this work?’ It’s frustrating. Now you should keep in mind, on the WordPress.org forums, someone can change their star rating, so the best thing to do here is try and win them back. Kill ’em with a little kindness, point out ‘I would have seen this faster had you…’

But in general, this one is not to terrible to win back. Much of the time, someone who is this lost that they can only find the review location and not the right support places is someone who has a pretty easy to fix issue. Solve it and you’ve got a returning user. A smaller percentage of the time, alas, the problem is someone who really, truly, didn’t read what the plugin does. “This plugin for vegan resources sucks because there’s no bacon!” Not much you can do there except point out “This is by design.”

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My question is …. you don’t reply fast enough for me My question is …. you don’t reply fast enough for me

Today we expect, and often get, instant feedback. We have livechats, we have Twitter and Facebook. We reach out to the people who represent a company (or a TV Show), and we assume there will be some prompt reaction. This is no longer customer ‘service’ but ‘experience.’ The customer’s personal experience will color their feelings about both the product and the people behind it. It’s a large part of why I don’t think pure customer service exists any more, if it ever did, in software.

The problem comes in when you take a weekend off, or an afternoon, because you want to actually have, you know, some time with your family, or go to a movie. Maybe you were just asleep for eight consecutive hours. Either way, it was the worst time in the world for someone else, and they’ve left multiple requests for help. If you’ve ever worked in a ‘traditional’ office, these people are like the guy who emails you a long question, and then calls you and swings by your desk, after IMing you, to make sure you got the email.

In short, they hit every single ‘annoyance’ nerve in a person’s body, all at once, and they do it over and over and over. I tend to want to reach through the monitor and take away their caffeine for a couple days. But until someone invents that for me, I have a couple tactics.

For anything ‘free’ (like WordPress plugins) I tell them that this is a free product I write in my free time, and that means waiting a reasonable time for a reply means waiting 3-5 days, not 3-5 seconds. And then I answer their question as best I can. For the paid stuff, I point out that I missed their email because I had gone home for the day (or ‘had the weekend off’). Usually just that gentle reminder of “some people do work ‘normal’ hours still” gets them off their horse enough to work with. On the rare occasion it doesn’t(I’ve had people tell me that I’m too important to not be available 24/7, which is sweet, but no.) I’ve just ignored their unreasonable demands and concentrated on fixing the problem at hand.

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My question is … you don’t know what you’re talking about My question is … you don’t know what you’re talking about

You SuckFinally there’s the you suck hidden in a peculiar phrasing of basically “you aren’t good enough.” This is not the same as the outright “You suck.” because it’s actually a value judgement. It’s not a dismissive “You’re a meanie poopy head!” sort of claim, it’s a “Your code sucks!” And this sort of comment hurts a lot. People calling you names rarely have any basis to do so, and they’re rarely right. People calling into question your work, however, that cuts to the bone and tends to make us over react.

In defense of people who submit bug reports, much of the time this is not what they mean! Sometimes they say “I think you’re wrong because of XYZ” and it comes across as “You idiot, how could you not possibly know this!” I say this a lot, but text is a really lousy medium for communication of intent. Now. One thing the people who report the bugs really need to remember to do is say “Thank you” when the bug is fixed, or even “I appreciate you taking the time to explain to me why you won’t do XYZ.” Instead, most of what we get is someone saying “I told you! I was right and you were wrong!” I gotta tell you, that never really makes me want to work with you again.

But the real reason this one galls me is that it’s generally said to me after someone has specifically asked me for help on something of I’m somewhat of an expert (or talented tweaker). I’ve had people tell me I don’t know jack about WordPress (pretty sure that’s wrong), or pretty much anything else under the sun. That frustrates me, since you came over here asking me, admitedly a total stranger, for help, and when I gave it you snipped that I’m ignorant.

To these, I actually do point out “You know, you asked me for my help/opinion and I gave it. We can agree to disagree, but you don’t have to be mean about it, since that’s not a good way to get help from a free, volunteer, community.”

Unless of course you’ve hired me, at which point I refund most of your money and cancel the contract.

7 replies on “My Question is “You Suck””

Good post. From the customer side: it’s nice to finally reach a support person that knows something and can speak with authority. It’s also nice when the support person has an idea what the customer went through in “tiers” just to get to them. But it’s best when support makes the problem their own and engages the customer as if it’s a partnership puzzle that they WILL solve together. Thanks for the good support today, let’s solve this thing together!

Another great post, you hit the nail every time, thank you!

When I receive such questions, I try to remember that if the person made the effort to contact you/send you an email/leave a review, it probably means that they’re really interested in what you have to say. They might be rude, but it’s really not against you personally; they’re just really passionate about your product/plugin/service, they have strong feelings about it. I think that’s a good thing, even if they’re insulting you. 🙂

If you don’t present support expectations to your clients they will not know what to expect.

I see this quite a lot with part time developers and start-ups.
You think you are being sly in not telling your client you are lightly staffed on Sunday, when in actuality all you are doing it is angering them when they send you a support request on Sunday, then on Monday answering with, “oh, we must have missed your question- I’m so sorry…”

Honesty with your clients is paramount.
While I usually reply to support requests within 15 minutes pretty much 24/7, 365 (even on xMas), there will be times when we are lightly staffed. In those cases, I set my ticket system to reply appropriately, so client is aware that we are human too and not a bunch of droids, “We may be having Thanksgiving dinner with family today. We will reply back within two hours, yada yada.”

Just my 2 cents and food for thought…

Enjoy!
Jim Walker

Yes, be honest, but you have to realistically manage expectations too. The problem I see with the small start ups and such are that they work ‘all the time’ so there’s really no downtime where they may not answer tickets. In those cases, it would be good to say “We answer support tickets within X hours” and make X reasonable. “…36 hours on average” is a good start for a lot of people.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to say “We may be having Thanksgiving dinner with family today. We will reply back within two hours, yada yada.” however. That’s an unreasonable expectation to your clients that says “We are always here, and we don’t take a lot of time off.” Humans take days off. Whole days. To sleep, to go camping where there is no wifi, or just be with your family. “We are lightly staffed today, as it’s US Thanksgiving. Tickets may be answered more slowly than usual.” or “We are closed today due to US Holidays. We will respond to all tickets as soon as possible on Friday.”

Part of handling their expectations is being honest, and a massive part is understanding yourself. If you burn out, you’re not helping your clients at all.

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