Sunday, January 13, 2008

Thank You for Complaining.

I wrote a semi-famous web comic creator recently, after reading his strip for years. I'd written him a couple years ago, telling him I liked the strip, but, I said in this latest message, I felt his strip had lost its heart recently, and I told him specifically what it was that I thought caused the change.

I ended with this:

I'm sorry to just write to you and complain -- I know you put a huge amount of effort into the strip, and obviously I read it every day, and enjoy it. I've written you before as an unadulterated fan, so now I feel like maybe it's ok to write you as a freelance critic.

As always, I recognize you are a famous cartoonist and I am not, so I expect my comments to be placed in an appropriate context.

His replay was scathing, asking why I'd bothered to write him, since I was clearly not going to change the strip, and thus must be intending only to hurt him, and told me my account with him was "heavily overdrawn." (?) He invited me to post on his fan forums so that his supporters could tear me a new one, which I declined to do.


I thought about this interaction with regards to my own business. I must honestly say that, yes, when people write me to tell me I have disappointed them, there is a part of me that gets all ruffled up. And if a customer is rude on top of that, it's often very tough to bite my tongue and just politely say, "I am so sorry you aren't satisfied, please let me refund your money."

But I do so. Not because I am a saint, or because you are the Customer -- I do so because I realize that when you take the time to complain to me, you are paying me an incredible compliment. I believe you have better things to do with your time than try to make me feel bad. You are complaining because you want to like my software, but something got in your way. And you're trying to help me get rid of that thing. Trying to make my product better, so you can give me money.

When you think of it that way, it's a hell of a nice thing you are doing. Go you!

Of course, sometimes my honest answer has to be: I'm sorry, the software I'm writing isn't really intended to do everything, and what you're asking for is outside of my focus. Or, sometimes I have to say: I'm sorry, you are really the only person who has asked for this, and my gut feeling is that it's not a feature that'd be popular, and there are only two programmers here -- and, who knows, after MacWorld maybe Mike Lee will be on the iPhone team with all my other ex-employees and there will only be one. (Joke!)

But you should know that the top five new features in Delicious Library 2, the REALLY BIG features, the ones that won us the ONLY Apple Design Award EVER given to a beta piece of software (have I mentioned that before?) -- those were your ideas. They are literally our top five requests from you. We collate each piece of mail we receive and keep running scores.

I thank you for that. And I thank you for every complaint you send us. Some we can just solve by explaining something that wasn't clear -- and we learn to make that clearer in the future. Some we can patch in a future release. Some we can't fix, and we'll give you your money back. But, no matter what, in the end we have more happy customers AND fewer unhappy ones, and that's the basis of our business.

It's not just that I get an altruistic thrill out of making people happy: it's that satisfied customers have made both of my software companies very successful. It's always been our theory that the only advertising we really NEED is happy customers, and over the past 17 years of business, I think we've proven that theory.

So thank you for complaining. And -- as much as Mike (and now Terry, our new support gal) will hate me for it -- please keep it up. Please send us your feedback. We'll try very hard to make you happy.

That's our job, and we work for you.