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How to scare away your customers

I sent this a few months ago... Maybe I am being a bit too optimistic... it was a "never to be repeated, offer of the century, get it now!!" special, but such a draconian, unenthusiastic response from Dmitri in customer service did grate quite a bit though. I was reading some of Joel's newletters when it brought back the bad memory of this mail...

Hi Anish,

Thanks for your interest in CityDesk! Sorry, but the special offer is gone, and we cannot bring it back.

All the best,
-Dmitri

--
Customer Service
Fog Creek Software
http://www.fogcreek.com


-------Original Message--------
Date: Sun, 31 Aug 2003 09:39:43 +0200
To: <info@fogcreek.com>
Subject: Too late?!

Hi Joel

You're back and Fogcreek 2 has been released! For most, this is joy and celebration, but it also probably means that our opportunity to purchase 4 copies for our design team at the special upgrade price is over...

I had intended to purchase these copies at the upgrade price about 2 weeks ago, but our CEO was away on vacation until a few days ago - he finally approved our purchase on Friday. We are a small creative company based in South Africa and would love to use your software - we currently use Windows software, but due to content management requirements and costs (our exchange rate and different cost of living here), we have been considering moving to open source. My thinking is that City Desk could assist us with the content management component, especially now that the contributor edition exists (our clients could buy this version and use it for changing text on their websites designed by us)

Is there any chance that we could order the copies at the old upgrade price? This would hopefully be the start of a great future with City Desk for us and our clients.

Best Regards,
Anish.

Anish M
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Maybe this thread should be called "How to embarass Joel into coughing up some software at a discount price"? :)

Portabella
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Maybe you would have felt better if he dragged it out a couple of days while he 'checked with a manager' or 'try to arrange a special discount' before he told you that you were SOL...

RocketJeff
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

> before he told you that you were SOL

Yeah, the reality seems to be that your very-polite request was refused in a less-than-perfectly-polite way (IMO, objectionable mainly by its brevity).

Would "No" still be palatable if it had some extra sugar coating?

Portabella
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

What isn't nice about Dimitri's response? He said no, it looked polite to me - what did you not like about it? (other than the fact that the offer is no longer valid, of course).

Michael Kohne
Tuesday, November 04, 2003


Well, Joel can run his shop any way he sees fit, but I've certainly known stores that will "extend" an offer if a customer comes in and asks. It's called business. If you want the customer bad enough, you'll do whatever it takes.

I think that might have been the original posters point. Maybe not.

anon
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

I also know of people who habitually try to get more than they are offered, on the other side of the coin. 

Flamebait Sr.
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

I have to agree.  Although this post approach seems a bit heavy-handed,  it still doesn't hurt to ask.

B#
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

The request was reasonable.  The response was just as reasonable, and perfectly polite.  What's the problem here, beyond not getting what you wanted?

Hardware Guy
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

I also thought Dmitri's response was perfectly polite, if brief.

Sam Livingston-Gray
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

"such a draconian, unenthusiastic response"

I think those words do not mean what you think they mean.

Inconceivablish,
Philo <- inordinately proud of shoving two movie references in one word.

Philo
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

No objection to Dmitir's response there, but you're not the only one to find Fog Creek marketing a little strange.

I enquired a few months back about academic pricing for City Desk, and explained a little what I needed it for.

The reply that came back was "What a great idea for using City Desk; but sorry, we aren't going to sell it you because we only have academic pricing for the US"

Not exactly go-getting marketing!

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

I don't think Dmitri's response was polite.  How about an explanation WHY they can't bring it back.  They're a small company and can do whatever the hell they like.  They could give him the deal, if they really wanted to.  How about an offer to put them on some sort of mailing list to make sure they don't miss the opportunity next time around.  It's called customer service for a reason.

I think sometimes we JOS readers get a little jaded.  The fact of the matter is sometimes EVEN Fog Creek has problems. 

I don't think the OP's request was unreasonable and it deserved a better response that sorry buddy, your SOL.

shiggins
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Dmitri's response was fine. 

Support personnel don't have the time to spend handcrafting personalized responses to every customer.  A question was asked, an answer was given.  Would you have preferred if it took a week longer to get that answer because Dmitri was busy discussing lawn care and the health of family members with customers who asked the same question earlier than you? 

It's common for support personnel to keep prewritten answers to frequent questions so they can quickly copy & paste a response.  I wouldn't be surprised if that's what happened in this case.  Sure, handcrafted responses would be great, but that takes time and money. 

The nice thing about Dmitri's response is that it didn't contain the typical "Please direct future inquiries about this matter to our sales department." 

SomeBody
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Your email began with "it also probably means that our opportunity to purchase 4 copies for our design team at the special upgrade price is over". Why was it so grating to be told that you were correct?

From Websters:
draconian
Draconian code, or Draconian laws, a code of laws made by Draco. Their measures were so severe that they were said to be written in letters of blood; hence, any laws of excessive rigor.

Was his email written in letters of blood?

dj lupo
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Philo - I get the first movie reference ("Inconceivable!"), but what's the second (the "ish" suffix)?

Grumpy Old-Timer
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Somebody,

One sentence of further explanation would not break the bank.

"Support personnel don't have the time to spend handcrafting personalized responses to every customer." - Uh, that's what they are there for.

For some reason this topic just struck a chord with me.  It wasn't Dmitri's response, but the response of the JOS readers who were almost appalled that the OP didn't like the response. 

shiggins
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

GOT - "Heartbreakers." Underrated movie, IMO.

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Thanks, I will add that to my NetFlix queue immediatelyish...

Grumpy Old-Timer
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

>>"Support personnel don't have the time to spend handcrafting personalized responses to every customer." - Uh, that's what they are there for.

No, they are there to respond to customers (and potential customer, depending on the business).

_Sometimes_ this involves handcrafting a personalized response.  And other times all that's needed is a canned response.  The trick is knowing when each is appropriate.

In this case, a polite canned response was appropriate - and that's what was done.

RocketJeff
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

"Support personnel don't have the time to spend handcrafting personalized responses to every customer."

That's BS. As mentioned before, that's what they're there for. If not, then kick it up to a sales guy to deal with.

Maybe Joel should outsource support to India so they do have time to give 2 minutes of personalized time to a customer.

pdq
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Why are you all presumng Dmitir's reply was a canned reply. And what on earth would you want him to say anyway?

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

"How to scare away people who don't want to pay your prices anyway, so they write a long-winded sob story and then bad-mouth you when you don't take the bait"

dj lupo
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

> And what on earth would you want him to say anyway?

In some places, it would be something like this:

"Dear Anish,

Thanks for your interest in CityDesk.

Unfortunately our special offer has expired.

Please contact our sales team if we can be of further assistance with your project in the future.

Best of luck,

Dmitri
FogCreek Support"

I literally learned to speak this as a Foreign Language :) And after a while, you can speak it with your brain on Idle.

Now, you and I know that this *means* exactly the same thing, but saying it differently is important to Some People.

Portabella
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

>>
Please contact our sales team if we can be of further assistance with your project in the future.
<<

This is exactly the sort of thing I *hate* to see in a support response.  It essentially says to me "you've used up your free question, please give us money now if you expect anything more."

SomeBody
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

-- This is exactly the sort of thing I *hate* to see in a support response.  It essentially says to me "you've used up your free question, please give us money now if you expect anything more."

Geeks are from Mars, customers are from Jupiter (cuz they get "More Stupider" :)

Mr Obnoxious Man
Tuesday, November 04, 2003


I find this entire topic _so_ surreal.

Leonardo Herrera
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

"They're a small company and can do whatever the hell they like."

They could give away CityDesk for free, too.  Why don't you ask for that?

Jim Rankin
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Dmitri's response was perfectly polite, reasonable, and in some ways ideal.

What you should have done -- knowing that your CEO wasn't going to be able to approve the purchase in time to get the special price -- was to write in BEFORE the deadline and explain your situation, giving a specific date by which you expected to have approval. Then FC would have the opportunity to hold the door for you, but the deal would have expired if you did not get the approval on the date you expected.

Sometimes the store has a sale on "Moose Tracks" ice cream -- 2 for 1. If I go in the week after the special, they don't give me the special price either. Them's the breaks.

Dennis Atkins
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

^

Yes, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't have given you the special price.  Or that they wouldn't if you had asked.

Besides, a grocery store is a much different case.  They have many commodities on sale besides ice cream, and so that one commodity special isn't necessarily the only point of satisfaction for a customer.

But in this case, it's boolean:  either you get the customer, or you blow him off over a "special" and risk never seeing him again.

What does the latter cost Fog Creek, as a business?

Well, I would wager far more than the discount on the special.  Because losing a customer now, for one of your only products, also likely means losing his upgrade revenues for the next N versions.

I don't think this was an empty phrase:

"This would hopefully be the start of a great future with City Desk for us and our clients."

After all, the point of a special isn't just to be "nice" to people.  One cannot continue the special _forever_, or its integrity is compromised, but to turn away an obviously interested customer for violating a (mostly arbitrary) time limit is ridiculous.

it_ranter
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

He wasn't "turned away". His request to haggle was turned down, far as I can see.

And the time limit wasn't arbitrary - the special ended the day 2.0 was released, makes sense to me.

Why so bitter?

And lastly, if this feller was so intent on making lots of purchases in the future, why was he so loathe to pay full price on his very first purchase?

Bickering on message boards is fun :)

dj lupo
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Well, if he gets the special price 2 weeks after the special ended, then I want a special price too because my cat was sick and I was unable to leave the poor thing's side.

Person With Sick Cat
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Who's selling what now?

Guy Incognito
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

My ideas:

Fog Creek ran a "special" in order to tip those who could be "evangelists" for CityDesk over the decision to buy *any* version by a one-time-only upgrade special on the personal/low end version. This group would consist of those who, like me, lurk here and have no real life. ;-) This was probably a strategic and marketing decision, and by imposing a time limit established some urgency. (it worked with me!) This is a time tested sales technique. Yes, it's kind of a gimmick. And it works.

Fog Creek probably really and truly does want to get $300 per copy for the professional version over the longer haul, and can't justify selling the product at $80.

Fog Creek now probably does not wish to be unfair to either the group of "early adopters" who took up the one time offer, as well as those who willingly pay the full published price now to buy the professional version. Making exceptions on request is not only unfair to earlier buyers but erodes their revenue base. Every sale becomes a negotiation.

I thought the response of the support guy was appropriate. It could have been softer or had more explanation with it, but it still comes down to "no"... Perhaps Fog Creek needs to draft a boilerplate response to such inquiries that covers these issues.

Then again, maybe not. The more you explain, the more some people whine.

Bored Bystander
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Shouldn't this thread be called "How to scare away customers from a company I had a bad customer service experience with" ?

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Not every sale generates a profit. For example, any profit from a sale to a person who is unusually depressed can quickly be eroded by the large number of unusual support requests the sale generates.

Economist
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

"He wasn't "turned away". His request to haggle was turned down, far as I can see. "

Yes he was.  If you deny someone an incentive, you're discouraging them from buying.

Sales is touchy-feely like that.  Negative feedback is not taken well by customers, because you're basically flattening their assumptions.  Especially feedback like the above; if you haven't noticed, he's still a little irked by it (hence the thread).

Besides, he pretty much said the upgrade pricing was his opportunity to buy.  Maybe that was just a bluff, but still...:)

"And lastly, if this feller was so intent on making lots of purchases in the future, why was he so loathe to pay full price on his very first purchase?"

I didn't say he was intent on making lots of purchases in the future.  I said (or at least tried to say) that the purchase was part of an ongoing relationship with Fog Creek.  Whether he makes more purchases in the future is based in a two-way relationship; Fog Creek selling, and him wanting to buy.

But where this one is concerned, it gets him in the door.  It begins the relationship with the customer, and provides the basis for future sales.

Does Fog Creek make less off this sale with the discount?  Sure.  But they have an "in" for future sales on upgrades.  And probably on word-of-mouth referrals.

Anyway, as to making sales into negotiations--well, tough.  It's a cost of doing business.  It's a little extreme to say that _all_ sales will become negotiations, because we're basically talking about stragglers here--the special just drops from view after it expires; it's unlikely that people would write to FC in a year asking for the special.

Is the implication that software companies on the 'net are somehow excluded from the normal travails of customer service, including unreasonable (stupid!) people who miss time limits yet still have money in their wallets?  For shame! :)

it_ranter
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

1. Dmitry's message could've been more polite. It's OK, but could've been better. (It can *always* be better.)

2. How many of these kinds of inquiries for this particular sale, at this particular time, did Fog Creek get? They're small enough where a little flexibility could've been shown. They're not a corporate behemoth like IBM.

3. The original poster would've been a bigger potential customer *in the future* if the person had gotten the deal rather than being turned down.

Folks, a sale is a sale. And customers need to be cared for sometimes -- even if they're technically wrong. But we're not machines dealing with each other in zeros and ones. I'm not saying that Fog Creek should take it up the a**, but this is a clear case where a little flexibility could go a long way.

I have a personal saying which I think is relevant here: Be fractionally better than the masses and you'll achieve exponential results.

Yoav
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

"Support personnel don't have the time to spend handcrafting personalized responses to every customer."

Too f**king busy shouldn't be in support personnel's vocabulary.

Hey Philo, I can do the movie references too  :)
(Change "support personnel" to "waitress")

Run To The Hills
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

93 - 95
Cert & Assoc Dip Applied Science
TAFE Western Australia

95+
On the job(s).

Jack of all
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Now how the hell did I get here?

Jack of all
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

I join Dennis Atkins when he says, that you should have contacted Fog Creek before, while offer was valid and ask them to wait until your boss gives an approval.

Anish, I believe that posting Dmitri's reply here adding your comments, that have to trick us into certain attitude is wrong. It might cost Dmitri his job if he had a bad manager, wherever he is right or wrong.

I've personally been in situation, when someone who was perfectly reasonably turned down by our HR department found my comment in online forum (as a team leader), that we do need new workers at the moment and sent it to executive director of the company, stating: that he was cheated, because company needs people and he was turned down. It costed me an earned three month bonus and gave good lesson.

I hope that you didn't plan a "revenge" to Dmitri for his perfectly legitimate, short and valid answer, didn't you?

I hate companies answering: "We are very sorry for any inconvinience, but, unfortunately, due to existent company's policies and standards we have to reject your application.

After a carefull consideration we may offer you 4 licenses of our flagmanship product ApplesGreen for standard price of $8939.

Please feel free to contact our customer support department should you have further questions.

Best wishes,
John Smith
Forth Sr. Support Machine Operator

-----------------------
Unless otherwise agreed expressly in writing by a manager or director of ApplesGreen, this communication is to be treated as confidential and the information in it may not be used or disclosed except for the purpose for which it has been sent. If you have reason to believe that you are not the intended recipient of this communication, please contact the sender immediately.

Any views which expressed in this e-mail are solely the personal opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of  Apples Green."

Would be such reply better? No.

And last thing, as far as I know South Africa is economically developed country, so the "being poor little ship" argument doesn't work.

Vlad Gudim
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Here's another reason that Fog Creek probably "needs" to show less flexibility than other companies in the same situation: ANY deviation from their formal pricing policy will get discussed to death here. If there weren't a message board like this, I could see Fog Creek making individual exceptions. Here, it would create a huge fight because invariably those who followed the policy would run into those who were cut a break.

This isn't a "normal" product or company. No other product company I know of has a general discussion board attached to its web sites.

Bored Bystander
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Some people equate terseness with snobbishness, or even disdane.  It can come accross as though you were being barked at, or that they don't have enough time for you to give you time of day.  I think most people addicted to electronic communication don't even regester it, Hell we put up with people who seem to take 5 minutes to respond to each IM message.  But if you got a letter in the mail from your cable company that looked like that you'd probably think 'same to you, jerk'

Keith Wright
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

"This isn't a "normal" product or company. No other product company I know of has a general discussion board attached to its web sites."

Most games companies do these days.

Sum Dum Gai
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

There's something about very terse e-mail messages that makes it seem that the writer is being rude.  I'm particularly distressed by replies that contain no salutation, no signature, and just a one-sentence answer.

That having been said, I don' t see anything particularly wrong about Dmitri's message.  It seems fairly reasonable to me.  At least he replied -- in most cases, you never get an answer at all.

J. D. Trollinger
Thursday, November 06, 2003

Every company has a right to use a pricing strategy that is appropriate for its customer base. The Microsoft versus Open Source debate proves that.

Fortunately, much of the world doesn't work this way, and I am loathe to support a company (or sales staff) that cannot identify a win-win situation. Our own customer service understands this. Is the customer always right? Or can companies afford to be arrogant?

Hasn't Joel lost a few more sales, whatever the price... 

Anish M
Thursday, November 06, 2003

Anish,

It sounds like the software doesn't work for you at the price it is sold at -- you are not finding the price would be worth the amount of work you would save by buying it. That established, the logical thing to do would be to look into some other product which suits your needs better. Or if there is none, it may be an excellent opportunity for your firm to create a new product to fill in the niche! I know that I would be interested in purchasing a stable clone of CD with additional features from you if it was only $19 or such or pehraps you could release it as open-source shareware. I believe there is a tremendous need for an open-source freeware or shareware (less than $20) clone of CD -- it's a tremenodous opportunity for your capable firm to fill this niche.

Got Lemons? Make Lemonade!
Thursday, November 06, 2003

I still believe, that Dmitri was polite and really straight forward. He didn't give any unnessecary information. Anish, from your Email its clear that you knew the situation and rules.

Joel explicitly stated on his web site that the offer will be gone, and when its gone - its gone.

Many companies would say to you the same thing twice and we all used to be "baby sitted". But if Fog Creek gave you a discount in this situation it would be unfair to  everyone else.  To us, customers.

Everyone has an excuse to recieve a copy cheaper, but Fog Creek is not obliged to provide you with cheap software.

You're grown up and smart guy, what's why Dmitri made an respectful assumption, that you can understand why you've been rejected.

As I see it, Fog Creek doesn't try to "sell" you things, they want people to decide whatever they want to buy the product themselves. What's why, I hope, Dmitri didn't make any attempts to "push" the package on a full price, but simply replied to your question, trying not to waste your time.

You asked him, if you can have cheaper copy, he said: "Sorry, no, you can't."

And now you come to the company's forum and try to envolve us on your side. Its wrong, gentelmen do not do such things. It looks exactly like you want us to  jugde Dmitri and make Joel or other manager to punish him for his excellent job.

I believe, you shouldn't even send his reply here, as its private and is not intended for anyone else's eyes.

Vlad Gudim
Friday, November 07, 2003

Yeah, it would be "unfair" if the original poster got an extention on the deal. But companies do this kind of thing all the time.

- They say that the guy sitting next to you on an airplane did not pay the same amount for his ticket as you did.
- Microsoft, in order to keep large customers, routinely negotiates better deals. See Munich (even though they lost)....

I could go on.... Let's not be naive here. "You don't get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate." :)

Chi Lambda
Friday, November 07, 2003

Chi Lambda, true. But in this case he is trying to appeal to the same offer and actually failed to give enough arguments why their company is different (in the eyes of Fog Creek).

Had he asked for 50 licences it would have been totally different scenario.

Anyway, negotiations are private and normally should not be disclosed to any third parties prior to both sides consent regardless of their outcome.

Vlad Gudim
Monday, November 10, 2003

> Anyway, negotiations are private and normally should not be disclosed to any third parties prior to both sides consent regardless of their outcome.

Why?

It sounds like a perfectly legitimate tactic to me, although it doesn't seem to have worked.

In the business world, people discuss, hint, etc at negotiations all the time. If you buy a house, for example, that's part of the game.

Portabella
Monday, November 10, 2003

Portabella, well, you're right. But in this case it didn't look right to me.

Vlad Gudim
Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Portabella - Wait, I'm confused - let's say you want to buy a house, but the price is too high for you, so you try to negotiate for a special price that is no longer being offered, and when you aren't given that price, you post your private email negotiations on a highly trafficked web forum in bitter, pointless retaliation.

That's "a perfectly legitimate tactic"? What business school did you go to?? (And for that matter, what business school did Anish go to?)

dj lupo
Tuesday, November 11, 2003

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