It’s Not You, It’s Me

Here’s some feedback I got during the turbulent days after the release of Poker Copilot 2.

taxicabmetal, a blog commenter wrote:

I would like to reiterate that your customer service and dedication to your product is top notch.

Loyal customer Jon wrote:

I recommend your product to others based on your customer service being ridiculously good.

Nice words to hear, but I believe I don’t have a choice. Small software companies – and especially one-person companies – need to give great customer service.

As a university student in sunny Perth, Australia I got a dream part-time job in a computer shop. Maybe not a dream job for all, but for a geeky computer science student, this job rocked. When parents visited the shop to buy their little Tommy a computer game for his birthday, I was the go-to guy. Which meant I had to play all the latest computer games on our shelves to make sure I made the right recommendations. I also got computer equipment for myself at cost price. It was pretty darn cosy, this job.

One quiet weekday morning only the boss and I were in, and he needed to go out to either do some banking or visit his mistress. I believe one was an euphemism for the other. While he was gone, a potential customer from a large Australian building materials company rang. He wanted to buy an ink jet printer. In those days ink jet printers were new, nifty, and way expensive compared to today’s “the cost of an ink cartridge” models. Therefore he needed three quotes first and wanted a quote faxed to him.

I wrote the quote and sent him the fax. He called a week later, and bought the printer from us. A week later one of his colleagues also bought one from us. Then another did. And so on, for many months. Naturally they needed to buy overpriced ink cartridges from us too.

I asked the original customer why we got the sale. He told me that I was the only one who sent the requested fax. Being young and naive, I didn’t know the correct behaviour in our industry was to promise to send a quote and then not do it. I was innocent enough to think that agreeing to do something and then actually doing it was how things worked.

Eventually our competitors from those days, with their customer disregard, all went out of business. So did the company I worked for, which destroys the point of the story… Nevertheless, I believe strongly that listening to customers, often agreeing to do what they ask, then actually doing it is a killer strategy for winning loyal customers.

Which brings me to my present enterprise, Poker Copilot, a one-person software company. An advantage of extremely small companies is that we can leave big companies for dead when it comes to customer support. When customers have a problem, a complaint, or a suggestion, they don’t find themselves being ‘helped’ by an outsourced and inappropriately-named ‘customer service’ team. They find themselves communicating directly with the software designer, head developer, founder, and boss all at once.

A good winning business strategy is finding your advantages and working them as hard as you can. And when that advantage is that customers have a direct line to the person who actually does all the stuff, great customer support is key. This is a decision I made at the start.

Here’s my customer support strategy in concrete terms:

  • 24 hour response time. Respond to all support e-mails with 24 hours (I sometimes fail on this count. But rarely.) And not merely a “we acknowledge your e-mail” type of response, but a real response that tries to address the problem.
  • Make it real easy to contact me. Customers have three ways of contacting me. They don’t have to click through a ton of web pages just to find a support e-mail address.
  • “It’s Not You, It’s Me.” Until proven otherwise, always assume at first that the problem lies with Poker Copilot and not the customer or with other software.
  • No matter what tone people write in, whether angry, insulting, demanding, respond how I would like to be treated myself.
  • Always err on the side of the customer.

Yes, it takes time. Usually an hour or so a day. No, it doesn’t scale. A growing company at some point can’t offer this level of support any more, and has to work other advantages.

And what does this customer support deliver? In means that when you have problems, such as releasing a new version of your software that was clearly brought out of beta too quickly (and I wish this was all hypothetical but it’s not), people will persevere, help you find the problems, give you a second and third chance, and still recommend you to others.