I’m feeling sorry for this guy (Stephen) who sent an email to Microsoft with some criticism and copped a bagging in the blog comments. [Note to self: always specify ‘For your eyes only’ on any email I send from now on, or I could end up on a public blog]
But it raises the question of supporting customers. We are a software house and get our fair share of customer complaints/abuse/suggestions (some of them fair, some not).
And ofcourse the bigger company you are (ie Microsoft) the bigger target you are. Incidently, I have been really impressed by the great support Microsoft has given us. Both Frank and Andrew especially have been great, and this is well noted in my previous blogs.
So the issue is what is the right way to respond? And here the issue is really about context.
And the context in business is money. Pure and simple.
What about if they are right though? Well, the customer is always right. Cliche aside, it is true. I have very rarely heard a client complain about something they didn’t believe they were right about. I might have thought they were wrong, but that is not the point.
So, if a client has a complaint, you need to take that in line with financial ramifications.
Will this complaint affect our business? If it is a bad software bug or poor service then yes, it will affect business. If it is a missing feature, then it may or may not. If it is a client just venting, then it probably won’t. In this case an understanding ear will probably improve business though. Every time a customer complains, I see it it is an opportunity to make more money (but no I am not suggesting we give them more opportunities to complain…)
Lets take a recent customer complaint at Talman. We are going to stop supporting a DOS product we’ve had for nearly 20 years. It is costing us too much money to support. Our customers will have to upgrade to our Windows product (at a cost to them) and they don’t like it. Are we ‘penny pinching bastards who force our customers to upgrade to our more expensive newer product just for the sake of ripping them off’? I don’t think so. (Incidently our newer product has been around for over 7 years). We are a technology company, always advancing our technology so our clients can have the best, most productive systems money can buy in their sector. And to proceed with that we need to make money. And losing money on an old product is not helping anyone long term.
Now, I mention this example because one day Microsoft is going to pull the pin on VFP. It may be 5 years away, 10 whatever. Never-the -less it is going to happen. Just like they did to classic ASP, and they will do to .Net at some future date. And it will be a business decision, pure and simple. Will I be crying to see it go. No, because my team and I are software developers, always improving our skills. that’s the name of the game in software – always improve/upgrade/learn.
My boss pays me to ensure this company will still be around in another 30 years time. And that means making money. It also means using the best technology at the time. But most of all it means being able to adapt to the best technology of tomorrow. Hopefully (and probably) that is VFP for a long time. But if it’s something else (Microsoft or otherwise), no problem. We will learn it. As a customer of Microsoft, that’s how I see it. As a provider of software to our customers I think that’s how they should see it too.