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Things a software vendor should never say

Are you damaging the relationship with your customers when you respond to their requests for help?

If the staff receiving feedback reacts to bug reports and questions as if they’re a personal insult, you probably are.

Snarky remarks, veiled insults and/or disdain have no place in the feedback loop, yet they happen far too often.

Here are a few ways you might be sabotaging your business when handling customer feedback and how to improve each of them:

“You’re the first one to report this.”

Even if I’m a beta tester, it’s an irrelevant piece of information unless the word “Thanks” is at either end of the sentence.

The implication is that if you’re the first to report it, it must not be a legitimate problem.

Better: Investigate the why and the what, rather than prosecute the who. Even if you tell your customer they’re the first to report the problem, at least one thing is necessary: Thank them. A lot depends on your attitude when sharing that fact. Even more depends on what happens next.

The alternative is that they give up on reporting things because your company takes an attitude with them. If they don’t report things they’ve encountered, what opportunity cost does that have? What does it say about your relationship with them?

“It works fine on my machine.” aka “WOMM”

This one makes me think “Well, I’ll be right over, so be sure to have my favorite coffee ready. Oh, and make me a sandwich because I’ll likely be at your desk for a while.

Seriously, telling the customer it works on your machine is fine, but only it’s said without the “You’re an idiot user” attitude. It’s not a bad thing to let them know that the problem is not well-known. Treating as if they’re an idiot is.

Better: It’s OK to let the customer know it works for you, but do so in context – while letting them know that this probably means there’s a simple solution.

“You’re using it wrong.”

While this could be another parallel to WOMM and a statement that the product’s usability isn’t what it should be – it’s really focused on blaming the customer. Keep in mind that if your UI, UX, error management and such are bad enough that the user could do something that would provoke such a remark – you should be focused on something other than blaming them.

Better:  Try “You’re doing something we didn’t consider during our design and testing. Can you tell me more about what you want to happen?” If the customer is doing something the system isn’t designed to support – this isn’t the time for criminal prosecution. It’s time for advocacy for both your development team and the customer. They may be about to describe a new market for a slightly altered version of your software – if you’re willing to listen for it.

“Why would you want to do THAT?”

This response to a request for new or altered functionality is usually spoken in a tone that gives you the impression that the vendor thinks you’re an idiot. You’ve set the wrong tone for a conversation that could have revealed a new market, a new segment of your existing market or more.

Better: This response needs to parallel “You’re doing it wrong”, as it can indicate UI and UX issues. However, this reaction is most often connected with opportunity. Market opportunities are lost when the user is about to describe something that would benefit them, but before they can, they’re insulted with “…THAT?“.

Benefits sell products. More benefits sell more products and help retain customers. Listen…you might actually hear something.

“It works fine on Windows XP”

This one is a close parallel to “It works fine on my machine”, but it also tends to send the message that your vendor, their support people or their developers are worst case stuck in 2001 when XP was released and best case in 2008 when Windows XP SP3 was released.

Supporting XP is OK if your market demands it for whatever reason. Ignoring the fact that there have been three releases of Windows since that time – sorry, can’t apologize for you there. Is this the kind of message you want to send to new customers? To prospects (yes, your comments will get out).

Better: If you haven’t completed tested on the OS release that your customer is using, try “We’re still testing on that version. Can you describe how it acts for you? I’d like to report this to our (install / development / testing / QA / management) team(s), so it would help to have as much information as possible.” Of course, if you can come up with a workaround until your OS support is more complete, do so.

As OS vendor development cycles shrink and they move to smaller and more frequent iterations, these situations are going to increase…unless you dedicate yourself to being ready for them. It’s simply a part of leading your market. Last week’s Build conference made it clear that Microsoft is serious about decreasing the time lag between OS releases. You can treat this change in speed as the enemy or as a competitive advantage.

The bottom line

It only takes one snarky comment to become an adversary at a time when the customer is asking for help.

They didn’t contact you to have a more negative experience than they’re already having – they asked for help. Customers are hard enough to keep without your staff running them off with remarks that tend to come off mean or snarky.

React with courtesy, intelligence and understanding even when things aren’t going well. Customers notice and remember.

4 replies on “Things a software vendor should never say”

Thank you for the article, Mark. You have some wonderful points that I think all of us have too often experienced. But, also something important to keep in mind, that just because you and your team know how to navigate or use your product flawlessly, it does not mean that your customer does. You would obviously know the ins and outs of it, you built it! Your design of the product may need some revision if you are having too many issues with user experience. Design with the user in mind! Thanks again!

What a great article. I’ve had days where I’ve done at least 2 of those things.. well, it works on my machine, and you’re the first one to report this.

I know better. The reason our Video Rental software was/is so successful is because we did listen to our customers. Heck, we’re not in the video rental business, we had to learn from our customers. And that’s one piece of software you never get done with because the industry changes, and people always want more.

Now that that’s dying off (the video rental industry), we’re into repair order software. And we’re just getting started, so we are adding tons of stuff.

Like our video software, people are using our repair order software for many different things. It started out as an auto repair order/invoice program. However, people called with diesel repair, and they had different needs. We even had a computer repair guy buy it, but we added options so it would work for him as well (turning stuff on or off in the software).

We might only sell that one computer guy, but there is a completely different market for the same software, might as well go for it.

Many customers almost feel embarrassed when they call, I can’ believe how many of them tell me they’re computer illiterate (I assure them they’re not, my dad is, he literally can’t even turn one on). At least these folks are trying!

But everyone of us has a bad day now and then. And if that happens and you commit one of these support sins, and realize it later.. call the customer back and apologize.. trust me, it helps.


That’s a great point, Ray. ALL of us drop the ball, screw up, etc. How you react to your error is quite often more important than the issue itself. Some of my best, most loyal customers were won over because of being lucky enough, smart enough (mentors, ya know) or whatever – to have handled those things well.

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