Useless, absurd, must, need, appalled, just, infuriating, essential, etc. Matt 12 Apr 2006

158 comments Latest by JF

poetryWhat could be more fun than those magnetic words that let you write poems on the fridge? How about a set of magnetic words that let you write support emails. Our kit would include the following: useless, absurd, must, need, appalled, just, infuriating, essential, oversight, pointless, confusing, nutty, and maybe some good phrases too, like “it can’t be that hard,” “i’m a programmer, i should know,” and “even Blogger let’s you do that.” Of course, the whole set should be ALL CAPS too.

While we appreciate customers who take the time to write in and tell us what they want, the way people phrase things often leads to raised eyebrows. Every feature that’s missing is essential, a must-have, and the fact that it’s missing is killing someone. Yet the #1 thing that people like about our software is how simple it is. To give you an idea of what it’s like to be on the receiving end, here are some excerpts from recent 37signals support emails and forum posts…

Appalled
I couldn’t agree more and frankly am appalled that I can set a due date and time for something as insipid as picking up milk in Backpack but not for something that could make or break my company’s relationship with a customer in Basecamp.

Infuriating
A product request which would boost the attractiveness of Basecamp: Make the view of to-do items common — it is infuriating that all my items are differently ordered than on my team members’ screens.

A major oversight
BaseCamp didn’t have a convenient way to enter all of our schedules so we could plan meetings, etc. This seems to me to be a major oversight for planning software.

Can this help?
I am having to do a class project. Can this help? If so, please contact me as soon as possible. I am also interested in this if it is something I can use in my husbands small business. I attached my assignment. Please help and take a look. Tell me what you think.

Please call me
Please call me regarding my basecamp system — (615) 780-XXXX.

Essential
I would like to know when someone has added content to a room - of the things I have considered I would like adding to Campfire, this is the only one that I regard as ‘essential’.

Not all that hard
What we would ask you to do to enable this ability is, frankly, not all that hard and would make your services more easily accessible…

NEED
We NEED a web based system like Basecamp, but I cannot tell if it will be any better by reading the information you have available. I’m looking for sort of a web based excel-like program. We need to be able to see at a glance every sponsor’s name, sponsor level, address, contact info, if they’ve been billed/payed, if we need/have artwork, and if they have comments. We need to authorize up to five people for editing and another 60 or so for viewing.

MUST
We’re looking to get into basecamp, however one of the features that is a MUST for us is having email reminders.

Pointless and confusing
The dates on my dashboard by each milestone relate to the date I input the information, and NOT the date which relates to that milestone, which is pointless and confusing.

Very long winded
When uploading a file attached to a message shouldn’t you be able to place the file into a category as you can in file management. At the moment it means you have to go into file management after posting the message and file and then edit the file into the category…very long winded.

Is your username/password correct?
Customer: “my file uploads are failing and the error says that my username/password are invalid! What’s wrong?”
37signals: “Is your username/password correct?”
Customer: “Oh, no it’s not. Thanks!”

It’s killing us
But of heaven’s sake, could you please add the ability to add a new “version” of a document?…when you keep circulating different versions of documents and they aren’t linked in any way, it’s killing us.

Nutty
Hi there… I’m enjoying the use of BaseCamp, but a few features, or lack thereof, are driving us nutty…

Even Blogger let’s you do that
Also, there’s no way to modify or edit my own posts once I post them. Even Blogger let’s you do that.

Fwiw, here’s an example of us writing to another company: Jamis’ post to a Sproutit forum. (Yes, even we “need” stuff too!)…

First, let me say that I *love* mailroom. It is a great fit for how I prefer to do email support.

However, there are two issues that would really help us get more use out of this product (and I apologize if these are already implemented — I just couldn’t see them anywhere). The first is support for attachments — we get customers that send us support emails with screenshots fairly often, and without the ability to see those our capacity to help the customer is somewhat restricted.

The other issue is the ability to see incoming email headers. More generally, we need a way to say “this message was originally sent to x@y.com”, because we support several products and have different support addresses for each of them. Often we get support email with no indication of which product it is for (“Help! I can’t log in!”) and need to use the original email destination as a differentiator.

Thanks for considering these features. Keep up the great work!

158 comments (comments are closed)

Chris Tingom 12 Apr 06

Wow, I’ve seen so many of these sorts of messages it’s great to be able to rant about it. I feel like I’m part of an exclusive club or something with stress levels indicating membership.

nsidney 12 Apr 06

I don’t think a lot of people truely realize how much time and effort goes into make a large product like any of 37signals offerings. Just making sure to “praise and ponder” in email can really make a difference to the reader ;-)

Consider:
“First, let me say that I *love* mailroom. It is a great fit for how I prefer to do email support.

However…”
********************
As opposed to this:
“BaseCamp didn’t have a convenient way to enter all of our schedules so we could plan meetings, etc. This seems to me to be a major oversight for planning software.”

Jim 12 Apr 06

Two of them sound like they have some legitimate complaints: Pointless and confusing, and Very long winded

I’m an occasional user of Basecamp, so I don’t know the app that well, but these two sound like they’ve hit on some real problems. The wording doesn’t strike me as that insulting to warrant being on this list; but its not my list.

Please call me to discuss ;)

Eddie 12 Apr 06

Please call me regarding this comment: (615) TEN-NESSee

Also, please do my homework for me. You can email my assignment to my instructor at the email in the attached syllabus.

Please hurry as my assignment is due tomorrow morning and I’ve decided to just now look at it.

Josh Williams 12 Apr 06

ROFL — We use Mailroom to tag incoming support email. Some or our tags include: buzz, client, and moron.

Baeck 12 Apr 06

As a regular reader of this Blog, I am frankly appalled - and slightly infuriated - at this pointless and confusing post. You’ve made some nutty posts in the past, but you MUST have been smoking something when you decided to write this one.

You made a major oversight when you didn’t call me (312-555-1212) to seek my input as to whether or not this post would be appropriate for your users. Before you make any further posts, you NEED to sit back and ask yourself, “Can this post help?” Only then - after making sure your username and password are correct - should you log on and post something so very long winded.

What I’m suggesting is, frankly, not all that hard. You may even want to save the post and think about it for a while. Even Blogger lets you do that.

In closing, it is essential that you implement the steps I’ve outlined above. It’s killing us that you won’t think for one second before posting something so downright ridiculous.

Blake 12 Apr 06

Some of those are pretty legitimate usablity issues in Basecamp. Instead of ranting about people complaining that certain things don’t work they way they should, why don’t you try and fix them? There are many things with Basecamp that look simple, but once you try and actually use it with a large number of projects and users, it becomes complicated and cumbersome. Sometimes less is just less.

Blake 12 Apr 06

Sorry, I don’t know what happened. I hit the post button and it just sat there for a while, and then I got an error message. I come back to the post and it looks like I spamed you guys. I don’t know what happened.

JF 12 Apr 06

Blake, I deleted your duplicate comments.

Unknown 12 Apr 06

Genius!

Moral of the story - never under estimate the stupidity of the user and the user requests…

Yaroslav 12 Apr 06

Well, that is nice if you work for market, if you sell your products to everyone. You guys can deal with it and ignore morons.

How about doing projects for one specific customer and dealing with “MUST”, “add this and this here” and “you’re foolin me, it’s not that hard” ?

Any suggestions?

Platte 12 Apr 06

You’ve got popular products available to the public. Not all of the people evaluating your products will think their feature requests all the way through, especially from your perspective, before throwing them over to you and seeing what sticks.

And actually my experience of Basecamp in particular matches some of these folks’: using it is like driving down a surprisingly beautiful road that’s well-maintained, but has “Bridge Out” and “Dead End” signs at half the places I’d like to turn off. I think that’s why people are so shocked that feature x is missing: everything else about the product looks like they’re sitting in the lap of luxury.

ML 12 Apr 06

Blake, we do try and fix any usability issue that we feel requires attention. A lot of times we disagree with individual customers about what’s essential though. We have to balance individual needs with the overall goals of keeping our products simple, avoiding feature loops, writing less software, etc. The Getting Real book provides more insight on this if you’re genuinely curious to know more about our process and why we do what we do.

Steph Mineart 12 Apr 06

It goes beyond just people making feature requests for web-based products, unfortunately. People make requests like this on my personal website, where there’s nothing to purchase or support, just my silly rambling thoughts. It amazes me the level of inappropriately demanding behavior that’s out there in the world.

And, yes, I will do your homework for you. I charge $60 bucks an hour.

JF 12 Apr 06

Moral of the story - never under estimate the stupidity of the user and the user requests�

I was wondering how long it would take for someone to get this all wrong.

We’re not saying the requests or the people are stupid. We’re just putting them out there at face value — just as we’re receiving them. These are unedited.

We’re not calling anyone morons. We’re not the ones saying anyone’s ideas are USELESS or INFURIATING or APPALLING.

We’re just giving people a peek at the other side of the coin. What it’s like to constantly be on the receiving end of sensationalized requests.

How terrible that you all have to deal with customers as passionate as you are.

We never said anything about terrible. We’re just sharing some of the kinds of emails we get. Do they raise eyebrows? Yes. Do we think these people are terrible? Absolutely not.

Platte 12 Apr 06

OK, nowhere close to “half the places I’d like to turn off”, but the “Bridge Outs” and “Dead Ends” have tended to come at quite surprising places. Didn’t mean to overstate it, apologies.

Kandace 12 Apr 06

Jamis’s support post brings up a dilemma I often have about support requests. The post to Sproutit, a fine example of how I’d like our clients to write support requests, looks to me like a “first request ever” sort of post (or at least one of the first). After using a product, such as Basecamp, for over a year - and writing countless support requests and forum entries - I feel a bit repetitive beginning everything with, “First off, I love your products…” Although, we do and that’s why we keep using them. Is there a place for familiarity/longevity of relationship or is the volume of support requests so high that each interaction is regarded as a new introduction?

Phil 12 Apr 06

Its “heat of the moment” and “annonymous” i suppose. I thought a lot of the same thoughts the people in your “bad email” section think. Like “damn, this thing is awesome, and i’d love to replace MS project, but its infuriating that it doesnt do this one thing, which should be simple to program!”.

It’s like buying a brand new car that has everything you’ve needed, gets 80mpg but then after driving a day you notice it has no cup holders, and you didn’t realize how often you really used cup holders before. Then your kid spills his drink he was holding in his lap and ruins the leather. So your infuriated and shoot off an angry letter to the dealer.

People are used to “getting the service they paid for” and know from experience that if you yell at the manager working at Sears, your much more likely to get a refund and an apology then if you coyly ask the sales associate for a refund. You guys not adding in “simple” features on purpose is a new way for consumers to think about customer service.

Brad 12 Apr 06

I’m a dad. My daughter says to me, “Dad, I’m really hungry, can I please have a snack?” (manners added for emphasis on my good parenting)

I say, “Not right now, I’m making dinner. It will be ready in 20 minutes.”

“But I’m hungry now!”, she says with total and complete grace.

I tell her again, “You will get to eat, but not yet, in a few minutes. If I give you a snack now, you won’t be hungry for supper later.”

After picking her flailing body up off the ground from a beautiful display of childhood emotional restraint, I give her a hug, acknowledge her hunger and walk her to the TV where low and behold Finding Nemo is playing for the 3rd straight showing of the day.

Don Schenck 12 Apr 06

Since a Basecamp API is available, couldn’t someone build a site on top of the API and add the layers of functionality requested?

Just wonderin’…

Bill 12 Apr 06

I don’t know, as a software designer, I would think you would want to know what appalls and infuriates your customers, and what things they deem are essential. Who cares if their tone is sensational, it doesn’t make how they feel any less valid. Calling them out in your blog seems disrespecful.

Brad C 12 Apr 06

One of the least attractive attributes of 37S is that you guys tend to whine a lot about how annoying and stupid your clients and “potential” clients are.

37 Signals. Nice products. Annoying attitude.

ML 12 Apr 06

Bill, we do want to know what infuriates our customers. An overly sensational tone doesn’t help a request get taken more seriously though. A lot of times, the people who yell the loudest have the least to yell about.

Think about it this way: If you went to a restaurant and got served cold soup, would you be entitled to storm into the kitchen and hurl insults at the chef simply because your feelings are valid? Or would it be better to politely ask the waiter if you can have your soup heated up? We’re all human beings here and, when it comes to communication, we think a civilized tone of voice is a MUST-HAVE feature. ; )

Brad, we didn’t call our customers annoying or stupid. And while you call it whining, others might call it offering the other side of things in order to give some perspective. Perhaps you need to stop looking for occasions to be offended?

Kieran 12 Apr 06

Appalled is a bit strong but I kind of agree with this one:

Appalled
I couldn’t agree more and frankly am appalled that I can set a due date and time for something as insipid as picking up milk in Backpack but not for something that could make or break my company’s relationship with a customer in Basecamp.

anyone else?

K

Gaurav 12 Apr 06

Perhaps it was not the intention but this post did come across as making fun of some vocal (and perhaps paying!) customers. When a user makes a feature request, it is natural to use exaggerated adjectives like “must” and “essential”. After all, if they are taking the pain to leave whatever they were actually doing and write to you with a feature suggestion, they must have wanted it real bad!

ML 12 Apr 06

When a user makes a feature request, it is natural to use exaggerated adjectives like “must” and “essential”.

We understand that. But think about being on the other end of these requests. When everyone’s pet feature is stated as a must-have/essential item, it presents a challenge (esp when the #1 reason people like your software is because of its simplicity).

zorbarob 12 Apr 06

grrr…

Brad C - read Jason’s post about how they “don’t” believe their customers are annoying and stupid. They’re just pointing out the kind of requests they get in the grand scheme of running a business.

I think the point may be (and I could be wrong here) is that the terminology people use to describe their complaints doesn’t help. It won’t make 37signals fix their issue “right now.” They’re looking for trends and critical mass. The more people who point out something, the more they know it’s worth looking at. Does the fact that they use such terminology make them annoying and morons? No. But it doesn’t make a difference.

Anonymous Coward 12 Apr 06

37 Signals. Nice products. Annoying attitude.

WOW. Did you read the *EMAILS*? Who has the attitude?

Raymond Brigleb 12 Apr 06

This all strikes me as a bit disingenuous. Jamis is literally worshipped by the SproutIt guys - he’s a core contributor to the framework they write their apps in, and he works with DHH. He’s not going to have trouble writing them with support requests no matter how he phrases his requests. He’s likely to offer solutions because he knows the framework so well!

But for many of the rest of us, this blog post feels like an intimidation tactic. Maybe that’s okay, maybe it cuts down the support emails for a bit. But many of us have sent quite a number of genuine, polite requests for fixes to problems that should have been addressed a long time ago, and were in fact said to be addressed, only to hear not a peep in reply. I’m not saying we’ve had nothing but bad experiences with 37s support emails, simply that it can be a bit lackluster. But don’t worry, I won’t make a list of my issues with you… :)

Phil 12 Apr 06

ML: “But think about being on the other end of these requests.”

Guys, that’s what your getting the money for. Most of us have received similar emails, its not unusual. Not knowing the inside workings of your minds, which phrase from users would be more likely to have it added to the system:

“it is absolutely infurating that this simple feature of x is missing from basecamp”

or

“it would probably be nice if you add x to basecamp”

Based on your “getting real” method, only what NEEDS to be in the program is added right? So if someone thinks something would be nice as opposed to making them angry, wouldn’t that rank lower on the “put it in the program” scale?

I noticed your sample “good” email uses the word need, don’t you suppose the people you sent it to were like “jesus these guys are needy, we’ll tell THEM what they need”.

Also to all the 37s haters over this post, every single company i’ve ever worked for thinks their users are stupid and complains about support emails. 37s is just the only one i’ve seen that is public about it.

Bill 12 Apr 06

Perhaps you need to stop looking for occasions to be offended?

Actually, you guys are the ones who seem to act put out and almost offended by the tone of your paying customers.

Think about it this way: If you went to a restaurant and got served cold soup, would you be entitled to storm into the kitchen and hurl insults at the chef simply because your feelings are valid? Or would it be better to politely ask the waiter if you can have your soup heated up? Tone matters.”

Hm… not the fairest of analogies. First, admitting that some feature (or lack thereof) infuriates you is not something I would equate to “storming into the kitchen and hurling insults”. Your analogy is more sensational than the tone of your customers.

If I kept going back to a restaurant and each time I went the soup was cold, my tone would get progressively rife with impatience. Imagine using the same piece of software every day, and every day you wish there was some little thing that would make it more convenience or easier to use.

In short, suck it up. These people are paying you. Sometimes they get impatient and use inflammatory language. Big deal. You shouldn’t be finding reasons to be offended by it.

Mike 12 Apr 06

You make it sound like you are simply posting a neutral stream of support emails you get (“We’re just sharing some of the kinds of emails we get”). But in the editorial function of selecting which emails to show you skew the sample to look “terrible”.

When you take my $99 each month, I don’t feel bad for you about “being on the other end of these requests”.

Fred 12 Apr 06

Hey everyone, look at how much better people we are than our customer!

Charles Jolley 12 Apr 06

I was really amazed at how frequently people send this kind of demanding email when I first got into consumer software. After a while, I decided that the reason most people send demanding, pushy, angry, and mean emails to support is because they are so used to being abused by the crappy customer support most companies provide. People who write emails like this have learned this kind of attitude is the only way that gets them what they want, so they go at it.

When I realized this, I had a lot more compassion for the people who wrote us emails like this. We started making an extra effort to impress these people by our support. Some of my best customers in the past started their relationship with us by sending an email about how ‘appalled’ they were at an ‘obvious’ omission that would take a good software company ‘less than a day to implement’.

-Charles

PS. We do love getting feedback from you guys at 37signals. You always provide very constructive feedback. When people write in like Jamis did on our forum, it naturally makes us want to go the extra mile for them.

Anonymous Coward 12 Apr 06

WOW again. PAYING someone for something doesn’t entitle you to say anything you’d like in any tone you’d like. You are paying for a service, the service you signed up for, not the service you want something to be when someone implements your MUST HAVE feature.

The sense of entitlement blows be away. Paying for something doesn’t entitle you to be a dick. Be respectful of the people you ask things from and they are more likely to provide you what you need.

Des 12 Apr 06

I sympathise with 37Signals on this one, having dealt with shitty customers for the better part of a decade I know what it’s like.

That said, I get pretty pissed off with sugar coated niceties with a vague complaint hidden in the middle more than I do with an offensive guy who gets to the point.

When you do it for a living (which I acknowledge you guys don’t), you come to treasure people who say
“Your products is bollocks, because It won’t let me set due dates for my list items” cause its short and takes about 7 seconds to process.

Here is an example
Example A:
“I’d love to read Getting Real, but I am not gonna do so off a monitor, and I’m not carry around 180 pages of A4 in my bag. It’s appalling, useless, and I must need a hardcopy yesterday. Damn it!!!”.

Example B:
Wow, 37Signals is like soo awesome, everything you guys say or do is breathtakingly ingenious. I’ve read the sample chapters online, and it sure seems like really good stuff. It reminds me soo clearly of a few companies where I worked where….

.

.
insert something about not liking functional specs any more either…
.

.

.

.
but if I could get a printed copy boy that’d be the best thing since basecamp itself. Did I ever tell you guys how much time basecamp is saving me, Wow, I mean Wow. I’ve worked in companies where they employ people to do what basecamp does…

I definitely prefer Example A, but thats probably cause my job was just to organise the complaints into piles so we could see what people wanted.

andrew 12 Apr 06

After reading this comment thread, I think the way in which “the other side of the coin” (and others issues in the past) is presented is reason some are calling you on it.

JF: We’re not saying the requests or the people are stupid. We’re just putting them out there at face value — just as we’re receiving them. These are unedited.

You’re not just “putting them out there at face value.” The post doesn’t begin the way it ends. It begins by equating these request emails to a novelty magnetic poetry toy, something of trivial importance or usefulness.

I actually like that 37S provides this level of openness to the way customers are interacting with their products. But you can’t say your intentions are one thing when they start off as another. This is meant to condescend to these types of support emails.

Brad C. 12 Apr 06

We understand that. But think about being on the other end of these requests.

I guess that is where I’m jaded about this subject. I am on the other end of these kinds of requests everyday. Sometimes they even come from my CEO. In fact, the most demanding sounding requests with the least validity sometimes come from my CEO.

It is just part of my job to filter out the noise from the substance when dealing with end user requests. It was important enough for the user to take the time to submit the request. Thus, I’m not surprised when they think their request should be very important to me.

It is just reality. Sometimes it points out places where we can improve our user’s education about best practices, sometimes valid feature requests are mentioned that just aren’t practical for other reasons and sometimes the requests just don’t make much sense. There is no reason to get bent out of shape about it or start calling out the users.

Taylor 12 Apr 06

Very funny, very funny.

Ben 12 Apr 06

No soup, I’m mean software, for you!

Jeff Martin 12 Apr 06

Just want to let you know that everyone in Nashville (615-780-xxxx) is not that boneheaded.

—Native Nashvillian

Ryan J. Bonnell 12 Apr 06

A nice feature (I’ll avoid using any magnetic words) for Basecamp would be to have it show all associated projects a person is assigned to.

If I go to the general “People” tab upon logging in (before selecting a project), Basecamp only shows people and companies.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a master view that listed what people were assigned to what project without having to be in a project to see “People on this project”?

Anonymous Coward 12 Apr 06

37 don’t share anymore. Stay closed and don’t offer anyone any perspective. That seems to be what people want.

Dave P 12 Apr 06

I normally defend 37s, and those “requests” are a slightly towards the annoying even more towards the boneheaded, but it is rather unprofessional and frankley immature to poke fun at customer suport requests on a public forum.

If an employee of mine decided to use a company blog to ridicule clients, prospective or otherwise, *even if they are in the right* they would be fired immediatley.

Respect flows both ways, folks.

Anonymous Coward 12 Apr 06

Imagine if 37signals talked to their customers like this. Everyone would be UP IN ARMS. Why aren’t you equally UP IN ARMS when their customers talk to them like this? 37signals are people too.

Just because someone pays you money it doesn’t give them the right to speak to someone like they aren’t a person. If you wouldn’t appreciate having your ideas called USELESS and APPALLING then don’t call someone else’s ideas the same way. 37signals products are their ideas. Calling them USELESS or APPALLING is an insult.

Treat everyone fairly and with respect.

dave 12 Apr 06

I have to say, I have very little sympathy for this post.

Making software is a little bit like being a police officer — you often see (or hear from) people when there’s some kind of crisis.

It’s up to you to understand the context in which people make requests like that, have a thick skin, learn from them, balance them against your goals and the way you see the product evolving and to make people as happy as you can.

But “raising your eyebrows” when a customer has the temerity to “need” something from your software?

That just smacks of petulance, and represents an attitude that will do you more harm than good in the long term.

All of these comments are from people who are passionate about what you’ve done. Be thankful for that.

iTodd 12 Apr 06

Hey JF - You’re in luck… my custom magnet business actually DOES make word sets with those exact words you mentioned :)
Customer Support Fridge Banter

or any other choice words you may have encountered from helpful customers…

J 12 Apr 06

If an employee of mine decided to use a company blog to ridicule clients, prospective or otherwise, *even if they are in the right* they would be fired immediatley.

Who are they publicly ridiculing? They are sharing some of the more “edge case” support emails, unedited. They aren’t saying “That’s a stupid request” or “What a moron” or “What an idiot” or “That guy is DUMB!” They are just exposing some of the racier emails they get so people can gain a bit of perspective on what it’s like on the “other side” that most of us never see.

Lighten up folks. 37signals is sharing some stuff that most people would never share. It’s bold and informative. Enjoy it for what it is: reality.

E 12 Apr 06

I don’t think it’s very nice to be publishing these private support e-mails from your paying customers. True, you never said “these guys are stupid, unreasonable, etc.”, but you posted only a certain flavor of “sensational” messages. It’s unbalanced and clearly very deliberate. For example, where’s the equally “sensational” “OH MY GOD!!! YOU GUYS ROCK I LOVE YOUR SITE” type e-mails, which I’m sure you get. Bad customer relations I think.

E 12 Apr 06

Who are they publicly ridiculing?
They’re ridiculing their customers, you and I, the people that read this blog. How would you feel if you saw your support message posted here? I wouldn’t like it.

JF 12 Apr 06

It’s up to you to understand the context in which people make requests like that, have a thick skin, learn from them, balance them against your goals and the way you see the product evolving and to make people as happy as you can.

We do.

All of these comments are from people who are passionate about what you’ve done. Be thankful for that.

We are.

Nothing in this post suggests otherwise. Feel free to read between the lines if you’d like, but read at your own risk.

We’re posting these emails anonymously and not adding commentary. We’re not putting words in anyone’s mouthes. We’re not editing the emails. We’re not adding emphasis, ALL CAPS, or anything. We’re presenting them as they are presented to us.

We’re sharing them as part of our quest to share a lot of what we do with everyone. We share our experiences, our ideas, our mistakes, our home runs. We try to share as much as we can and balance it with the good and the bad since that’s what really makes up your experience.

We will continue to share the good and the bad. From ourselves, from our customers, from the press, from the media, from other companies.

That’s how we all learn from one another. That’s how we all gain perspective.

JF 12 Apr 06

For example, where’s the equally “sensational” “OH MY GOD!!! YOU GUYS ROCK I LOVE YOUR SITE” type e-mails, which I’m sure you get. Bad customer relations I think.

We post those here.

TJ 12 Apr 06

I think Matt just needs a break from answering support emails for a little while (like a summer off or something). You could see his building irritation in a couple of the recent internal Campfire chat room snippets that have been posted.

You deal with the general public in a customer serivce role, you eventually start to become very irritated with said customers. It happens. You don’t want or intend it to, but it does…you’re broken down.

J 12 Apr 06

How would you feel if you saw your support message posted here? I wouldn’t like it.

Hopefully your emails wouldn’t show up here because yours would be respectful and polite.

Remember that when you call a piece of software USELESS you are calling a group of people’s ideas USELESS. Software is ideas codified. You can’t scream at the software without screaming at the people to developed it.

Think about that next time you insult a feature.

kareem 12 Apr 06

Sure, people aren’t always nice, but they’re expressing pain that they are paying (or would like to pay) to have removed.

They are customers—nobody cares about your product or company; they care about how your product relieves their pain. The raw expression of feeling indicated by phrases like “infuriating”, “confusing”, and “killing us” would make me *excited* by the opportunity to solve the problems that are causing such pain.

I never expect customers to be empathic; that’s my job in designing good software.

ML 12 Apr 06

I don’t think it’s very nice to be publishing these private support e-mails from your paying customers.

We never posted any of the names so we don’t think this is any sort of invasion of privacy.

They’re ridiculing their customers, you and I, the people that read this blog. How would you feel if you saw your support message posted here? I wouldn’t like it.

We’re not “ridiculing” anybody. And if you’re embarassed at seeing your support message posted publicly than maybe that’s a sign that you should rephrase your support message.

ML 12 Apr 06

this blog post feels like an intimidation tactic.

We’re not trying to intimidate anyone. Keep those emails and posts coming. If someone wanted advice from us on support phrasing, we’d suggest you try to keep the tone friendly instead of combative. And remember, what’s essential to you may be extraneous to someone else.

In short, suck it up. These people are paying you. Sometimes they get impatient and use inflammatory language. Big deal. You shouldn’t be finding reasons to be offended by it.

We do suck it up. We’re not offended by it. Sure, it would be nice if everyone tried to be as civilized and reasonable as possible. But we realize that’s not gonna happen. Oh well.

When you take my $99 each month, I don’t feel bad for you about “being on the other end of these requests”.

We’re not asking you to feel bad for us.

JF 12 Apr 06

The raw expression of feeling indicated by phrases like “infuriating”, “confusing”, and “killing us” would make me *excited* by the opportunity to solve the problems that are causing such pain.

And we are and we do.

Our products are constantly getting better based on customer requests. And based on our 12 month paying customer retention rate (which is significantly higher than the industry average), I think our customers are pretty happy with the solutions we provide.

I’ll say it again (I’ve said this so many times): 90% of everything we add to our products start as customer requests. We listen loud and clear. But we also have a responsibility to keep the products focused so we can’t make everyone happy all the time. Making great products is about saying “No” more than saying “Yes.”

But we’re always listening, always learning, and always trying to make things better for as many people as we can.

Matt Grommes 12 Apr 06

I happened to see some of these messages in my first trip to the Basecamp forums the other day and I really recommend people read those forums, it’s hilarious. Of course, the hilariousness comes from the responses to requests, not the requests themselves. Jason seems to think every feature request or question is an opportunity to lecture the poster on simplicity or how they “should” be running their business. You’re doing it wrong if you want to assign dates to todo items, you “should” be adding Milestones instead. Just as an example. We get that you are all about “less” and all that but the “you just don’t understand” holier-than-thou attitude is a little much.

Guess what guys, you sell a product. People are going to have comments and suggestions. People tend to get shouty when asking for help with your product! Shock! Horror! You are in business here, you’re dealing with the public. Get over it. Don’t pick on your customers in public. You should be happy people bother to ask you for things at all, that’s certainly better than just having them quit paying you without saying anything.

Anonymous Coward 12 Apr 06

I think the lesson here is this: If you are trying to persuade someone to listen to your requests you should be polite, respectful, and steer clear of the sensational language.

That’s good clean advice. Not just for software requests, but for life. If you’re trying to change someone’s mind, change it respectfully. People have a lot of voices to listen to and they are more likely to listen to the ones that come with respect.

It’s only natural that “we think it would be useful to us if you could add…” would be better received than “without this feature this product is useless to us.” It’s about tone and tact, as Matt said. I think that’s good life advice.

Bill 12 Apr 06

First, let me say I love your products :-) and I read this blog because you often have some great ideas on here.

But I’m with the people who reckon this post was a little misjudged. I also make software for customers and sometimes their requests and feedback can be frustrating or irritating, so you have my sympathy, but the tone of this struck me as “let’s laugh at some of our dumb customers”. I think you’ve got to take this kind of feedback on the chin - file the worst of it in /dev/null and try to filter the sense out of the more moderate rants.

JF 12 Apr 06

You’re doing it wrong if you want to assign dates to todo items

Happy to have this discussion, but not if you’re going to put words in my mouth.

I never said anyone is “doing it wrong.” I’m explaining how our product works. If someone wants to add dates to to-do items I explain that to-dos don’t have dates and that’s what milestones are for. That’s not saying “you’re wrong” it’s saying “here’s how to use our product.”

Explaining how a product works is not saying “you’re wrong” it’s explaining how a product works. Could the product be different? Sure, but explaining how it works now is not telling someone they are wrong.

As far as writing opinionated software, we definitely do that. Just as 10 cooks can have 10 different recipes for the same dish, we have our recipe for our brand of software. It’s not that other people are wrong, and it’s not that we’re right, it’s just that this is what we offer and we’ll explain how it works if you want to do this but our product doesn’t do that.

Geoff B 12 Apr 06

When you take my $99 each month, I don’t feel bad for you about “being on the other end of these requests”.>/i>

This strikes me as a misunderstanding about different pricing strategies for software. The end user is often understandably unaware of how this works.

In the seven years I’ve worked in software development, I’ve seen companies pay fifteen million for software that didn’t end up working all that well, without bothering to fork over $15 bucks for shareware that they use every day.

They’re not at all the same thing, I know. But the funny thing is, the end user often doesn’t distinguish between the two. This is understandable - if the software isn’t working, and you’d like a feature added, you write a letter to tech support. If it doesn’t get answered, that rankles. A typical end user has no idea how much the company paid for the software.

I read somewhere (I think it was at joelonsoftware, not 100% sure) that you should charge either under $300 or over $30,000 for your software (I’m paraphrasing here). Anything in between is tough. But it’s hard to get the people who are considering a 30K purchase to understand that if you’re hawking $300 software, you aren’t going to be able to add ten new features any more than you’re going to be able to fly your sales team out to new york. In fact,even the requirement of a customized sales proposal may destroy any profit margin on the deal. If you spend three hours researching a company, understanding it’s particular needs, and writing a proposal, you’ve earned well under $100/hr… and that’s assuming they actually buy the product. There are still reasons to do this, especially in the early days of a company - maybe it’s a high profile client that will lead to more business… but as a standard procedure, sales teams and proposals are for the 30K+ software packages.

A lot of small ISV’s have tried to go after the small business market by making their software so cheap and easy to use that it’s worth buying without a lot of fuss. They focus on creating a high quality, but limited, feature set. Suggestions are welcome, because they may lead to good ideas for new features that lots and lots of people will use. But no way can the small ISV that is chasing the fortune five million afford to get into consultingware or other practices of the 30K+ set.

ML 12 Apr 06

Jason seems to think every feature request or question is an opportunity to lecture the poster on simplicity or how they “should” be running their business…We get that you are all about “less” and all that but the “you just don’t understand” holier-than-thou attitude is a little much.

Most companies just ignore requests like these. I don’t believe it’s bad that we take the time to respond and explain our philosophy. Our attitude isn’t holier-than-thou, we just say what we believe.

People tend to get shouty when asking for help with your product! Shock! Horror! You are in business here, you’re dealing with the public. Get over it.

Yeah, we’re not shocked. We just talk about this in private and thought it would be something worth discussing publicly.

J 12 Apr 06

But I’m with the people who reckon this post was a little misjudged.

This is what’s great about this post… You said “misjudged” which is fair and may be about right. Other people are saying 37s is “ridiculing” their customers or being “immature.”

Totally different tone. One 37s would probably be willing to agree with (“misjudged”) and another “immature…ridiculing” that probably won’t score any points with 37s. If you want to get your point across you need to score points with the people you are trying to persuade.

Zoli Erdos 12 Apr 06

Wow. Jason, Matt, reading some of your responses to comments here, let me just suggest you read this post by Robert.

ML 12 Apr 06

the tone of this struck me as “let’s laugh at some of our dumb customers”.

We’re not trying to laugh at or insult or ridicule anyone. Answering support emails can be a challenge and this post is intended to help explain why. If, as a side effect, it makes people think twice about the tone that they use in emails/posts, then that’s groovy.

Eric 12 Apr 06

I would just like to say to 37signals that I like how they are so open about their business. Its helpful to me and my own business. Please don’t let these insane discussions scare you into closing yourself off. Keep up the good work.

Dave P 12 Apr 06

Jason, Matt et al.,

Nothing in this post suggests otherwise. Feel free to read between the lines if you’d like, but read at your own risk.

We’re posting these emails anonymously and not adding commentary. We’re not putting words in anyone’s mouthes. We’re not editing the emails. We’re not adding emphasis, ALL CAPS, or anything. We’re presenting them as they are presented to us.

If this is how you honestly feel, then I would suggest a communication course to go along with the getting real.
You can’t hide behind the fact that you didn’t come out and explicitly say: “This guy is a tool!”. I’m calling BS.

The intent of this post is quite clear. Not a single person that commenting above received it in any other way. There may be disagreement on its value, but not on the intent.

You’re responsible for the message you are relaying, including the tone, not just the words you do or do not write. If you choose to leave the message in an ambiguous state, you’re empowering the listener/reader to come to their own conclusions. The message will still be attributed to you, however.

Sure these emails are silly, demanding and disrespectful, but so is posting them to the company blog. It probably won’t cost you any number of customers, but it’s not exactly you’re crowning moment either.

It pays to always take the higher ground; rise above the fools and you’ll stand out regardless. There are many ways this post could have been constructed that would have achieved this. This wasn’t one of them.

kareem 12 Apr 06

@JF-
Agreed, the products are getting better and you clearly do listen to customers.

I dunno, I re-read the post twice more and sharing aside—which I, for one, appreciate—the tone of the post seemed negative towards customers, which doesn’t seem productive.

I agree that pleasant requests are nicer to deal with, but gotta take the good with the bad.

k.

Bill 12 Apr 06

ML

We’re not trying to laugh at or insult or ridicule anyone.

I accept that - I’m just saying what my first impression was of the article and I think maybe other people also got that (false) impression, which is why you’ve had a lot of comments here. Written articles can be a bit of a blunt communication instrument and sometimes it can be taken the wrong way.

(By the way I’ve also read many posts on this site about how much valuable feedback you’ve had from your customers).

JF 12 Apr 06

I agree that pleasant requests are nicer to deal with, but gotta take the good with the bad.

We do.

We respond to everyone and try to respond within 90 minutes. We thank people for their feedback and tell them it’s been noted. 90% of everything we add to our products are based on customer requests.

ML 12 Apr 06

Sure these emails are silly, demanding and disrespectful, but so is posting them to the company blog.

Support emails/requests is one of the most common topics of conversation internally at 37signals. Instead of hiding behind closed doors, we’re being open about it.

Anonymous Coward 12 Apr 06

My god everyone! LIGHTEN UP! 37signals is being open about their daily business happenings and sharing a little bit about what goes on behind the scenes even if it doesn’t paint them in the best of light. It would be nice if all companies were this open.

Bill 12 Apr 06

LIGHTEN UP!
Fair point!

Dave P 12 Apr 06

ML,

Support emails/requests is one of the most common topics of conversation internally at 37signals. Instead of hiding behind closed doors, we’re being open about it.

You certainly are, and I commend you for it. Your openess is something I admire, and that hasn’t changed. I don’t think of you guys any differently than before this post.

I think though, that if you are going to share frustrations of staff you need to be very clear on what it is you are trying to communicate, and why. There’s nothing wrong with a rant, but a rant without analysis is self serving.

Ask this question: How do you think any of the people who sent those emails reacted on seeing this post? Do you think they have been affected in a positive manner?

At any rate, I think I’ve made my point; more importantly I think you are hearing it. Enough said! :-)

Anonymous Coward 12 Apr 06

Ask this question: How do you think any of the people who sent those emails reacted on seeing this post? Do you think they have been affected in a positive manner?

They should stand behind their words. Why would they be ashamed of what they wrote unless they are embarrassed by it. If they are ashamed maybe they shouldn’t have written it in the first place.

Bill 12 Apr 06

Ah, the anonymous coward, fighting so vigorously for the good people at 37signals.

I think you missed his point. It’s not that those people will be ashamed of what they wrote. In fact, that’s entirely missing the point. But why parade their comments on a corporate blog? It’s just plain disrespectful. If i were one of those people, i’d cancel my account. Not because i’m ashamed, but because i wouldn’t take kindly to such condescension.

Dave P 12 Apr 06

AC,

If they are ashamed maybe they shouldn’t have written it in the first place.

Sorry, but that’s not what I’m saying. Here’s a second effort:

If one of those requests was mine, and I saw it in this post, what do you think my reaction would be?

37s is saying that the point of this post seems to be: “If you want help, be nice respectful, constructive and considerate, and people would be more inclined to help.”

Do you think that the authors of the requests got that message from this post? I’m not sure that they did.

Mike 12 Apr 06

So far, JF’s comments ending in “But we’re always listening, always learning, and always trying to make things better for as many people as we can,” have been most insightful from the 37Signals crew.

I still disagree with the continued insistence that these emails were innocently selected and not intended to offer any negative or positive commentary. I call “bullshit” on that.

As the person who said, “When you take my $99 each month, I don’t feel bad for you about ‘being on the other end of these requests’”, don’t get me wrong. I like what I get for that price and I don’t expect any request to ever be implemented.

But I do expect my requests to be heard, even if my requests don’t live up to 37Signals standards (could they ever).

LukeP 12 Apr 06

Wow, the digression is astounding.

Most people have no idea what it’s like to be in a tech support role, I think the examples give a good glimpse.

ML 12 Apr 06

I still disagree with the continued insistence that these emails were innocently selected and not intended to offer any negative or positive commentary. I call “bullshit” on that.

This is not a random selection of emails. We never said it was.

I do expect my requests to be heard

They are.

Wes 12 Apr 06

No judgement here… this is an honest question asked from a guy who can sympathize.

Do you think it’s cool to reprint suggestions from your customers, particularly those from email since it affords a degree of privacy, in such a negative (if not damned funny) light? Actually, do you think it’s cool to reprint correspondence at all?

I know this isn’t the perfect analogue, but I’ve used Backpack to store product development notes worth billions in potential revenue. If my boss saw this post, she’d consider it a precedent and ask me not to use your service for work.

In a sense, it’s more disrespectful than the messages you’ve reprinted. Am I overreacting here?

Eddie 12 Apr 06

Wes-You’re overreacting because the comments are anonymous.

Mark Gallagher 12 Apr 06

The tone of this thread and the actual customer feedback in the original posting makes the point that the web-based feedback form is a communication channel that often stimulates ranting and the use of words that would never be used in a phone call or face to face meeting.

So feedback is valuable, but you have to consider the channel and it’s not always a valid expression of what the customer actually thinks.

Thanks to 37s for having the balls to post samples of actual feedback to stimulate this good discussion.

Phil 12 Apr 06

Boo hoo! I have no sympathy for you having to deal with your own customers :-)

Wes 12 Apr 06

Eddie, these comments aren’t anonymous to the folks who wrote them.

Imagine the kind of rapport you can feel reading a principal’s thoughts on the craftmanship in his product. You can feel mighty comfortable with with someone you’ve never met. You can also feel confident… confident enough to use words like appalled and insipid to inspire action where normally better sense might prevail. Right or wrong, that’s how it happens.

Seeing your message here, you feel innefectual. That confidence was a mistake, and they’ve sold your confusion for no other reason than to print a joke.

Elinesca 12 Apr 06

People will have different views on this, depending where they come from. I honestly don’t see the big fuss about these customers complaints! I’ve been in tech support and have heard LOTS worse! If you can’t handle this, perhaps you’re not in the right business? Customers are part of the deal, or you have no product. That they complain or use words you don’t like, oh well, ce la vie. Really! Shout in the office, not on the web.

I am not a developer myself, but I’ve worked with some. Many are amazing at taking feedback for what it is worth. They understand that frustrated customers will speak and act in a tone that aren’t very productive. So they sift the important information out of the bad lingo, evaluate this and produce a better product instead of taking offense at silly words written in a moments heat.

Others, have NO understanding of what it is like to be a user. They are so dedicated to their own superior (because they’re super users of their own product) way of thinking and doing things that they just can’t see what other people’s problem with using the software might be. They call customers idiots and immature. I’ve even worked for someone who thought his customers should propose a solution to the problem they were complaining about - “the interface is not intuitive” should come with a complete sketch of how it was “supposed” to be. That’s a complete role reversal: you’re the developer, that’s YOUR job. Customers frustration is your goldmine and gateway to an understanding of what improvements need be made to your product so that you can continue to sell, and customers will continue to pay and enjoy your stuff.


sj 12 Apr 06

Jason, you mentioned talking about the good and the bad, the home runs and the mistakes. I think most would agree that your team has managed to hit a bunch of home runs in the past few years, and we get to hear a good deal about it - great news for a lot of hard work and understandable that you want to share it. What I don’t think we hear much of (and what I think would be fascinating) are the mistakes that have been made along the way, the lessons learned from them, etc. “Getting Real” is a great collection of ideas for running a business - one that probably came as a result of a lot of reflection on what’s worked and not worked for you. In many cases (certainly in presentations I’ve been fortunate enough to give in the past) my spectacular failures have been just as interesting/helpful/whatever to my audience than my successes.

There’s a natural tendency in man to root for people until they reach a certain level of success, only to spend a lot of useless energy trying to rip those same people down once success is attained. I’ve found the most effective antidote for this is self-deprecation. I know I’m talented, they know I’m talented. But I’m going to let them know that I’m also flawed like they are - I’m going to show them that though my book has been downloaded X thousands of times and my web app has been written up in such and such periodical, I’m also the guy who gave spend a 90 minute sales meeting with a mustard stain on my jacket and didn’t realize it, the guy who really truly thought that the animated GIF of the mailbox with the letter flying out of it was the perfect user interface element for a particular screen, or the guy who originally wanted to name a product something that turned out to be a curse word in Swahili.

Perhaps you don’t really care about the negative comments - maybe you laugh them off. Maybe self-deprecation just isn’t your style - perhaps it would be bad to look flawed merely to gain rapport. Your traffic certainly demonstrates that you don’t have to do a damn thing differently (that is of course assuming that getting traffic is a goal of yours.) Between the comment moderation that existed a while, the infamous dunce cap idea, and having to respond a minimum of 37 times to each post about how the post isn’t inteneded to mean this or that - makes me wonder if there’s a better way to spend your energy. Makes me wonder if there’s a better way to keep people off your back (again, assuming you care.) Makes me wonder if behind the regular stream of negative comments there lies a desire to see that you guys are human, flawed, silly - like we all are.

Makes me wonder if I’m spending way too long writing this. Makes me wonder if I come accross as preachy (probably.) Makes me wonder if a few guys in Chicago who don’t know anything about me would care in the slightest what I think, especially since in writing this I apparently think I know anything about them as people.

Makes me wonder if they see this mustard stain on my jacket.

ML 12 Apr 06

What I don’t think we hear much of (and what I think would be fascinating) are the mistakes that have been made along the way, the lessons learned from them, etc.

Fwiw, every Getting Real workshop includes a section called “Mistakes We’ve Made” where we talk about various missteps.

amber 12 Apr 06

Advance pardon for the “comment essay” requested…

Certainly many of us relate to receiving written feedback or questions that come across as highly charged emotional outbursts. And it isn’t it great that the nature of forums or email allow us to pause for a moment, contort our faces into an incredulous eyebrow-raising gaffaw, and remark to the nearest co-worker, “Would you listen to this?!…” After that moment’s kind or unkind reflection, we might realize the comment to be the tip of the iceberg that it is. We could dig deeper, asking a clarifying question or two. Or perhaps we would merely validate their concern and send a response that is concise, yet personal, courteous, but not too “corporate” and hopefully, ultimately, helpful. And I’m sure that many, if not all of us ultimately respond in a manner similar to this with great skill and tact backed by years of experience. I see this post of Matt’s as a “water cooler moment”—a rant for the fellow worker. Perhaps he sees you, SvN’s audience, as comrades-in-arms, so to speak. Perhaps he expected comments of empathy, nodded heads, and a few yep-know-all-about-thats.

The flaming inferno of comments notwithstanding, perhaps we could all use some encouragement to understand and accept that human beings rant. People rant and rave and flail and do all sorts of emotionally charged (sometimes regrettable) things in that state. Most people just want some indication that their concern is valid, that they were heard accurately, and that they were likewise understood. Whether or not their particular problem can be actually solved at that very moment is many times proven to be irrelevant. What is relevant to both the customer and the company is that both sides sufficiently understand each other’s perspective so that both understand the best and most beneficial decisions to make in the future (related to the issue at hand).

Jeff Croft 12 Apr 06

While I definitely think all of these e-mailers could have used better language and been more polite, I do think it’s a bit inappropriate to post your customer’s support requests — even anonymously — on your website. I have no doubt you’ve made each and every one of these people feel stupid. Not only is that rude, but it’s not very good customer relations (but I know, you get to pick your customers).

It reminds me a bit of when you told the world I didn’t buy your book (making sales records public) — even though in that cae you were wrong.

There’s a certain ammount of confidentially assumed by customers, and I think this violates it.

J 12 Apr 06

Jeff, how does posting anonymous emails violate confidentially? There are no names, no phone numbers, no email addresses, no basecamp account URLs, no client names, nothing.

Jim 12 Apr 06

You guys are not fooling anyone about the original intent of this post. Jason can say “we care” and “we listen and love your feedback” all you want, and “this is just a sample of some support, enjoy”. But you refer to one example as “long winded”, and then the dialog with the person who forgot their password… there is no way those examples can be seen as anything but mocking or negative.

With ML’s followup saying “If, as a side effect, it makes people think twice about the tone that they use in emails/posts, then that’s groovy.” he confirmed that the main thing here is they are complaining about tone.

Look, the girl at the MVA or McDonalds will give me less “because of my tone” you all are a professional company. See how many people supposedly “misinterpreted” this posting by you? Perhaps you are misreading the tone of those emails. I can say “infurated” or “useless” in a perfect polite friendly way.

Jeff Croft 12 Apr 06

There is an assumption made, when a customer sends a support request, that the message is between them and the support personnel. Perhaps customers shouldn’t make that assumption, but they certainly do. Surely you know that.

ML 12 Apr 06

But you refer to one example as “long winded”, and then the dialog with the person who forgot their password… there is no way those examples can be seen as anything but mocking or negative.

We merely quoted customers: The customer called our process “long winded” (we weren’t calling that customer long winded). The dialog about the password actually happened. If we just report the facts is that really mocking?

With ML’s followup saying “If, as a side effect, it makes people think twice about the tone that they use in emails/posts, then that’s groovy.” he confirmed that the main thing here is they are complaining about tone.

That’s why I said “side effect.” I think that pretty clearly communicates that it’s *not* the main thing here.

Mike 12 Apr 06

The nice folks at 37Signals can’t say this, but since I don’t work for them, I’ll go ahead and say it:

The majority of customers are idiots. They don’t know what they want themselves, and can’t recognize that a product can’t possibly be everything to everyone.

Microsoft tries to do that with Office, and they ended up with a bloated package that does a little of everything. Nobody uses anywhere close to 10% of the complete featureset, and more and more crud is added over time.

Congrats to the Basecamp folks for sticking to their guns and creating a simple tool. Idiot customers: If you don’t like it, you don’t have to use it.

As for Jeff Croft: hate to tell you this buddy, but your conversations with support are *never* private. There is no doctor-patient confidentiality clause in support agreements. Nor should there be. Customers provide support people with *hours* of story-telling fun!

JF 12 Apr 06

You guys are not fooling anyone about the original intent of this post. Jason can say “we care” and “we listen and love your feedback” all you want, and “this is just a sample of some support, enjoy”.

I don’t understand your point.

Saying thanks and pointing out someone calling our product USELESS are not mutually exclusive. We do say thanks to everyone’s feedback — good and bad. But we also called out a few emails today based on their language.

Jeff Croft 12 Apr 06

When most companies quote their customers, they ask them if they can use their text as a testimonial, first.

Report the facts? What are you, a god damned newspaper now? How is this newsworthy?

37signals needs to grow up. You guys aren’t acting professionally at all.

Jeff Croft 12 Apr 06

“As for Jeff Croft: hate to tell you this buddy, but your conversations with support are *never* private. There is no doctor-patient confidentiality clause in support agreements. Nor should there be. Customers provide support people with *hours* of story-telling fun!”

Good point. I’ve worked in support before, so I do know you’re right. Still, this is the first time I’ve ever seen a company post and publicly mock their customers for their support requests.

ML 12 Apr 06

When most companies quote their customers, they ask them if they can use their text as a testimonial, first.

OK, Jeff. We get it. You don’t think we should have used this text. Since these quotes were completely anonymous and contained no sensitive material we think it’s fine. We’ll just have to agree to disagree.

Report the facts? What are you, a god damned newspaper now? How is this newsworthy?

Facts are only for newspapers?! Someone accused us of mocking customers with our commentary in this post. There was no commentary, just quotes. Is this better: If we just quote exactly what someone says is that really mocking them? How did we mock these people?

37signals needs to grow up. You guys aren�t acting professionally at all.

We’re trying to be open and offer a different perspective than the usual “the customer is always right” PR-speak that most companies offer. We’re sorry if you think that’s being childish.

JF 12 Apr 06

BTW: I’m sorry for saying you didn’t purchase our book, Jeff. That was my mistake.

37signals needs to grow up. You guys aren’t acting professionally at all.

Maybe so! But we’re not fans of acting “professionally” in the traditional sense so we’ll take that as a compliment.

Jeff Croft 12 Apr 06

“OK, Jeff. We get it. You don’t think we should have used this text. Since these quotes were completely anonymous and contained no sensitive material we think it’s fine. We’ll just have to agree to disagree.”

Fair enough. But don’t “Okay, we get it” at me when Jason specifically asked me a question. I was just answering. :)

“Maybe so! But we’re not fans of acting “professionally” in the traditional sense so we’ll take that as a compliment.”

Again, fair enough. I’m sure you know that you’ll lose some customers over your flamboyant attitude, and i’m sure you know that this is the reason you’v been pegged as arrogant so often latley. If you’re okay with that, then I guess I will be too.

“BTW: I’m sorry for saying you didn’t purchase our book, Jeff. That was my mistake.”

Thank you, Jason. That whole episode was really bothering me. Thanks for making it right.

Anonymous Coward 12 Apr 06

The customer is always right, and if there’s any justice this will be a PR disaster for you. Get a clue.

Marcus 12 Apr 06

37signals apparently just can’t resist complaining in public about its customers. It’s astounding that any company would think this is good business practice.

You can quote me on that.

JF 12 Apr 06

The customer is always right

Anonymous Coward, what does “the customer is always right” mean to you?

To me it means the customer is always right about their individual needs, but may not be right for the needs of all other customers. And that’s the challenge of writing software used/shared by hundreds of thousands of people.

With custom one-off software, the customer is always right because they customer gets exactly what they need. But when a customer uses the same product that hundreds of thousands of other people use, and their needs affect everyone else’s needs, the individual customer is not always right.

The customer always has an opinion, and sometimes that opinion is right, but it’s not always right for the greater good of all the customers that use that product.

For example, if a customer orders something at a restaurant, and wants to pile on 5 packs of salt on their fries because they think that’s the “right” way to eat fries, then that customer is right for their own order of fries. BUT, if the customer thinks ALL orders of fries should be doused in 5 packs of salt, then the customer is not right.

That’s an important distinction.

ML 12 Apr 06

37signals apparently just can’t resist complaining in public about its customers.

We didn’t complain. The closest the original post came to being negative was saying these emails caused raised eyebrows. Everything else is a direct quote from customers.

Jeff Croft 12 Apr 06

I don’t think “the customer is always right” by any stretch of the imagination. I think all of us have had customers that would test that theory. And I’m sure all of us have complained about customers to our friends and family, perhaps even poked fun at them anonymously. I know I have.

The difference is just that most of us don’t do it on our official company website, that’s all.

But clearly 37signals considers themselves to be a different kind of company, and maybe in their kind of company, this kind of thing is okay. Their kind of company still has to get customers, though, in order to stay afloat, and if your customers think you’re going to mock them publicly, that might be a tough sell.

Jeff Croft 12 Apr 06

“For example, if a customer orders something at a restaurant, and wants to pile on 5 packs of salt on their fries because they think that’s the “right” way to eat fries, then that customer is right for their own order of fries. BUT, if the customer thinks ALL orders of fries should be doused in 5 packs of salt, then the customer is not right.”

Would it be right for the waiter to stand up on a chair and say aloud, “guess what everyone, someone in the restrauant just asked for five packs of salt on his fries!”?

JF 12 Apr 06

The difference is just that most of us don’t do it on our official company website, that’s all.

That’s true. We do a lot of things differently around here. We actually share things — good and bad — with the public. We share our experiences, our thoughts, our business ideas, our strategies, our vision. We even share our web application framework! We share it all and put it out there. Some for free, some for pay, but we share just about everything anyone could (save for financials). We don’t believe there’s any rocket science in business, nor do we believe there are any real secrets. We’re very happy with that legacy.

We’re not the typical company that sugarcoats everything with a line of BS or calls the PR department to issue a spin press release. We’re not politically correct. We don’t fit in the traditional mold. We put stuff out there most companies would never dare. And that’s fine with us.

That’s how we roll.

JF 12 Apr 06

Would it be right for the waiter to stand up on a chair and say aloud, “guess what everyone, someone in the restrauant just asked for five packs of salt on his fries!”?

Sure as long as he doesn’t point him out. I think it would be kind of funny actually.

Zoli Erdos 12 Apr 06

Obviously two different commenters hide under the moniker Anonymous Coward as his latest post is the total opposite of everything he said before…

Sam 12 Apr 06

The customer is always right, and if there’s any justice this will be a PR disaster for you.

Speaking of unnecessary hyperbole….

Jeff Croft 12 Apr 06

“That’s how we roll.”

And I think most of us who post here respect that, and understand. Some of us are probably even jealous that we can’t roll more like you do.

That doesn’t change the fact that you’ll probably lose most of the 15 customers you’ve quoted here, if/when they see that you’ve done so.

Being a different kind of company is great, but you still have to please more of your customers than you piss off if you want to make money.

Therefore, it’s probably best to err on the side of treating them with respect (which I know 37signals does do in a lot of ways — but this wasn’t a shining example).

JF 12 Apr 06

Being a different kind of company is great, but you still have to please more of your customers than you piss off if you want to make money.

We’re well aware of that, we’re well aware of our cash flow, we’re well aware of our churn, we’re well aware of our signups, we’re well aware of our growth, we’re well aware of our big-picture customer satisfaction. We’re well aware of what we’re doing, thank you.

Anonymous Coward 12 Apr 06

Jeff Croft, do you have a fucking job? Posting on this site is 37signals job, but jesus, by the # of comments you post it sounds like you don’t do a fucking thing all day. And then you are giving someone else business advice! RICH!

Jeff Croft 12 Apr 06

Jason…

The line you quoted was a piece of business logic in general, not a specfic comment targeted at 37signals. I’m sure you’re well aware of how you’re doing, and I’m sure you’re doing quite well.

Jeff Croft 12 Apr 06

Mr. Coward-

I have a job. My resume and bio is well-documented on my personal website. Feel free to click through if you like. If you’d like to have a flame war, I’ll be happy to do it via e-mail. I don’t like to get personal in public, though.

Nice to meet you,

Jeff

JF 12 Apr 06

120 comments in and I’m surprised we haven’t heard from a progressive thinker who might wonder if all this “bad” stuff is actually good for business. Could these sorts of discussions actually be good for a non-traditional business like 37signals? Do sales/signups go up on days with these heated debates? Could there be a positive business motive behind all this that more traditional business observers haven’t groked?

I’m seeing a lot of know-it-alls around here but not a lot of I-wanna-know-mores.

Jeff Croft 12 Apr 06

“Dp sales/signups go up on days with these heated debates? Could there be a positive business motive behind all this that more traditional business observers don’t understand?”

You tell us. Do they go up? They very well may. If they do, I’d still have a hard time believing that’s why Matt made this post.

I can see it now — this post is destined to be errata for “Getting Real.” :)

JF 12 Apr 06

You tell us. Do they go up? They very well may. If they do, I�d still have a hard time believing that�s why Matt made this post.

I would have answered had someone else posed the question, but Jeff you told us that we weren’t “professional” and that we should “grow up” so I consider you just mocking us at this point.

Mark 12 Apr 06

You know guys, it doesn’t really matter whether *you* thought you were being condescending or not. If you compose something in such a way that this many people interpret it as condescending, you made a mistake. End of story.

Jeff Croft 12 Apr 06

I did say that, and I apologize if you took it personally. I clearly was referring to 37signals, not you, Matt, or any othr individual. I sincerely feel that a company’s additude and professionalism has to grow as its business does, and I don’t think 37s has done a very good job of that. I am certainly not mocking you. I responsed to this thread as a customer of yours concerned with one of your business practices (posting people’s support e-mails online).

I’ve also said publicly, a million times, that I have a ton of respect for your products and many of your business concepts, and I wouldn’t keep buying your products and reading your blog if I didn’t. I’ve written far more good things about 37signals than bad. How you’ve come to think of me as the enemy is a bit beyond me. At what point did our relationship move beyond cusomter-vendor?

I think if you’re going to allow comments on the blog you’ve got to take the criticism as well as you do the (many, well-deserved) compliments. I started this whole line of discussion with a simple, polite, and thoughtfully-worded comment that happened to disagree with the majority. You and Matt responded defensively. Only then did I say that I think 37signals needs to act more professionally. And you took that as a compliment, so why are you holding it aganist me now?

How did I become the villan of this thread, when all I did was respectfully disagree? Isn’t that allowed around here?

JF 12 Apr 06

you made a mistake

We’re human and we make mistakes all the time so we’re OK with it.

RyanA 12 Apr 06

Hilarious!

I just received some requirements that sound just like that!!!

clifyt 12 Apr 06

I just want to thank the 37guys for this discourse.

I’ve been accused in my business of being abusive to singular customers here or there — and have written virtual paypal checks to customers to tell them to take their money back because I didn’t want their business, can’t stand the site of the money coming from idiots and I wanted everyone else to know it.

But even I wouldn’t have the balls to go after the entire customer base and call them all idiots!!! Congrats!!! I think I’m going to have to try harder in my little world :)

For the record, I bought the book last week. I’ll leave my comments on that for another day.

Jeff Croft 12 Apr 06

cliffyt…

I’d like to thank you personally for getting me off the hook with your “go after the entire customer base and call them all idiots” exaggeration. That should move me out of the “thread villain” role.

:)

Catriona 12 Apr 06

Many of these requests are indeed silly, but publicly poking fun at paying customers? Seems just a tad off to me :(

Jeremy 12 Apr 06

I’ve noted this tone of superiority that you guys have when talking about your customers before, and it’s just getting worse.

Su 12 Apr 06

120 comments in and I’m surprised we haven’t heard from a progressive thinker who might wonder if all this “bad” stuff is actually good for business.

Considering the amount of reflexive toadying you normally get in your comments, don’t you think this question has kind of answered itself?

I’m generally with jeff on this, and I’ve called you on the backpedaling multiple times in the past myself. In this case, I actually do think that you probably didn’t have malicious intent, if only because it’s wildly inappropriate even without that, and I can’t believe you’d actually do it.

But I stand by my previous statement that you need an editor if you can’t understand that the way you address your audience is often alienating. If you are truly baffled that people are so easily interpreting this post as you guys attacking your customers, then it’s going to take a longer discussion than I’m frankly willing to have with you to explain why. There are little connections and implications in your syntax above that you’re apparently not seeing.

Anonymous Coward 12 Apr 06

and I’ve called you on the backpedaling multiple times in the past myself.

oooh tough guy! are you a cop?

JF 12 Apr 06

But I stand by my previous statement that you need an editor if you can�t understand that the way you address your audience is often alienating.

RSS subscriptions up over 10,000 in the past year or so. Web traffic to SvN, our primary “message outlet” up significantly in the past year. The Getting Real book sold over 6500 copies in about 6 weeks. Workshops that sell out within 1 day. Huge growth in our customer base. Huge growth in the number of emails we receive from people saying we’re really making their own businesses better by using our products. Huge growth in people thanking us for making simple focused products that don’t get in their way. That’s the other side that you can choose to ignore if you’d like.

Maybe our audience actually likes what we have to say most of the time. Sometimes they don’t, and that’s fine. We can’t make everyone happy all the time.

Maybe our audience appreciates that we’re human. Maybe our audience appreciates that we’re willing to stick out our neck sometimes and take a risk or try something that most companies are too afraid to try. Just maybe. It’s possible, isn’t it?

Or maybe this is a train-wreck in progress. And if you’re just here to watch that then that says a lot more about you than it does us.

Jeff Croft 12 Apr 06

Or maybe you make good products and a lot of people are willing to put up with the attitude in order to use them — at least until there’s a viable alternative. It’s possible, isn’t it?

freecia 12 Apr 06

Many of those subject words have negative connotations for me. Seeing them all in the header together put me in a certain mood before even reading the post. It gives me a persecuted and attacked feeling.

Having said that, after I read some of the quotes, I also accept that they honestly felt what they felt and wanted to help the product improve in some way for them. I saw that they rely on your product and wanted to tell you how to improve it for them. I think this is a good thing.

Approaching this with a positive frame of mind, I see lots of good suggestions for specific use scenarios, not a bunch of eyebrow-raising words. Then the post has a bit of humor, acknowledging that suggestion e-mails often utilize a specific wordset that lend urgency and priority.

The first reading made me take a step back and think “these guys aren’t meanies, what are they trying to say? Are they trying to point out something different/innovative?”. Me? I’d rather think of this as a positive thought provoking post instead of sticking with my first awful impression.

Thanks, the post reminded me to keep my sense of humor and perspective. Though, constructive criticism is offered and people may interpret it differently. Some sensitivity is often appreciated. I’ve been on both sides, just like you, and a positive request works better than statements made with an air of entitlement. I knew that lesson, but the comments are a good reminder.

Su 12 Apr 06

Yes, Jason, the numbers are impressive. You keep bringing them up, and one of them is in the sidebar. Too bad we’re not talking about them.

At best, they represent the validity and value of your information and products. The questioning of your tone is much more at issue here. Joe Clark’s book on accessibility has also sold rather well, to my knowledge. Because the information is generally good, once you filter Joe himself out of it. He is still greatly disliked and avoided by a large number of would-be clients and potential colleagues due to his joyfully abrasive way of dealing with them.
I doubt I’m the only person who sees you(37S) on this path. Your “This is how we roll” comment, though maybe protesting a bit much, seems to imply you (want to be) okay with your behavior, and that’s fine. I’m only telling you to be prepared to eat the responses as they come. I don’t see that at this time.

Your response follows a pattern for you of often addressing the most trivial aspect of someone’s criticism. You spend a ridiculous amount of time explaining your statements, or more importantly their intent, on SvN. This should imply there is something wrong with the writing, not the readers.

It also suggests that not nearly all of your usesrs read SvN, yet you’re trying to use their numbers against what I said. Here’s an experiment: Take this post, verbatim, and post it to your support board. Let’s see what happens.

Short answer to your question: Sure, it’s possible. On the other hand, you definitely have a bunch of people right here who are pissed off by this. The number of them might not mean all that much(and you can’t please everyone, as you said), but the fact that they don’t seem very satisfied with your explanations should.

JF 12 Apr 06

Or maybe you make good products and a lot of people are willing to put up with the attitude in order to use them — at least until there’s a viable alternative. It’s possible, isn’t it?

Sure is.

There are plenty of viable alternatives already — you don’t have to wait for them to show up.

Go do some Google searches on “information management” or “project management” or “group chat” or ‘to-do lists” or “collaborative writing.” You’ll find hundreds of alternatives. Those products have thousands of customers and we have thousands of customers. There’s plenty of room for everyone. You should use the products you feel work best for you and support the companies you feel good supporting. It’s completely your choice today.

JF 12 Apr 06

Your advice has been noted, Su.

From the day we launched our original opinionated site back in 1999 we’ve been labeled crazy, nuts, wrong, immature, wrong again, insane, unprofessional, failures, opinionated, cocky, arrogant, flashes in the pan, you name it. We’ve heard it all. And we continue to hear it today. And tomorrow.

Yet miraculously we’re still in business (7 years). We’ve been profitable every year and we’ve never laid anyone off. We’ve seen the big serious “professional” design companies fall all around us. We’ve seen thousands of jobs lost and billion of dollars burned in the market downturn. But somehow we made it through. And it wasn’t by chance.

We’ve never taken a dime of investment. We’ve stayed true to what we believe and we’ve done it all on our own. We’ve even managed to change our business entirely in the past 2 years, release 5 products, 1 book, and one open source web application framework.

And we’ve done all of this through *word of mouth*. Our customers making personal recommendations to their colleagues, friends, and family members. We don’t spend $ on marketing or advertising. We don’t have sales people or put the pressure on to convince anyone to use our products. We put all of our energy into building great products and proving great service for our customers. And then our customers spread the word.

Sure there are haters — there always will be — but they represent a small fraction of our audience. And sure we have some customers that want more from us than we are willing and able to give them, but they represent a small fraction of our overall customer base.

Overall we’re doing quite well and we’re always working to improve our service and product offering. Do we make mistakes? Sure do. Will we always? Sure will. But we listen and learn and do better next time. And people appreciate that.

So we hear you loud and clear, but I think we’re going to be alright.

Jeff Croft 12 Apr 06

Jason, you won’t get rid of me that easily. :)

Okay…actually…you might, because LOST is on, and while this has been entertaining…it’s LOST.

It’s been a good discussion, guys. Please don’t take anything I’ve said personally. I respect everyone here and simply enjoying debating these things. I hope the hot debate has bought you plenty of new customers, Jason.

Night, everyone.

RyanA 13 Apr 06

I just called my client to clarify the requirements I thought were hilarious.

As I was speaking to him I realised I was being a bit of a dick laughing at him and his requirements.

So I went and re-read some of the examples you posted… And I conclude that some of them are legitimate.

You may not have outright said they are illegitamte but the very first paragraph with the magnetic poetry analogy is indicitive as to the meaning of this post.

My impression is that you’re… being… bullies! Waah.

Jeff Croft 13 Apr 06

Ahhh, the manifesto.

I think you only need re-read manifesto item number one, “We See People,” to see why some of us feel like you’ve changed with your recent success. What used to be “real people, not users” are now suppliers of stupid support comments you can post and mock.

You used to define sucess in terms of how useful your products are. Now you craft elloquent posts citing all your glorius traffic and sales numbers in order to convince us that disrespecting customers is an okay thing to do.

You’re right, the manifesto pretty much says it all.

ML 13 Apr 06

You may not have outright said they are illegitamte but the very first paragraph with the magnetic poetry analogy is indicitive as to the meaning of this post.

The magnet poem thing was just a reference to how often these words appear in support emails we receive. You prob shouldn’t read too much into it. Just because someone uses words like need or must in an email doesn’t mean we think that request is illegitimate.

What used to be “real people, not users” are now suppliers of stupid support comments you can post and mock.

I don’t believe quoting someone directly is mocking them. And I never called these comments stupid.

ML 13 Apr 06

You spend a ridiculous amount of time explaining your statements, or more importantly their intent, on SvN. This should imply there is something wrong with the writing, not the readers.

That’s one way to look at it. Or maybe it’s just that we stick our necks out and say things that are controversial. People who do that always face the wrath of naysayers.

On the other hand, you definitely have a bunch of people right here who are pissed off by this.

We have a bunch of people who are pissed off by nearly everything we say. We’ve gotten used to it.
Fwiw, people in this thread have also said the post is great, genius, we have balls, etc.

Jeremy 13 Apr 06

“On the other hand, you definitely have a bunch of people right here who are pissed off by this.

We have a bunch of people who are pissed off by nearly everything we say. We’ve gotten used to it.
Fwiw, people in this thread have also said the post is great, genius, we have balls, etc.”

You guys have an amazing ability to filter through the criticism to find whatever there is that might point to your right-on-ness, brilliance, monetary success, and all around greatness. But I think the point is that every web-based business gets their share of email that is unnecessarily panicked, or not well thought out, or inept, or silly. But they weren’t written for public consumption, and I would be more concerned with establishing a relationship with the customer and figuring out what is at the root of their problem, not exposing them to ridicule on a well-trafficked blog.

“That’s one way to look at it. Or maybe it’s just that we stick our necks out and say things that are controversial.”

Bravo. So what exactly was your point in sticking your neck out here? To illustrate how hard your life is with all these pesky, un-educated customers? Well done, keep on fighting the good fight.

ML 13 Apr 06

I would be more concerned with establishing a relationship with the customer and figuring out what is at the root of their problem, not exposing them to ridicule on a well-trafficked blog…So what exactly was your point in sticking your neck out here? To illustrate how hard your life is with all these pesky, un-educated customers?

The point was to give some perspective. The point was that not every customer’s problem is actually a problem. The point was sometimes you need to not pay attention to each customer or else you risk ruining your product. The point was it’s a challenge sometimes getting criticized all day for the choices you make. The point was everyone thinks their request is essential. The point was showing other companies starting up that this is what they can look forward to (or that we get this stuff too). The point was staying simple can sometimes feel like doing battle. Or the point was this is our blog and this is where we post things that we think are interesting. Take your pick.

Su 13 Apr 06

[…] but I think we’re going to be alright.
I’m done with this but two final bits. I’m sure you’ll be fine as long as your products are good, and they are. But, let’s be clear: People are recommending your products. Simultaneously(because there is overlap), some of them are calling you arrogant, etc. Sometimes the recommendation is in spite of the supposed arrogance. There are lots of businesses whose products people like while disliking the people behind them.

I’d also venture the two can happen in complete isolation from each other quite easily. There’s actually not that much reason I can think of that your product users would ever see this post.
Let’s assume someone goes to your homepage, though I personally find it linked pretty rarely, with people choosing instead to point straight at the products. The only links(2) I can find to SvN at the moment are on 37signals.com. When someone chooses a product, they’re shunted to a dedicated site for it.
None of those product sites link to SvN, and if I recall correctly none of the products themselves do, either(only mentioned because with Basecamp, for example, once signed up, you don’t go to basecamphq.com anymore). This is why I have a problem with product user counts being used against arguments here. The difference in numbers is great enough it seems reasonable to think a good amount of product users have not seen SvN. Many of them arguably wouldn’t care; they just want their app to work, and some of them even have dedicated blogs and forums. This comes across a bit as talking about them behind their backs.
Ultimately, neither set of users can be accurately tracked for comparison, but it’s specious to give the product users weight on pure numbers here if you can’t show that they have the same (potentially aggravating) information over there. It’s basic removal of variables. On the other hand, if this appears in the support boards or product blogs, and you get a huge load of, “Oh, sorry.” replies from them, it’d be really interesting, no?


That’s one way to look at it. Or maybe it’s just that we stick our necks out and say things that are controversial. People who do that always face the wrath of naysayers.

Jeremy has pretty much covered the filtering aspect of this response. We all acknowledge that you say “controversial” things. But again: not what’s being discussed.
The point is that you spend an inordinate amount of time repeatedly saying, “But that’s not what we meant!” That has nothing to do with you saying things that no other company would say, nor have I suggested you not; go right ahead. It has to do with you saying them incorrectly, evidenced by the simple fact that you end up re-explaining them constantly. I find that disturbing from a company that often writes about clarity of expression and so on.
If you’d spend time digging into some of the comments here rather than trying to defend some bad boy position which isn’t being questioned anyway, I think you’ll find that many people ultimately object to the treatment of this post, rather than necessarily its content. E-mail them; this page is probably useless for that purpose at this point. This could have been handled in a way that would not make people assume you were publicly mocking your users. I’ll repeat: I actually believe you. But I have absolutely no problem seeing how that conclusion could be drawn, and easily.

And for the record, people aren’t pissed off by nearly everything you say. There are patterns. One of them just so happens to mostly coincide with “nearly everything.”

dmr 13 Apr 06

I’m amazed at the response of putting up some short customer quotes; the response is fucking stupid. I detected no ill tones from the original post; you people are reading way too much into things.

The negative vibe here is awful. I’m glad 37crew doesn’t let this sort of thing bum them out, cause I’m pretty damn bummed just reading it and I don’t have any stake in the discourse!

Kyle Posey 13 Apr 06

I think a lot of people here are failing to realize what they are reading. This is a blog, written by the members of an un-orderdinary company. A company that does things the way they want, how they want, when they want. Their intent is not to show everyone how much better they are, but to do what it is that they love doing. Their products are a reflection of their needs and passions. They are nice enough to share many aspects of their business with the world, not to say how we should be doing things, but to share how they have done things…to take whatever value from it that we can, or to disregard it…its our choice as readers or customers.

One day, I may be lucky enough to be a part of a team like 37s, and it makes me glad that they are so transparent, as I would have no other way to know about the things they have to deal with. And knowing how other people choose to deal with things (and how the public reacts…as shown by posts like these) will help me formulate my own ways of handling customers, feature requests, and success if I’m lucky. Hopefully, I too will stay true to myself, and share my experiences with others so that they can also learn from my successes and failures (because of course I hope to have more successes than failures).

Jason, Matt, keep on being real. That is what many of your customers want, and more importantly that is how you want to run your company.

Kyle Posey 13 Apr 06

Besides ‘Getting Fake’ probably wouldn’t be the best follow-up book for you guys. :)

Jon 13 Apr 06

IMHO about half of the calls listed in the original post are genuinely great customer feedback (I’m thinking of the ones labelled ‘Infuriating’, ‘A major oversight’, ‘Essential’, ‘NEED’, ‘MUST’, ‘Pointless and confusing’, ‘Very Long Winded’, ‘It’s Killing Us’, ‘Nutty’). These all give a clear indication of a pain point a real customer is having with the product, and they all use their emotive terms solely in relation to user experience. They’re not rude or aggressive (at least as quoted). They give a fantastic insight into real usage of the product. Who could ask for more?

The complaint voiced in Kyle’s post is that “every feature that’s missing is essential” (implicitly, ALL feature requests can’t be essential, which is of course true). But that’s surely missing the point: the feature request is essential to that individual customer. That’s why they bothered to write in. It’s absolutely not their fault other people have different requests. It’s your job to work out how much you care about that individual customer’s pain (and, yes, sometimes “not a lot” is the correct answer).

37s are perfectly entitled to reply by making reference to their goals for the product (anywhere on the spectrum from “We’re going to fix that!” through “We’ll bear your comment in mind” to “We don’t want to make that change”). And, as far as I can see, their manner of response to actual customer calls is great. However, that doesn’t mean the customer feedback was any less valuable, and none of that justifies the apparent disdain for customers shown.

I can’t for the life of me see why 37s would choose to make a mocking example of these customer emails (which, even understanding that there was no intent to do so, and reading very carefully the clarifications posted, is precisely how the post still reads to me). I just hope most customers don’t see this post, because I suspect it would lead many of them to not post feedback at all, which is I’m sure not the intention of the piece.

I’m guessing that probably more than half of 37s customers have themselves been on the receiving end of customer queries, so a lot of us will be aware that some of it is far worse (both ruder and more idiotic) than the examples given, so posting a seemingly moaning article about genuinely useful customer feedback I find really quite baffling.

The whole episode is rather distasteful. I’m sorry to say that my personal view of 37s has recently shifted from “Great products, therefore a great company” to “Good products, shame about the attitude”. I no longer have faith that 37s understand how to communicate well and, frankly, reading SvN no longer provokes me to think, it just winds me up. In future, I’ll be voting with my feet, and I’ve stopped recommending 37s within my company and to friends. I’m absolutely sure 37s will be just fine without me, but I can’t help feeling that SvN is achieving far more than its fair share of annoying the customer base. If 37s can afford to that, well, hats off, you folks must be doing /great/.

J 13 Apr 06

Can you people not read? All 37signals said about the emails was that they “raised an eyebrow.” They shared some emails that raised an eyebrow. They didn’t say the feedback was bad or invalid or anything, they were just a little surprised by the tone and sensationalism of them. Big deal!

For everyone screaming “OMG! How could they! they HATE their customers! The are MOCKING their customers…” you need to stop dreaming and instead start reading. Overract at your own risk.

J 13 Apr 06

…oh and if you are looking for your excuse to hate 37signals, now you’ve got it. run along now and do your own thing…

Kyle Posey 13 Apr 06

It’s funny how people can take offense to the weirdest of things. And I find it even more humorous how people are trying to force 37s into their own little mold of what a company should and shouldn’t do.

Jon, this was probably just a typo, but I didn’t write the original post, nor did I voice a complaint. However, Matt was the author of the post, and it didn’t look like he was complaining either. He simply stated the dichotomy between why customers like their products (because they are simple), and the complaints that they send (the features they need are “essential”). To imply he had an ulterior motive would be an assumption on your part, and we all know what happens when you assume.

JF 13 Apr 06

Thanks for your comments, Kyle. It’s nice to see a little balance in here ;)

Jeff Croft 13 Apr 06

The bottom line, as someone no doubt said before me, is this: if half of us read this post and found it offensive and thought it read like a mockery, then half of 37signals customers probably did too — epecially since almost all of us are probably 37signals customers.

And that’s one thing that bothers me about this whole thread: 37signals hasn’t really treated those of us who thought this post was a bad idea like customers at all. We’ve offered feedback, saying, “we think this was a bad idea,” and their response has been “tough, we know what we’re doing, as evidenced by our sales numbers.”

I responded to this thread initially because I am a concerned customer (obviously the discussion moved beyond that, but that’s where it started). A customer concerned, now, that if I send 37signals a support ticket, it might show up on Signal vs. Noise. So far, nothing has been said to allievate this concern.

Perhaps someone can answer the question if I ask it directly: is it the case, then, that all 37signals support tickets are free to be used by 37signals in marketing materials (after all, this blog is a marketing tool and Jason suggesting this post may have been made in order drum up debate, which may or may not increase sales)?

If the answer to that question is yes, I’d suggest (again, as a customer) that disclaimer ought to be made to users who are about to submit a support request. At the current time, sharing customer’s e-mails actually seems like a direct violation of Basecamp’s Privacy Policy, which says:

“We collect the e-mail addresses of those who communicate with us via e-mail, aggregate information on what pages consumers access or visit, and information volunteered by the consumer (such as survey information and/or site registrations). The information we collect is used to improve the content of our Web pages and the quality of our service, and is not shared…except…when we have your permission…”

It’s definitely possible I’m reading that wrong, but again, if i am, other people no doubt are, too.

J 13 Apr 06

And that’s one thing that bothers me about this whole thread: 37signals hasn’t really treated those of us who thought this post was a bad idea like customers at all. We’ve offered feedback, saying, “we think this was a bad idea,” and their response has been “tough, we know what we’re doing, as evidenced by our sales numbers.”

O M G. That’s what people have been writing? “we think this is a bad idea?” ARE YOU SERIOUS?? Man are you a selective listener/reader or what??!

37signals has offered their responses OVER AND OVER AND OVER. Check the feedback from ML and JF. When 37s is challenged they respond. They won’t lay down and make you happy Jeff. They disagree with you. Why don’t you lay down and make 37signals happy? Because you disagree with them. And that’s fine. All sides have been heard.

Point is there are different opinions. 37s presented theirs, you presented yours.

Get over it already Jeff. You sound like you feel like you are entitled to everything you ask for. GET OVER YOURSELF.

JF 13 Apr 06

Everyone’s had their say. The value has been added and removed.

We appreciate everyone’s feedback no matter which side of the debate you’re on. We wouldn’t have an open forum here if we didn’t want to hear what people have to say.

This thread is now closed.

Remember to check out the Backpack survey results we posted this morning for everyone to see. It provides a 360-degree look at the total feedback we get from our customers.