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As a solo developer, I decided to offer phone support (2017) (plumshell.com)
395 points by artkulak 35 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 177 comments



I offer phone support for a niche accounting app (https://quailhq.com), and everything in this article rings 112% true to me -- but especially this:

> ...all sorts of people call you, and I’ve really learned a lot by talking with users directly on the phone.

Sometimes users call me because they want to report a bug, or they've forgotten their email address. Sometimes they want business advice (!), or they have a niche feature they want to request.

> This may be a virtue of the Japanese, but, basically, everyone who calls is civil and polite.

Hahahaha. Haha. Hah. Ahem. The biggest surprise to me when I started offering support (first email, and then later by phone) is how _aggressive_ people can be. My app has two classes of users -- one free, one paid -- and the paying users are almost invariably polite and efficient while the free users can be really quite...hard to help. "YOUR SHITS BROKE FIX ASAP" is my favorite password reset request, etc.

All of my users are American (or Australian), which might have something to do with it. Happily, once you break through that aggressive exterior and people realize you're just a person trying to help them out they almost invariably do a 180 and become helpful and polite, and we get whatever it was straightened out together.

It's almost like there's something cultural happening in America that's making everyone assume the worst when interacting with people they don't know...


> It's almost like there's something cultural happening in America that's making everyone assume the worst when interacting with people they don't know...

My take on this is that most US firms have outsourced first tier tech support to non-native English speakers who have fairly useless scripts they have to run through. You're dealing with a human (sometimes), but it's about the equivalent of dealing with a robot. It's hard to remember to have empathy when whatever you say is met with a standard, often nonsensical readout of the next thing in their script. So I think we've trained people to expect a horrible first tier experience.

That said, I've done a lot of B2B enterprise software support and have found exactly the same thing as you. Initial emails or calls will come in and the tone is aggressive and impatient. I think this stems from the assumption that the response will be useless (until maybe it gets escalated 3 times to someone actually useful). But when you respond as a capable human who legitimately is trying to help them out (and not just pass them on to someone else), suddenly the tone totally changes and you have wonderful interactions. People are incredibly appreciative. Nobody is used to a support person actually solving their problem. Hell, they're not even used to someone replying to them at all most of the time. The bar is on the floor. So when you exceed that bar and actually help someone quickly and efficiently, they turn into super fans.


> It's hard to remember to have empathy when whatever you say is met with a standard, often nonsensical readout of the next thing in their script.

Personally, I have greater empathy for people in those roles. Working support must suck, but being first line support in a call center truly sounds like hell. I'm usually pretty good about not letting my frustration with the company/product/support process spill over and cause me to mistreat ground-level workers.

Maybe there is a cultural/linguistic phenomenon at play here, where Western/English-speaking cultures rely more heavily on synecdoche, so we just view the support person purely as an extension of the company/product causing us problems?


> Working support must suck, but being first line support in a call center truly sounds like hell

I've worked support, it truly is hell. I reserve most of my empathy for the front line support staff. When things are shit, it's almost never the first line support staff's fault, so it's not fair to take my frustrations out on them.


I worked as 'the software guy' on a big customer infra project where I'd be 1/4th of my time on customer sites reproducing problems, narrowing their cause, asking users to show me how they broke it, testing exhaustively and exhaustingly new releases or quickfixes w/ specific complaining person at customers' site, writing detailed descriptions of new versions, relentlessly opening tickets as a customer advocate but also triaging my time and tickets. The rest of my time would be fixing some, pushing colleagues to fix others, documenting, reproducing, proposing changes to avoid whole classes of problems... And implementing features (either asked by customer and I had time, or new feature idea that we'd fit in customer's budget twice - once as a prototype/PoC and once as a qualified feature).

It was one of the best experiences in my life and 'software' in that system was quite the gamut. I loved over anything being the voice of the customer, bringing back some reality in an org that can be quite bureaucratic, myopic to real needs and forgetful of problems.

It also was the time I spent the most political capital and when I discovered I was appreciated but to a point and that you can be right and lose, and that some people feel the customer is 'the other team' and you play 'for them'. Quite eye opening about what happens when words (customer obsession) meet KPIs or actual incentives...


Welcome to office politics. Where the metrics are what matter, and getting done what you set out to do takes the back seat.


I think companies deliberately and abusively do this, use front line support staff as human shields from their customers. This isolates the people inside from the consequences of their decisions and the front line will take the brunt of it.


Interestingly, I've chased down an issue before where a company was pulling back from realizing it's primary goal... Because it resulted in too many angry support calls from people who didn't understand the problem space fully.

Bit of an eye opener that.


I've worked support, it truly isn't hell*. Show the user that you care about their issue and can help them resolve it; project confidence; empathize. That's all you have to do. Unfortunately, none of that is possible with a language and culture barrier in the way, not to mention a script or KPI's full of useless information you have to collect.

* Also unfortunately, most companies' hiring mentality for support is "warm butts in seats", and to top it off, oftentimes they prohibit their support from providing any kind of resolution to various genuine issues. In which case it definitely is hell, and the fact that people continue in these positions rather than jumping ship at the first opportunity only enables these businesses.


> Show the user that you care about their issue and can help them resolve it; project confidence; empathize

I did all of this, was good at my job, and there wasn't a language or cultural barrier. It was still hell.


It also depends if you're supporting org users or The General Public. Org user support can be quite rewarding. Dealing with the unwashed masses however...


I think also the process to get support is part of what causes the loss of patience.

For example being forced to listen to a 2-minute recording, then they ask you to punch in your account number, so you do that, and then the first thing the representative asks you is for your account number. Like WTF I just entered it, it should be popping up on your screen. And then they try transfer you to someone, and then that goes to a voicemail, so you hang up and then try the whole thing again 5 more times.


> I think also the process to get support is part of what causes the loss of patience.

This exactly. In my city, Comcast's phone support is nothing more than "Did you restart your modem? We'll send out a tech", which can take days.


> Working support must suck, but being first line support in a call center truly sounds like hell

I spent my first 3 years in tech working in phone support (a few different Australia companies). I was young and dumb and thought any tech job would be awesome (tech was my passion/love, after all).

It was absolute hell.

I've been journaling several times per week for my entire adult life. Re-reading the entries during that 3 year period is depressing. My feelings towards other humans was truly distorted (I saw strangers as awful even outside of work). I spent every afternoon in a daze of depression and anger.

In my experience, companies treat support staff pretty poorly as well. And the pay sucks.

The mental toll of handling constant abuse from 8-6 every day was insane in retrospect.

After spending a few years as a dev, I wish I could teleport back to my first week in support and punch myself in the jaw. Working at a grocery store and applying for dev jobs would have been a much better strategy.


I feel bad for them, and I try to be nice because it's really $COMPANY_NAME I'm mad at, but they're so completely useless and you have to talk to them anyways. It's hard sometimes with the person actively wasting your time, even if it isn't really their fault per se.

I think there's also a bit of a perverse incentive: making it clear that I'm mad / fed up / about to blow my top tends to get me escalated faster.

I've ultimately settled on being pretty clearly angry, without yelling or cursing or blaming them or anything, which is the best compromise I've found between not being too much of a dick, and not having to listen to their entire useless script.


> I have greater empathy for people in those roles. Working support must suck, but being first line support in a call center truly sounds like hell.

Same here. The company has put them in a no win situation. However, it also leaves me pissed off as a consumer, as the experience seems designed to make you frustrated and give up.


> My take on this is that most US firms have outsourced first tier tech support to non-native English speakers who have fairly useless scripts they have to run through. You're dealing with a human (sometimes), but it's about the equivalent of dealing with a robot.

Tier 1 is of course script-based, it's simply an efficient approach to troubleshooting without forgetting any angles.

The issue is when the tier 1 agent is on three or four support chats at once, or when they have KPIs for average email/chat/call handling time, going over which docks their pay.

Multiple concurrent interactions are particularly bad, and there's little opportunity to do anything more than just go through rote script steps, and resolve or escalate quickly before moving to the next one. The end result usually is that the customer gets subpar support without any actual human dimension, and the agent somes to preemptively hate the customer.


Yes. Battery-cage poultry farms are about as humane as most outsourced call centers. It's not uncommon to have support desks trying to deal with 500+ requests a day with just a single handful of agents. The agents have KPIs, the outsourcing company that they work for has brutal and rigorously enforced contractual SLAs to the first-party company that they are providing service to.

It's a very dark and depressing sector to build software for.


Very true. This is one of the amazing things about Stripe support. They are the only large company where the first person you talk to actually has a clue


One thing I've been impressed by is that Chewy has no phone tree. It's direct dial to a human who actually can help with most issues. Apparently their reps commonly get mistaken for phone trees out of instinct.


Interesting. I've had the opposite experience. Stripe is my favorite company, and I look to them constantly as inspiration for how to do things in my business, but their support is comically bad -- wrong, clueless, and, in some cases, actively misleading.

The developer chat room is awesome and helpful. Maybe that's what you're talking about?


> The bar is on the floor. So when you exceed that bar and actually help someone quickly and efficiently, they turn into super fans.

I had this exact experience from the other side with Seagate the other day -- completely unexpected and out of the blue. I'd had a few drives on a raid fail. I spoke via a chat app with a support agent who listened to me, understood my zfs configuration and accepted the "smart status: failing now" as grounds to RMA.

When I then was late actually doing so (because I was an in-patient in hospital and a colleague replaced the drive), they gave me a prepaid ups label as a get well soon card. I note that their competitors are doing things like calling different drives "WD red" and "WD blue", with very different drives inside and reaching to the bottom.

Net result? The next 40 TiB raid will probably have iron wolf drives in it. I didn't expect to come away from an interaction like that with a vague feeling of brand loyalty, but actually by not fucking it up and letting me speak to someone who knew what zfs and smartctl was as first-line support I found myself massively impressed by it, quite unexpectedly so. Business that are xkcd/509 compliant deserve more.


I've made a note of this. I'm sure I am not the only one.


> My take on this is that most US firms have outsourced first tier tech support to non-native English speakers who have fairly useless scripts they have to run through.

I would believe this, but I have first hand experience working front and back in a Harbor Freight. I'm sure the percentage is lower, but the amount of people who are perfectly willing you be absolutely god awful to you in person to your face is ASTOUNDING. Not to mention it was a discount tool store, so GOD HELP YOU if you were a woman.


People forget they are dealing with a human being even in person.

Having worked retail you ARE the company. Not a person. Someone doesn’t like the company, it’s okay for them to treat you like dirt.

Obviously not everyone, or even a majority. But bright that I’m glad to stay away from it.

I’ve also seen Vice Presidents at companies train managers to scream at vendors. It’s just part of doing business for them.


Sometimes, vendors need a scathing word or two. If I'm paying an astronomical amount for your service, I do not expect to have to pull down your dev tools, and fix things for you.

That was a rough year, admittedly. Never raised my voice, but made it abundantly clear it was not Quality.


> So when you exceed that bar and actually help someone quickly and efficiently, they turn into super fans.

Agreed, it's a great way to win customers for life.


> It's almost like there's something cultural happening in America

Everyone can fill in their pet theory here, but mine is that so much of being American these days is disempowering. Corporations have so much power that not only do they not care about us, but we can't even avoid using them.

Get sick? Good luck fighting your giant health insurance provider or hospital conglomeration.

Looking for an entry-level job? Navigate a Kafka-esque application system only to (if you're lucky) work for a miserable low-level manager who also has no power and transfers that anger onto you.

Want to spend time with friends? Their preferred communication medium is now one of a couple of huge social media companies with horrific privacy policies and a history of emotionally damaging its users.

Want to go to a show? Have fun buying overpriced tickets from one of the two or three ticket monopolies and then pay an exhorbitant, insulting "convenience" fee.

So everyday, in many of our basic daily rituals, we are reminded of how little agency we have in our own lives and how much we both depend on and are subject to the whims of billionaires (who, meanwhile, are busy destroying the Earth).


Agree. I've had this experience far too many times where I call tech support and explain the problem to me and they're like "sorry there is no button for me to enter that into the computer" or when I need some report/export and people are like "sorry my computer cannot do that".

You're talking to a human, but they behave like a broken robot.

Also there's the 30 minutes waiting music that repeats every 1 minute a cheerful recording of someone saying "your call is important to us". It's obvious that it isn't, or else they'd hire more people so that they can pick up the phone more quickly.


I've mostly found the humans pretty helpful actually, at least at the places I've called. What drives me nuts with most phone support is that it makes you spend 20 minutes wading through a phone tree offering the same automated options as the website. If I'm calling, it's always for some weird thing that isn't handled automatically, if I wanted to do one of the easily automated things, I would have already done it on the website.


I'm willing to bet there are huge sections of the population who will insist on talking to a real person, no matter how mundane or trivially automated their request. The 20 minute hazing ritual exists to deter them, not you. The more of a pain in the ass it is, the lower the call volume they have to deal with.


>Also there's the 30 minutes waiting music that repeats every 1 minute a cheerful recording of someone saying "your call is important to us"

Even these manage to be dehumanizing to the employees some times. W*lgreen's has one that interrupts every minute to say "our staff is busy answering other calls", and the singular "our staff is" annoys me every time, like they view the front-line humans as just a possession to be exploited for every possible cent. Human Resources, if you will.


I don't care what kind of nonsense their recording says, what bothers me about this is they are stopping the music every minute! Can't get any work done while they make you wait half an hour.


On the other side, you get "Sup, the fuck do you want? I'm not getting paid enough for this shit"


Most of the time I'd prefer that to what you get instead.


Part of the cost cutting culture is embracing incompetence and using IT systems to provide a consistent, albeit shitty experience.

Everyone aspires to make their customer facing business like McDonalds because it’s cheaper to measure outputs from a broken system than to effectively lead humans.


None of those are exclusive to America. Not even the first one. Get sick in Europe? Best hope overpriced Ibuprofen works or you're gonna do a hell of a lot of waiting. Just to get some dipshit who tells you to take a paracetamol and chill.

Try to get a fucking job in Europe. No one is hiring because you're a tax burden. "But you're protected". Just not for the first 6 months. Or anytime they decide to fire you for bullshit reasons and you get told to move the fuck out of your decent apartment and drain your bank accounts if you want any benefits.

Friends? Heh.

Shows? Overpriced and garbage.


> Best hope overpriced Ibuprofen works or you're gonna do a hell of a lot of waiting. Just to get some dipshit who tells you to take a paracetamol and chill.

I live in the Netherlands, and this is the most frustrating thing about the healthcare system. I’ve had innumerable instances where the local GP recommends Paracetamol and my family doctor actually diagnoses the real problem.

It’s a running joke in this country: https://amsterdamshallowman.com/2019/07/dutch-healthcare-par...


To be fair, medicine is most just theater making people feel cared for while their body heals itself. They could make the theater more elaborate and expensive, but to what end?


> To be fair, medicine is most just theater making people feel cared for while their body heals itself.

I already take the placebo effect directly; if I'm going the trouble of dealing with your travesty of a medical system, it's because that wasn't sufficient.


Maybe you misread my comment, but my point was that I’ve faced issues where without the non-placebo meds, my condition was not improving.

I’m also curious why you think medicine is placebo theater. Surely, you aren’t invalidating the concept of modern healthcare?


On the health side, as someone with a chronic disease, I must say that I’m really grateful for the French healthcare system. I had a lot of quality care for basically zero euro.

However I see it falling apart everywhere day after day with not any political will to stop this (and i can even feel the will to let it fall voluntarily).

I know it’s still top notch compared to most of the world. But I’m so sad to see that governments of the last decades just didn’t care about fixing the issues while they were still manageable.


> Get sick in Europe? Best hope overpriced Ibuprofen works...

You are calling 'dipshits' to people that worked their asses to earn the right go be there. Six years of University, and then passing their Medical Internship Residency exams that typically takes another two or three to prepare, and then working other four years doing an internship, and then a few years more until earning a permanent place in another exam.

Any physician working in public healthcare in Europe is extremely qualified for the job.


>Best hope overpriced Ibuprofen works or you're gonna do a hell of a lot of waiting.

American healthcare is similar, except I have to pay $35 bucks up front just to talk to anyone, and can expect a couple hundred dollar bill to show up later if they actually do anything.


Nothing in your post rings true to me in Denmark but even if it did it is not in any way comparable to the state the US is in.


> Get sick in Europe? Best hope overpriced Ibuprofen works or you're gonna do a hell of a lot of waiting.

Live in France, _cannot confirm_.


>Live in France

Live in America, _cannot confirm_ your little anecdote about all Americans assuming the worst.

It's funny how Quail's front page seems to be filled with glowing reviews from cynical aggressive Americans but none from the cheery French. Weird.


> Get sick?

While you wait for your appointment, research your condition using any of the free, high quality medical knowledge bases on the web, and/or connect with a community of other internet users with similar afflictions to get advice/perspective.

> Looking for an entry-level job?

Learn to code and become an in-demand knowledge worker. In the mean time, perhaps monetize your existing skills and assets by becoming an AirBnB host or Uber driver or delivery driver.

> Want to spend time with friends?

Use a widely available asynchronous messaging service to organize an outing, perhaps using a money-transfer app so that one person can take care of booking etc. If you can't meet in person, maybe you can have a video conference on one of the various free platforms, or just have an extended group chat with your friends.

> Want to go to a show?

Browse the web for a vast selection of shows you would never hear about otherwise.

Not that these points negate your complaints, but I think you paint an unnecessarily miserable picture. I think that in itself is one of the big cultural problems of America and elsewhere.


Frustrated trying to just do normal human things because you're blocked by corporations and are powerless against them? Have you tried Just Don't Do That (TM)? Instead of doing what you wanted, try doing something we allow you to do. Powered By Technology Systems (R) will help you maximize what little agency you still have left, namely, to sit in your residence and consume the internet. The real world is no longer hospitable for humans, so just don't do anything!


Not to negate the issues presented, but the severity seems overblown. Since when is using social media to talk to friends or going to a show of the nature implied here a "normal human thing"? Pretty sure majority of the world's population are living their lives without these. Seems like first world problems. Maybe that's the real issue plaguing americans, and I say this as an american myself, they have too many "first world problems" and don't appriciate simpler things.


Try not using social media for friends, work, etc. and see how much you got left in a year. I did and there's no doubt many will struggle (lost friends, new job, not possible to have children (of you want them to gave a life or education). The only social media I ever use is HN. Society is broken up in those that use and those that don't.


> While you wait for your appointment, research your condition using any of the free, high quality medical knowledge bases on the web, and/or connect with a community of other internet users with similar afflictions to get advice/perspective.

And now not only your running nose is still there, but you are also very anguished and cannot sleep well, just because it might be the sign that you have a cancer and will die alone in terrible suffering in a few months while ruining your family with debts.


People don't have time for all that, nor should they.


I cant tell if you are trolling or not. In case you aren't, all of your solutions involve a large amount of free time and money. Something a lot people don't have, I worked in the restaurant biz before moving to tech. It was brutal, even getting a day off to go to the doctor would cost me a large portion of my pay check. I was able to "escape" due to having a solid support system, a lot of my former coworkers did not have this.


I vouched for your comment because you have some good points. You were likely downvoted for your first sentence because it's a (couched) accusation that GP is trolling. Consider omitting that statement next time, it does not add to the discussion. See the HN comment guidelines: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Hmm I could be wrong but I suspect that people spend record amounts of time watching TV (or equivalent) and record numbers of people own devices like smartphones that facilitate all of the above activities. Doesn't seem like time and money is the barrier you make out. Also they were not meant as solutions but as options that didn't exist in the past.


> and the paying users are almost invariably polite and efficient while the free users can be really quite...hard to help

I've found the same thing from people. But not in support, just in dealing with them.

I move a lot, and inevitably end up giving a lot of things away. What I've found is that when I post offers for things for free, it attracted the absolute worst of people. People who would claim it and never show up, or claim it and tell me they could come get it in two weeks. And -tons- of people who say they'll take it and ask when I can deliver it. Then get offended when I tell them I'm not delivering it.

I still remember vividly a dresser I was offering for free. A person said they'll take it, and asked when I could bring it over. When I told them no, they replied in all caps something along the lines of 'I HAVE A COROLLA HOW THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO FIT IT IN THERE', like I was the dumb one.

So now I just list everything for a pretty low price, then just tell them it's free when they arrive. It cut down on the amount of riffraff by about 90%.


Good idea. I gave away a large copy machine - industrial strength, large size - the kind where you can feed it in 400 pages and it will do loads of double sided copies and staple things in minutes. Nice, but it was old, and I had no need any longer.

Put it on facebook market and had probably 40 messages in the first 2 minutes. I hadn't realized how easy/automated FB makes it to respond. And I felt like I was letting people down because I wasn't responding fast enough. Eventually one person came to my place to get it, but... they thought it was a printer, and they were looking for a printer, so they left.

I kept getting loads of the same "still available?" messages, then "when can you deliver?" and "you want me to come pick it up?!" messages. Like... it's a $1500 (used today) copier. It was probably $7000 new. It has extensions to hold 10000 sheets at a time. It's serious. No, I'm not driving to your house with this this to see if you might want it. WTF is wrong with people?

Many days later, someone connected. And... it was great, but I was so wary/tired of dealing with freeloaders and tirekickers that I was suspect with him too at first. But this guy ran a boys club a few towns away, and their last copier had broken, and they didn't have funds to repair it. This was such a windfall for them. He happily came over with a big enough truck, loaded it up, kept offering to pay me ("are you sure? this is a lot!") and was just so damn grateful that I hadn't given it away yet. I'm glad I waited a bit longer vs just paying a company to come and take it away.


I discovered that setting boundaries early is very helpful for these kind of transactions. Sentences where I highlight that clarity, punctuality and reliability is important to me usually dramatically increase the quality of contacts.


When I freecycle things I always ask a question in the listing, often "where are you coming from". People who don't answer get rejected. It seems to cut a lot of the time wasters.


I had a similar experience advertising for flatmates. "Room available immediately" was a terrible idea, and I had to have something like 20 people come view to find 2 suitable. Many disorganised people no one else wanted to live with (e.g. 40 minute viewing and conversation before bringing up the fact that they had a dog, when it said "no pets" in the listing). "Available next month" was much better.


I've tried the same thing, adding a low price just as a filter. It works, but it's kind of a shocking lesson in human nature. Offer a $100 item for free and you will never sleep again thanks to all the responses, but try to sell it for $5 and you may not get a response for days.


Well, yes. If I see a $100 item posted for $5, I'm going to be extremely suspicious. That's probably going to be $5 wasted on something that's broken and worth $0.

If I see a $100 item posted for $0, then it doesn't matter if it's broken and worth $0 because I didn't spend any money.


/r/choosingBeggars is a non-stop stream of outrageous examples like this. Really crazy stuff.


"It's almost like there's something cultural happening in America that's making everyone assume the worst when interacting with people they don't know..."

The US is a low trust society. You can feel it in all aspects of life. Companies are very controlling and feel the need to constantly monitor their employees, people assume the worst from strangers and are afraid to go to places they don't know.

I myself am getting more and more worried when I talk to a doctor because I have seen it now several times how people got screwed over by doctors, hospitals and health insurance.


> The US is a low trust society.

Not at all. Almost every commercial transaction at the retail level allows you to use a method of payment that does not guarantee that the seller will actually receive that money (credit cards). You order food for pickup, and the great majority of restaurants will let you walk in and pick a bag off an unattended table without any attempt to verify that you did in fact order what you're taking; and anecdotally, I've never had my order be taken by somebody else, accidentally or otherwise.

The US is a high trust society.


> Not at all. Almost every commercial transaction at the retail level allows you to use a method of payment that does not guarantee that the seller will actually receive that money (credit cards).

Your ability to get a line of credit hinges upon an invasive scoring system that tallies your creditworthiness by a multi-billion dollar opaque bureaucracy.

When you go to buy something at the retail level, you're watched by dozens of cameras that record you from the second you drive into the parking lot. When you go to use those credit cards, cameras from every angle imaginable are in your face, and sometimes literally right in front of your face, so there is no ambiguity about who is making purchases and what payment methods they're using. One purpose these cameras serve is to collect evidence in case a customer should open a dispute with their creditor or do a charge back, and another is to collect evidence for criminal charges and prosecution. Retailers will share the video and other data they collect on "problem customers" with other retailers to use as they please. Also, if you use cash and pay with bills above $20, they'll either be denied or checked for forgery.

I've also shopped at retailers where I didn't fit the image of their ideal customers, and have been followed around by employees and owners. You don't feel much trust in that type of situation.


Forget credit cards, the U. S. is a place where you can scrawl your name and a monetary amount on a piece of paper and people will accept it as if it is cash. If that isn't "high trust", I don't know what is.

(Granted, these days that piece of paper gets run through Telecheck or whatever, so the risk has gone way down that last few decades.)


Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe anyone has accepted significant funds like that in a very long time unless it was for some invoice; that is to say you already owed the money.


>Almost every commercial transaction at the retail level allows you to use a method of payment that does not guarantee that the seller will actually receive that money (credit cards).

That's not how credit cards work. At all.

>You order food for pickup, and the great majority of restaurants will let you walk in and pick a bag off an unattended table without any attempt to verify that you did in fact order what you're taking

I have literally never seen this once in my life. Where do you live where the "great majority" of restaurants operate this way?


>>Almost every commercial transaction at the retail level allows you to use a method of payment that does not guarantee that the seller will actually receive that money (credit cards).

>That's not how credit cards work. At all.

Not the OP, but that's exactly how cards work. When a card is swiped the seller doesn't receive the funds until possibly days later. There is absolutely no guarantee that the seller will actually receive that money, since it can be disputed or charged-back.


In retail, the actual risk of not receiving money for a credit card transaction is pretty low. In the case of a stolen credit card, the retailer is not responsible for the fraud and will be paid. Outside of some sort of mistake (or outright fraud) on the part of the retailer that they refuse to correct, the fact that the credit card was physically present resolves pretty much everything else.


The actual risk of a merchant not receiving money for a credit card transaction is quite high. Chargebacks are enough of a business problem that many large retailers have whole teams only devoted to processing and disputing them. There are entire companies that create products and services to help merchants reduce just "friendly fraud" chargebacks—that is, chargebacks where the cardholder says the purchase wasn't authorized but they are just lying or it was a family member who made the purchase. That there are entire industries devoted to helping reduce it shows that the risk of chargebacks is definitely something that merchants take into account in how they run their businesses.

In case of a stolen credit card, it's 100% the merchant who pays (that's why they're called charge-"backs"). The only exceptions are if the transactions are indemnified by a third party partner.

All the card brands have multiple chargeback codes for fraudulent transactions, even card-present ones, so the fact that the credit card was physically present is not some kind of guarantee that the merchant would win a chargeback representment.


In the US maybe. I have never in our business seen anything like a chargeback or heard of anyone ever doing something like it. It is a very American problem. Even if people did do so they would be punished quickly. It is only a problem in a society with a high level of crime and little or no consequences. The law allows a chargeback for 12 months here. Not a problem, not even in our webshop.


> It is a very American problem

This is laughable, as North America has the lowest chargeback rate of all the global regions. This is just biased and ignorant anecdata.

> It is only a problem in a society with a high level of crime and little or no consequences.

If you're going to make nasty anti-American claims, you should at least back it up with real data. The facts are that chargebacks are a bigger source of fraud loss outside of North America than inside it.

> Even if people did do so they would be punished quickly.

This is not how credit card fraud works.


Yes. I didn't say that the risk is incredibly high. If it were, cards would not be used. The point was that payment is not guaranteed, since chargebacks are allowed.


The risk is 0.001%, and it brings in 30% (or whatever) more business. This has nothing to do with trust, it's a simple equation.


You're comparing apples and oranges. This is not a risk, revenue, or trust discussion. The discussion was that credit card payments are not guaranteed due to chargebacks. This is a truism and has nothing to do with the percentatge of chargebacks that occur.


This is exactly correct, and the parent's suggestion that the risk of chargebacks is something like 0.001% is WAAAAY off. Like, by orders of magnitude off. Any business that processes credit card transactions at scale, card present or card not present, is going to have a whole department of people who all they do all day long is deal with chargebacks.

It does seem like there are some people here who think they know how credit cards work but actually have no idea.


Not all businesses that use credit cards are in the broken US system. It's not a widespread problem everywhere.


According to Merchant Risk Council survey data[1], in 2021, friendly fraud in Europe was 1.3% (of transactions), 1.6% in Latin America, and 1.5% in APAC. In North America it was only 1.0%. So, it's actually a smaller problem in the US than in Europe and other global markets.

Further, "Annual Ecommerce Revenue Spent to Manage Payment Fraud" was 9% in Europe, 12% in Latin America, and 15% in APAC. It was only 5% in North America.

[1]: https://merchantriskcouncil.org/resource-center/surveys/2021...


Chipotle and Starbucks do it with online orders. However, they do that because they are big enough corporations to replace anything wrongly taken for free.


This really varies a lot with where you live. I'm almost an hour out of philly, very solidly middle-class office-y medical/pharma area and yeah, the sushi place I go to (not a chain, local place) just lays out the stuff on the counter for pickup, and you just look at the attached receipt since you actually what _you_ ordered. This would of course be ludicrous to do in some parts of the city itself.


the US is a low personal trust, high systems trust society. there are plenty of facilities to accommodate personal failures, in the case of defaults, insolvencies, missed payment, breached contracts there is a highly developed legal system to accommodate arms-length remediation and for smaller issues, claims courts and arbitration. in finance industry, in the wholesale industry, there are self governing organizations to manage clearing, settlements, margining, penalties and incentives to perform regular and continuous contractual obligations, etc various checks and measures to avoid failures but also stopgaps to remediate failures when they happen.

we don't need personal trust because there is systems trust.

japan is a high personal trust system that obviates the need for high systems trust. insolvency proceedings in japan for example rely on private proceedings, social and familial relationships, instead of formal remediation. without the need for high systems trust, there is a virtually non-existent (high-yield) credit market, because companies don't "fail" in japan in the way we traditionally think of credit failures, and the outcomes of a credit event is non-standard and very difficult to predict. furthermore, if you are an outsider to the personal trust system, it is very difficult to fully participate in society.


Honestly, as I've now lived in 9 different cities all across the US, what I've learned is that the US is wildly heterogeneous and generalizations about it are therefore rarely useful or resonant.


This is _strongly_ dependent on location. One could probably infer many attributes of a zip code to reasonable accuracy based only on how far the Starbucks in the area place pickup orders from the entry door.


All that stuff is not done out of trust but because it’s cheaper for them to not verify things. Amazon doesn’t make returns easy because they trust you but because they have run the numbers.


> The US is a low trust society.

We chose this path. (Or at least, someone did.) There were explicit tradeoffs where we burned social capital in exchange for a bit of cash, and now the costs are coming due.


Here's an unfortunate lesson learned from a company that was in the untenable position of providing phone/tech support for debt collection software: the only way to get the people calling in to be less hostile was to include a clause in the contract that stipulated their license could be revoked if they repeatedly abused the support engineers.


The UNIVERSAL truth of sales (and support):

• Give away for free and you WILL be treated like shit

• Charge for the same (even a nominal fee) and people will value it

This is known by many names: "Tragedy of the Commons", "Economics of Scarcity vs. Plenty", "Reciprocal Value", etc.

But it's a UNIVERSAL result so certain you can plan for it to happen and plan to avoid it with complete certainty.


I thought tragedy of the commons was where decisions making sense on an individual basis end up being harmful when made en masse.


It is. The tragedy of the commons is typically about how people not having to pay the full costs of their actions lead to negative results in total. So, for instance (and the naming action), a group of ranchers letting their animals all over-graze the same shared field.

The other names also seemed not to describe the underlying question nor to describe each other. Reciprocal value is a way of describing transactions. Economics of Abundance vs. Economics of Scarcity are macroeconomic concepts relating to the money supply.


While working as L2/L3 support for a enterprise product, i notice that people were not that mean/angry as they sound in the email (Maybe it was a wrong interpretation of mine) when you actually call them. Even though calling customer sounds like lot of time waste but many issues were resolved quickly over the phone rather than email/ticketing system. I really enjoyed talking with various customers and understand their use case and usually used to go beyond and above to help them.


Yes! This was a huge lesson I learned as well. You can spend days going back and forth over email with a customer trying to figure out wtf they're doing. They get irritated that you're not getting it, you get irritated that they're not explaining things right. All can be solved with a quick phone call or screen sharing. But younger folks new to support are often really hesitant to pick up the phone. Just pick up the phone!


I started doing this ("picking up the phone") and you are 100% right in that in can work absolute wonders. Folks who have grown increasingly frustrated at a back-and-forth email exchange are just insanely delighted when I skip forward several rounds of mutual frustration and just unexpectedly call them.

"Hello, is this Marc? This is Trevor from Quail; email was taking too long, let's just figure this thing out together." is my go-to phrase, and I've lost count of how many customers I've converted from almost-churned into the best possible evangelists through the simple mantra of "just pick up the phone!"

Absolutely solid advice.


This was my experience too. I worked for a while in tech support for my university and while from time to time we'd get frustrated calls from professors that couldn't upload their grades or where frustrated by how things looked different, it was super satisfying finding ways to help solve their problems.

It was kind of an unique situation because I was also a developer of the system that I was giving support for thus I really had inside knowledge and when things "looked different" I could tell them way they looked different and how it could benefit them in the new way they looked. I don't remember a single case in which after explaining the way people actually preferred the "old look".

I see that time as a highlight in my professional experience (should emphasize on my resume now that I think about it!)


Same experience here having once developed analysis software for in-house technical users. Definitely worth highlighting.


> "the paying users are almost invariably polite and efficient while the free users can be really quite...hard to help. "YOUR SHITS BROKE FIX ASAP" is my favorite password reset request"

I wonder if part of the issue is that paid users feel more confident in getting their concerns taken seriously, while free users feel (perhaps unconsciously) like they have to exaggerate the problem and shout to be heard? I can see that as a very natural learned behavior for modern users.


I hadn't thought of that as "natural learned behavior" but I think you're definitely on to something there. I'm not sure when, but sometime in the last decade I internalized the lesson that the best way to get through an automated phone system is to scream profanities or mash buttons on my phone until I'm redirected to an actual human: a mode of social interaction that I would be _mortified_ to engage in in literally any other situation.

But I must have learned to do that because it gets results, or at least gets me to the humans faster. I guess what frustrates me as a human on the other end of that interaction is the assumption that you need to raise exaggerated hell to even reach my notice. I want to help! But folks are conditioned to expect the opposite, I guess.


My theory for that is that companies in the US have a culture of prioritizing support tickets by a product of “outrageousness” and reach.

If you sound like your next step is to sue the company, they solve your issue before the ones that sounded understanding and forgiving. Same with reach, if your complaint reach HN front over or get traction on Twitter, it is solved first than those that just sent an email.


That’s so funny, I did the exact opposite at my company. The nastier you are in ticket the slower we were to respond. Eventually word got out that if you’re polite you can get answers from the CEO. If you’re rude, you go to the back of the line and don’t have a chance of talking with anyone beyond tier 2. It took a couple years for everyone to “get it”, but it mostly works now. We only actually ever got 1 letter from someone’s family attorney (read: the customer’s sibling). We just sent a FU nasty gram back on letterhead from our huge multinational firm signed by a partner and we never heard from them again.


> It's almost like there's something cultural happening in America that's making everyone assume the worst when interacting with people they don't know...

I would probably compare it moreso to just the abysmal state of quality of support, even for expensive or important services. Call your health insurance provider and try to get something changed/fixed in a reasonable fashion and you'll be met with red tape/nonsense/phone tag. I am a person that usually starts out angry on any customer support line, only because of the shenanigans it takes to get someone on the phone in the first place.


> It's almost like there's something cultural happening in America that's making everyone assume the worst when interacting with people they don't know...

I think part of the direct issue with support is that people are very used to dealing with extremely poor support from a wide range of large companies and are primed for having their issues dismissed or being forced through largely irrelevant support scripts.

That's why as soon as they realize that isn't what is happening, their attitude suddenly gets a lot better.


Many companies unintentionally incentivize that behavior because the more angry you sound the more likely you are to get bumped to a higher tier support agent.


It's the culture of "the customer is always right" and "the squealy wheel gets the grease".

When acting entitled gets things done, and when management rewards that behavior from customers instead of shutting it down, it's not surprising that more people start doing it.

I think this is a pretty pervasive attitude in our individualistic, quasi-meritocratic American society: we expect things to work right, we get frustrated when they don't, and we get doubly frustrated when the support line doesn't seem to be working either. Then, often, we seek compensation instead of being grateful.


Part of the problem is that many American companies deliberately give you the run around to stop you from cancelling service. Spaces, a Regus company, is the worst. You have to submit your issues to accounting in TX but they won't talk to you. You talk to Support which can't actually help you. They threatened to call the Police when I complained in person. It took months but I caught them in a lie and threatened charges. A full refund immediately.


>and the paying users are almost invariably polite and efficient while the free users can be really quite...hard to help.

I've seen that whilst contracting and with software sales. I've come to the conclusion the bottom 10% of any market is a cesspit and I don't want any part of that either as a buyer or seller.

I have a suspicion the top end is the same although I've had little experience of that.


It's definitely not limited to the U.S. though. I recently got this email from a new irate user of my side project, trying to use an international card that Square wouldn't accept:

> HELP URGENT

> TRYING TO ADD A CREDIT CARD BUT YOUR STUPID WEBSITE ARENT ACCEPTING MY CREDIT CARD.

They still had 13 days to enter a credit card, so this wasn't exactly "urgent". I think it's that people want to convey how frustrated they are so that you'll prioritize the issue, and it comes across as aggression. What I've learned from being on the other end is that this approach sometimes backfires. I feel a strong urge to put off responding to such rants because it's draining to deal with these customers, while customers who respond positively to help or advice make a sole proprietor want to help them more.


> It's almost like there's something cultural happening in America that's making everyone assume the worst when interacting with people they don't know...

It's the same in Germany.

> Happily, once you break through that aggressive exterior and people realize you're just a person trying to help them out they almost invariably do a 180 and become helpful and polite, and we get whatever it was straightened out together.

Yep, indeed. Especially once they realize it's the developer they are writing with, not a support agent. I always have mixed feeling about it, because I don't deserve to be better treated than the frontline workers of our company.

So maybe it's a western thing after all?


>All of my users are American (or Australian), which might have something to do with it.

I worked in a call centre for a summer in southern England dealing with deliveries for a high-end retailer, and I can say with 100% conviction the stereotype foreigners have of the reserved, mild upper-middle class English person has no basis in reality when you're a mere peasant on the phone to them! Some of the rudest, pettiest, most completely unnecessary conversations I've ever had happened that summer, their complete lack of perspective really made me rethink how I saw the world.


This is the American approach right here:

"You have to closing all the time. Be aggressive, learn how to push. And there is no such thing as a no-sale call. Either you sell the client some stock, or he sells you on a reason he can't. Either way, a sale is made. Now be relentless." -Boiler Room https://youtu.be/2frX1E0deb0?t=113


No, this is the Yankee approach! No red-blooded Southerner, raised on cornbread and unflinching politeness, could engage in such relentless pushiness without dying of shame along the way.

(alternatively, said red-blooded Southerner might just shoot you out of spite. There are...drawbacks.)


There's a good reason southerners have a historical reputation for being polite. If you weren't, someone might just challenge you to a duel.

I'm not convinced the shift away from that state of affairs was a net social benefit.


Honor-based cultures come with their own set of problems.

> The concept of honour appears to have declined in importance in the modern West; conscience has replaced it in the individual context, and the rule of law (with the rights and duties defined therein) has taken over in a social context. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honour


The critical weakness of honor is that it’s vulnerable to defectors, which can emerge and thrive in a society where A) the cost of ostracism is small B) there are groups of people with incompatible cultural bases. Cosmopolitanism is incompatible with honor- or trust-based systems.


Good distinction to make.


I'm wondering, how do you ensure the people who have called you have indeed paid for phone support? Do you just assume callers have since the support number is not published anywhere? Or do you ask for a username/account number or something like that? I've never used phone support for something that isn't targeted to all-consumers-but-none-in-particular.


> It's almost like there's something cultural happening in America that's making everyone assume the worst when interacting with people they don't know...

Note that it isn't new. My wife worked customer support for an online website from 2002 to 2007. Her experiences were the same as yours.


The free vs paid thing is so true. Just see app store reviews. No one expects so much as someone who didn't and won't pay a thing for what they are demanding. It's a whole different mindset.


There are basically no consequences when you are in a position to pay for something. You are either subsidized by a benefactor, have something else figured out (employment, recurring revenue), or are on a corporate account.

Whereas the people that need things for free are overleveraged to the hilt where everything is indeed consequential.


While I'm not disagreeing with you, that's not really the case here. If anything, my free users tend to be retired hobbyists while my paying users are running local, in-person retail businesses on usually razor-thin margins. They're not subsidized or entitled; they're working their asses off and barely making things work (which I can confirm, since they run their business on my software).

And "overleveraged to the hilt" implies that they have access to finance, which is certainly not universally the case. I'm working on a Stripe Treasury integration, which for a fair few of my users will be their first dedicated bank account for their businesses.


I would abstract this topic to: talking to your users is important, and phone is a high-bandwidth medium.

In particular, it seems like this developer recognized that phone connects them to their less technically savvy users, who - by being most different from the dev himself - can give him the most valuable outside perspective. Depending on your market, if you're trying to sell into non-techies this could provide hugely valuable insights.

In general, the closer you are to the development side of things, the more you have a very specific (and I guess "correct") model of how your system works. By default, all of your documentation/support forms/etc implicitly reflect this model. But if your users model the thing in their brain differently, then your help/form aren't the most helpful in educating them or eliciting their true feedback/problem.

One final thing - I have seen 'magic' where developers who chafed at tickets coming in from support staff (withdrawn, user error) would all of a sudden get excited about rebuilding something when the user themselves or even the support person, just explained in a higher-bandwidth way why the problem is real. It's easy to read a ticket and go "oh that's dumb, they should just do X" but on the phone/in person you go more into like "oh, this is a really reasonable/nice/smart person who's trying to use my system to do something important, and it's not letting them."

Gets a totally different type of results.


When I ran my own business I had a product in the thousands of dollars price range. Phone support for this product would almost always be an interesting conversation where I learned a lot about customer needs.

I also had a $25 PDF tool with a trial version. For that product a lot of the callers had no clue what the product actually did or tried to get a $5 discount or some other nonsense. I quickly stopped taking calls for that product because it was so unpleasant.

My lesson was to offer phone support only for high price, low volume items. Phone support for cheap things attracts a lot of unpleasant people.


Some years ago I got a librarian (MLIS) degree, and one of the things I remember from the training was that when a patron comes to you with a "reference" question (you know, the kind of thing that doesn't happen anymore, before there was google when they'd ask a librarian what they now ask google)... what they initially tell you they are looking for (or at least what you initially hear/think they are telling you), is usually not actually what they want.

The process is a give-and-take "reference interview" where you collaboratively get to the bottom of what they are actually looking for, not just a simple process where they explain what they need and you find it.

This has been very useful and applicable to any kind of tech support, and this account reminded me of it.

(Also, btw, applicable to any kind of stakeholder expressing requirements/specs too...)


A related article about the XY problem: https://xyproblem.info/


I find it hard to correctly state what I'm looking for when asking for help. Stackoverflow is the main example that comes to mind but it can be any place.

How were you taught to get to the bottom? When saying what it's for, I often feel like I give way too much irrelevant backstory that nobody cares about. Or without it, I risk missing out on a better solution. Also, if one mentions the goal, people will often go "why don't you [redesign the whole thing and] use X" instead of answering the question, but perhaps that's out of the scope of what the asker can do for a better answer and this is more something answerers should avoid doing.


Honestly I remember the general principal more than any particular techniques!

We could try googling the "reference interview". But basically, just inquire about context: Not just what do you want, but what do you want to use it for, what do you want to do with it. And an iterative back-and-forth process of teasing it out. And basic respect for the person, meeting them on their terms not yours, even if you wouldn't want what they want. Be careful of your assumptions. Ask open-ended questions.

When I googled, here's the thing I found that I liked the best: https://opencommons.uconn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&h...


In undergrad and even in HS I learned from teachers or advisors that using librarians like this is how its done, well into the google era. Walk in and utter little more than "Ancient Greece" and walk out with four relevant books for your report and a fifth on the way from another branch.


Under different circumstances I noticed something quite similar, but there was a quirk... if they had to make a title of a few words for the request, the title often reflected the true underlying request better than the dissembling longer freeform underneath.


For the first few years of my product, I was in the same situation of being the solo-developer offering phone support. There were a few huge benefits, some mentioned in the article and a few downsides. Some highlights:

When talking a user through a set of actions, hearing them stumble or fail to understand the UI is quite the humbling experience. You literally pay for it with your time as you listen to them struggle.

Feature requests over the phone allowed the user to fully explain the need and helped me understand why that feature was important. The majority of the time a compromise could be struck between us where I could fulfill the feature request meeting my technical and time requirements while solving the problem for them. You can’t do that with emailed forms.

A major downside is I would often get sidetracked to solve trivial problems for frequent callers who I had developed a working relationship with from frequent calls. The squeaky wheel gets the oil problem. While some of these enhancements probably added great value to the product, it was more difficult to pull off the big projects. Maintenance in particular suffered.

In the times of a major problem like an outage or error, I did feel some frustration in those rare times. It was critical to answer the barrage of phone calls, to let them know we were aware and working on the situation. But as the only one who could fix a situation, being stuck on the phone in a repetitive loop delayed things. I just wanted to fix the issue, where each caller wanted to explain it.

It was a valuable experience for me, but I am generally happier to no longer have a phone on my desk.


This is an intriguing idea. I have heard before the recommendation to add a support phone number to your website, but always wrote it off as either out of date or something that only applies to large companies. The feedback from talking to customers is really valuable to solo developers.

Part of why I run my own business is for the flexibility, and guaranteed 9-5 phone support would really threaten that. I wonder if there is a way to offer this on a best-effort basis without coming across as flaky? Perhaps putting the number only on the support page (like OP), but also only having the number there when you're online?


I ran as a mostly solo developer for several years. I steered customers to make initial support requests via email, then scheduled calls wherever it was warranted (or sometimes just called them back if I had time and it would be more efficient). My business phone number was on my website and it went to an answering machine when I was unavailable or didn't want to take the call.

Generally my customers didn't care what time of day I responded, so much as they appreciated how sincere I was about solving their problem in short order. Being so intimately knowledgeable about the product and able to effect relatively quick codechanges where warranted empowered that, and frankly the quality of support I provided ran circles around most of their other vendors where it took multiple tickets / interactions and navigating endless bureaucracy to reach someone actually able to help.


I know some people with small businesses who use quality 'virtual assistant' services to answer calls when they can't.

Obviously, they're not "first line support" solving people's problems - instead, they are "the CEO's personal assistant" scheduling a call back.

After all, if you're an accountant or an architect or a lawyer or a dentist, there's no embarrassment in running a business that's just you and a secretary.


If you have a fine outgoing voicemail message which explains this, and call them back during your "support hours", I think they're still going to love you.


I've never seen a company try this, but I wonder if an SMS/text support number could work. This would help with the 'flakiness', i.e., you don't have to respond immediately and you can help multiple people at once. No more waiting on hold at least.


Many companies will have a similar structure but a different implementation, using a website-widget where the customer asks for a call-back.


We use Calendly to let users book appointments for calls. They submit their number and we call them at whatever time they choose within our availability hours.

If you know when you'll be available in advance maybe a similar setup could work for you.


If you can cultivate your customer base to only sell this service to folks who want to pay for it. On a timed basis, generally. All the upside without the headache of dealing with angry people you don't have a business relationship with.

Folks who want to purchase a service are generally grateful of getting whatever they're paying for. They realize that's not always the case.


>but also only having the number there when you're online?

If you make that clear, and explain why, I think it would be a good idea. If nothing else, it might even encourage me to call with ideas if I knew you were physically going to answer the phone.


Maybe you could ask people to submit their number in support requests so you can call them back when you feel like?

It doesn’t give all the benefits of having the number on the website, but if gives you the agency and choice.


I find talking to end users incredibly critical.

First app I made for my first job:

The app was made for our customer's partners. Lots of time was spent on layout and how this app would be used (they assumed everyone was a power user).

I finally get it out in the field and talk to the first end users of the app.

They just open the app, immediately hit search, find the thing they wanted, do thing and left. That's it, almost every single one of them did that.

The whole main page and dashboard type experience our direct customer wanted because they imagined their partners were power users, nobody was using it...


Yeah I feel like as UI has modernized the "search box" UI approach is still not as celebrated as it probably could. I quickly don't care if it's some quirky incantation of a pigeon language as long as it gets me precisely to the destination without messing around. In the few enterprise apps I've seen evolve that was the most successful change was to make either a UI search or a content search.


We (two developers) offer chat support via Intercom. When an issue gets sufficiently complicated, we fire up a video call and screenshare. We find this works great.

Maybe there's a cultural difference in Japan, but I think this is much better than phone support. There's a much lower barrier to sending a chat message than making a phone call, plus the communication is semi-asynchronous.


For those not already familiar, what is intercom? Is it like Jitsi?


Intercom.io. They were a darling of HN for a while, combining chat and email (not video) into a single support stream. They've upped their prices quite a bit, but also expanded the product offering quite a bit. I've used them for many years at multiple companies and I'm still pretty happy. Dunno if there is something better in the market.


> combining chat and email

Oh it's one of those contact forms disguised as chat systems? Those are such a pain, website offering oh to talk to someone and then "responds in 49 minutes on average, you will be notified via email".

But then GGP mentioned a screen share, does that work via a third party then?


Yes, that's probably it. The customer experience depends on whether you (support) are in front of the computer. If you're not available, phone support means leaving a voicemail and playing callback phone tag across worldwide time zones. I'll take the chat window please.

A nice thing about chat is that it's easy to send and receive screenshots and links. Our customers seem to be pretty happy, but that probably has most to do with the quality of support.

I'm the GGP, and yeah video is a different app. I use whereby.com (formerly appear.in) out of habit, but probably will move to Jitsi soon. It would be nice if this was integrated into intercom.


I really enjoyed reading this. It makes me want to call the developer for support just to make my day better. :)

I’ve worked with a lot of people who don’t understand technical offerings and analytics well (both coworkers and customers) and have learned some similar lessons. Making oneself available for these kinds of calls seems like a distraction, but it prevents so much more unnecessary and/or misunderstood work than a more structured queue as long as it isn’t abused. (To do this, hiring needs to factor emotional intelligence, too; our talent pool defaults to slightly less polite than the older Japanese professional customers the author describes.)

I try to maintain small enough connections between teams that an informal approach to balancing this kind of support can be used and most of the conversations can be directly between the person with the direct need and the person who owns the relevant service or worked on the project. Trying to scale it and introduce PMs and middlemen to save time is counterproductive because they often can’t explain the heart of the problem, so the interruption doesn’t pay for itself, and instead of bringing emotions that communicate valuable context to the developer, the middleman brings emotions related to their job, desire to please their boss, frustration at being assigned a low-context task, etc.

So when that “scaling” is unavoidable it’s always better to force work into a structured process because you might as well minimize time and communication if you can’t get the right two people to connect.


> ...to force work into a structured process because you might as well minimize time and communication...

This works for me, but for different reasons: my "structured process" for email support starts with an autoreply that mentions that we're a two-person company doing our best, and we'll get back to you as soon as we actually can (including out of hours if we get the chance), etc. Usually, folks get their emotional baggage and "ugh I have to email support" frustration out of their system and, by the time I respond with a follow-up they've already moved on to the "oh, this fellow human is going to help me out" phase of things.


That’s a very good point—-design and writing of these systems makes a big difference and lets prevents the need for further walling off.


I've practically never disagreed with a user when they've had difficulty with software, or the workflow, or error messages or whatever. As someone with a very low tolerance for hard to use software myself - I totally git it.


>>You can detect critical parts of your product

THIS!!!

Not necessarily phone-only, but the help line/desk is an incredible goldmine of information on the actual in-field use of your product. More valuable than 100 design sessions, focus groups, Product Manager opinions, etc.

Yet it is frequently ignored as a cost sink. This is in no small part a reason for the declining reputation of 'big tech'. Too many product managers just don't want to be pushed off of their 'vision' for the product by the actual in-field reality (Win-11 seems to be the latest victim of this myopia).


I'm honestly somewhat surprised to hear this. My experience providing email support for my main business (to be fair, second-hand video games in Australia) has basically taught me both how scummy and underhanded people can be, and also how many desperate and lonely people there are who contact tech support just to have someone to speak to.

We very, very rarely provide our phone number, and even then only when it's strictly necessary. It would just drain us to be contactable at the drop of a hat by the public.


This is a great and admirable move, maybe later you will need to hire staff, but you will know the users concern etc and you can train the next people, this is extremely valuab. Many companies go with live chat, horrible faq pages, email or phone support for the high value segment. Anyone would like to have some algorithm do as much work as possible, which is fine, especially for giant companies. However, the ones with the run off the mill Salesforce back office but no phone support(too expensive)are commiting a grave mistake in my opinion.

Most companies SOP/procedures get very complicated, unmaintainable, lots of link rot and high turn over rates for support staff makes sure that support quality will take a large hit sooner than later. Email cases often go between departments , always sitting in a waiting queue, and maybe the customer needs to reply as well, IE , resolution time is very long. The customers think it's automated bot emails, at best compounded template emails. It's not personal, people do not read or understand emails.

Often, a call can resolve a case or at least make ensure that the customers concern is well understood and the customer understood what it takes from his side. And guess what, they will feel like privileged, speaking to a human, this builds trust.

And nobody is saying you need a massive inbound call center or a third party provider.

Just at least try some outbound calls for difficult cases at least.


I offer mail and skype support, the bad thing about skype messages and skype voice is that after the call is ended I don't have a mail with the user's requests. because of this, i have forgotten many requests and they have to call back to ask me again. On the other side when somebody sends me an email I put a task flag on it and I work through these flags during my working hours.


How much do you charge? What kind of revenue is this producing? I realize you are getting many non-monetary rewards from this.


Discussed at the time:

As a solo developer, I decided to offer phone support - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15813107 - Nov 2017 (137 comments)


I would like to offer this service too but don't want to use my personal as it's already full of recruiter spam. What services do you suggest to use? I see Grasshopper and Dialpad as 2 options.


I used to have a phone number on my web site. Over time the majority of my customers migrated to email and the few that didn't seemed to mostly be time wasters.

I guess it didn't help that I'm in the UK and the majority of my customers are in the US so there were time differences to deal with.

I will still phone customers if they ask although I always push back on that until I have some details on their issue.

Conference calls are nearly always a complete waste of time when it comes to support but can be helpful when closing sales.


There have been a few times that I've offered phone support for my solo startup. When people email demanding it, I often do not offer it as an option because I can sense they are belligerent and it would be unpleasant and possibly unproductive.

There are other times where I will suggest it to a user who I can tell is struggling with emailed instructions, or who cannot explain what he/she is seeing on screen.

One thing to remember: you can block caller ID if you dial *67 before the number. Don't want to have users calling your cell inbound!



In Germany, you must put your phone number on commercial websites. A few people called me before I put a note not to call me next to the number.

In my case, I write TFM, so phone calls came from people who didn't RTFM. Emails require more time to write, so people do their research before asking.

I do learn a lot from those emails. They help me write better documentation, because they're direct feedback. You get to know what confuses people, and what situations they find themselves in.


Talking to users is so, so important if you want to build a product people actually want. Discord gets a lot of hate in here, but I haven't found a better product for easily engaging your users. It's lower friction than a phone call, and it's fun to see a small community build up around your product. Eventually, people start brainstorming on ways to improve things and even help each other out from time to time.


Great customer service is the best marketing :)

Oftentimes, I would prefer using a product from a responsible sole developer, rather than from a faceless big corp.


I will take phone calls, and like others here I find talking to customers enormously useful and instructive.

I also use Zendesk, which I find more efficient because I can send screen shots that clarify my instructions and responses. I can also search my customer support history for frequently asked questions and their answers.


This is how I started CallTrackingMetrics… I answered as many customers calls as possible- talked to and listened to as many as I could and then tried to put it all together building a solution for marketing attribution and contact centers along the way - the we use internally with over 60 employees….


I wonder, are there startups/apps that can build voice menu for phone calls for SMBs/indie developers? I guess, it ll be lot easier to derive insights from support related calls to improve product.


I can't seem to access this with Firefox, the certificate is valid for *.sixcore.ne.jp, not plumshell.com.


Works for me. The site doesn't support HTTPS.

Your browser is probably automatically redirecting HTTP to HTTPS.

Do you have the HTTPS Everywhere extension installed?


Ah yes! It's HTTPS Everywhere. Thanks.


Does HTTPS Everywhere just blindly redirect you to an HTTPS equivalent? That's crazy! (As you're finding out) there's absolutely no requirement that a site that responds to HTTP will also respond to HTTPS, or will respond with the same page even! Could be completely unrelated content. Could be controlled by a different party!


By default HTTPS Everywhere falls quite far short of "everywhere". It just has a list of things to try, where there's a popular site often linked to by HTTP for which HTTPS exists. It even handles cases where the sites have different server names e.g. https://secure.example.com versus http://www.example.com which was a big trend at maybe the turn of the century.

So, if you want more you ask it to instead try to upgrade everything, by simply replacing http-> https.

I don't use HTTPS Everywhere, but, I do run Firefox. Firefox includes a feature called "HTTPS Only Mode" which is default off for now. In HTTPS Only Mode (which you can enable for Private Browsing, if you just want to ensure your porn doesn't get swapped for Rick Astley; or for all tabs if you like me would prefer unencrypted HTTP to go away now please) Firefox behaves as follows for all URLs whether you typed them in, clicked a link on a page, or in an email, or whatever:

* If rewriting http as https "just works", that's what it does. Yes, in theory https://pig.example/ could be a site about pork farming while http://pig.example/ is a site about how awful the police are, but nobody actually does that on purpose unless they're being deliberately contrary - so there's no reason to care about it.

* If the HTTPS site does not exist, Firefox tells you there is no secure site available, it says the most likely reason is mundane - there is no secure site, but it's possible something nefarious is happening. One click takes you to the HTTP site you originally were linked to.

* If the HTTPS site "exists" only in the sense that if you typed that HTTPS URL in manually it would give an error on another browser (or indeed Firefox) that counts as not existing for this purpose. e.g. bad certificate, terrible SSL configuration, somebody doesn't understand how ports work.


> the certificate

But it's an HTTP link. Where are you getting a certificate from?


Phone them up, their number is on the web site.


Related: I tried calling [insert virtualization company] support because I had issues with the website, and of course the issues only started after paying for the product. When I press 1 for technical questions, it refers me to the website's ticketing system and hangs up. (The sales line had me queueing for 3 hours 11 minutes then went to voicemail.)

You're doing it too! The person is having issues reaching the site and you're referring them to the site :D


(2017)


Added above. Thanks!




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