Sunday, January 29, 2006

Well we just got back from the NER All-Fuels Expo. The trade show went great for us, we met a lot of great people, got some really good feedback, and even more confidence that our product has a market that needs it. Considering the convention was in Connecticut in the end of January, we couldn't have asked for better weather, no snow, except for about 10 minutes on the way up, and even fairly light NYC rush hour traffic.

Things I learned or of note:

Our target audience was slightly off. While 99.9% of chimney sweeps are male, the people that actually bought our product, or were on the verge of buying it were mostly directed to do so by their wives, and many others had to ask their office managers, etc...

The features we thought were the most impressive (ChimScan integration and MapPoint integration) were actually probably the least desired. The good news is that the core aspects of our program were in very high demand, and were in many cases what sold it.

Don't get down if you do not receive any sales or positive feedback on the first few days of the trade show. For us, Wednesday was somewhat of a downer, but Friday afternoon at 1:55pm (the show ended at 2pm) was a buzz of buying, deal making, etc... People will wait until the very last minute, heck, we were even still discussing options with customers in the parking lot afterwards.

Like Joel from JoS says, version 1.0 gets a few early adopters, but based on the feedback we received, it appears if we add one or two features we had overlooked or put off until this point, we will receive an influx of more orders, and then a few more features after that, even more. I'll be busy programming this next month or two and the rest of the guys will be busy selling and handling support, so I may be slower in posting.

I absolutely could not have done this trade show alone, I'll detail our setup and what everything cost/required on a later post, when we have pictures developed (forgot the digital camera).

Friday, January 13, 2006

Customer Service

Even though this is supposed to be a "development journal" there hasn't been a great deal of development this month, since 1.0 was finalized. We are mostly just getting all of our materials ready for the Northeast Regional All Fuels Expo at the end of the month. I'll break down exactly what we got and how we did there when we get back.

So as we sell our first couple of copies, one of the most important aspects of running a business comes into play, Customer Service. A surprisingly large amount of people, including business owners have no real understanding of this concept. I've seen developers give a accusatory tone to customers when they are called with a bug, i've seen business owners write angry emails back to customers who may have given rude feedback, and i've seen people argue and argue with a customer over a simple refund. I've never worked ANYWHERE where people didn't refer to their customers as "idiots" or "the dumbest people". Hello? They are keeping you in business. I'm sure when you call the Toshiba hotline they think you are stupid too.

I think part of the reason i'm such a strong believer in customer support is that my first job ever was at Sears. There you are taught that the customer is ALWAYS right. If the customer tells you he/she saw a $40 pair of jeans under a $19.99 sign, they are right. If a customer brings back a pair of obviously worn clothes for a return, they are right. If a customer wants you to check the stockroom even though there is nothing back there, they are right. There would be a surprisingly large amount of people I worked with there that would argue with customers over coupons, sales, returns etc.. Hello... it's not YOUR money, it's Sears money, and Sears has told you to make that customer happy, why give the customer an attitude? Anyways, after that job I had two or three other jobs that related to customer service (help desk, computer lab, and comp tech), so between all those I've learned some ins and outs.

Ok, so a customer buys your software, and then 20 days later says "this sucks, can i have my money back?". You suspect they may have simply copied the software, or maybe just used it for one job and is returning it now that they don't need it. What do you do? Argue? Ignore them? No... give their money back, no questions asked. I know many of you are out there scratching your heads with how thats not fair, but you are missing the point of customer service. A return, especially on software costs you very little personally. Outstanding customer service either results in simply a loss of money for you, but it may also mean a recommendation. "Well, i didn't really like their product, but man they took it right back!". A angry customer will cost you considerably more. People spend hours making websites and going out of their way to publish your problems (Paypal, etc...). One angry customer could result in 4 or 5 lost sales. They can just chargeback their credit card, and there is little recourse for you. They can sue you. Home Depot, Walmart, etc all learned a long time ago that it is better to take a small temporary loss on a return or discounted sale then make a customer mad. It is almost NEVER worth making a customer angry for you to be right. If a customer calls with a bug, even if they are cussing you out and you know it's their fault, humble yourself. Don't admit to things that are not your problem, but assure the customer you will do everything you can to try to help them. You would be surprised how quickly a friendly answer turns anger into embarassment.

At one of my jobs, a customer wrote an email swearing how our system was terrible, how he lost all his data, and *#$#%$, #$#%^@, #$$(%!. It was very rude, it was very angry. Some of my coworkers wanted to write a mean email back, but I said, no let me write the email. I simply wrote something back like "I apologize you are experience this problem with XXX, we are constantly trying to improve our product, so I personally am going to look into why you are receiving this error, and etc.. etc...". Right back came an email saying "Wow, I am sorry I reacted this way, you guys really do have a great system and i appreciate blah blah". If you respond with anger or accuse a customer, they will make your life hell.

Sure, there are some instances where an angry customer is worth more then a returned product, and you some customers will simply be unreasonable, but as long as you treat them with respect, are friendly, and do everything you can for them, 99% of the time you will have happy customers. And happy customers equals a profitable business in the long run.