How Not to Piss off your Customers

Minute Read

There is a great project management system (PMS) I liked to use called Redbooth. There are a ton of PMS software out there like Asana, Basecamp, Trello and many more, but something about Redbooth made it great. Growing a team means that each team member will require input and guidance in order to effectively reach their goals. The problem I always had with other software was the amount of email notifications I’d get in my inbox. Sure I could disable those notifications but there was no effective way to keep track of what activity inside the PMS without missing information or requests from my colleagues.

Redbooth takes a different approach by incorporating a Dashboard that allows you to use a centralized interface to process everything that is going on with tasks that may not even be assigned to you. In other words, it's a method of managing your team without feeling overwhelmed from your email inbox.

Now I could go on about brilliance behind the Redbooth UX but this isn’t really about that so much as it is the way in which they conduct business. I’ve used Redbooth on and off for a little over a year now, but I always walked away from it with a bad taste in my mouth. Not from the software but rather from their business decisions made by the company. A little over a year ago they raised their pricing quite dramatically which came around the time they changed their name from Teambox. They effectively forced their existing customer base to pay them more money for the same thing, or take a hike - so I did.

Talk about alienating your customer base, right?

Recently, I decided to give them another try, but not even a month in and they decided that they were going to modify the feature sets of the plans. They intended to remove the Reporting functionality from their Professional plan and give it only to their higher paying customers. This time I had it and told them much more directly about my dissatisfaction in how they treat their existing customer base.

Now I can only speculate why they make decisions like this but it’s certainly easy to assume they are trying to maximize their profits at the expense of building long-term relationships with their customers.


Oh, you want to use our Booth? It's only for the top 1%.

Now, on the other hand, when Atlassian bought HipChat, they didn’t force the existing customer base to their new, more expensive pricing model. Now HipChat understandably had to cut their pricing with recent competitors such as Slack but I’m still getting a great deal for a number of users I have and it does everything we need it to do.

Even beyond Hipchat, there is another service called Wistia which serves as a platform to host and share videos online. A few weeks ago I happened to log in and was greeted with the following message:


Essentially they’re giving me a free upgrade to their highest tiered plan at absolutely no additional cost to me. Now if that isn’t exceeding your customers' expectations then I don’t know what is.

So all that brings me to my primary point. The kind of business you run for your company is completely up to the founders. No matter what you say on your website, your core values will always shine through and affect not only your employees but your customers as well.

In fact, many founders face the dilemma about what to do with their beta testers at one point or another Should you let them have it for free once you start charging, or maybe give them a discount to start coughing up money for something they had for free? A popular model seems to be downgrading them to a “Free” plan and/or offering them a discount for a paid version of the software. I don’t think there is any right or wrong answer here, but do understand the psychology of loss aversion where somebody is more likely to throw a fit over losing something than never getting that something in the first place. Once a company converts from a free to a paid business model they should take some additional time to understand whether they have achieved Product Market Fit (PMF) or if the majority of their customers are referrals. If they are in fact referrals, then the last thing you want to do is anger the only users that might be the lifeblood of your future growth.

There is more to it though than just treating your customers right though. You must also consider the impact of removing features from your product set that your customers might be using. In another example, Droplr, my favorite screenshot sharing tool recently came out with a new version touted as being bigger and better. However in their new product, they removed a simple yet aggravating feature, can you spot it?

Old Version

New Version

They removed the ability to take 2 different types of screenshots from the preferences panel. This may seem insignificant until you start utilizing these 2 different types of screenshots and realize just how much time it saves when sharing a screenshot that doesn't need to be annotated. Now I don’t know the exact reasons they had for removing such a feature, but I can only speculate that they had a handful of new users who showed frustration over not knowing the difference.

So what did they do? They made it so you can only have a hotkey for 1 type of screenshot, and this rustled my jimmies. As yet again here we have a company removing what appears to be a really tiny feature but who knows what kind of impact that might have. In my recent conversations with them though, it seems they had a big enough backlash that they plan on adding it back in.

Screen Shot on 2015-05-25 at 17-02-41

Now, this can be argued from another viewpoint as well. It’s possible you may wish to remove features if your software has become too bloated and your customers don’t really know how to interact with it or even use it. Without trying to sound cliché, It’s important to ensure a streamlined product that centers around the user experience and the problems you are trying to solve for that user.

With that said, it’s even possible that adding features or even a new product set could enrage your customer base. A few months ago, Valve, the makers of Steam decided to create a marketplace for game add-ons. Personally, I loved the idea as too often I’d always find mods or game add-ons that would have a negative impact on my gaming experience from buggy code to simply not being maintained. The thought of having a centralized marketplace would seem to infer higher standards for developers and provide a better experience for the end-user.

However, many saw this as a big corporation trying to make even more money by taking a 25% cut of the price of the mod purchased. While Steam already allowed anybody to upload free mods to games, they were now allowing developers to charge for certain mods. Just 4 days after releasing it they shut it down though. They had pissed off the entire internet and lost much more revenue than it ever could have gained with the paid mods enabled.

Perhaps they should have asked their customer base with a survey before changing the dynamics of an entire gaming culture centered around their platform?

So what have we learned? Well, it’s possible to piss your customers off in a myriad of ways. While change is inevitable and we humans are psychologically programmed to get upset over changes to the norm, they can have devastating impacts on the long-term viability of a company.

So if you’re not a CEO at a publically traded company then your concern shouldn’t be with quarterly profits but in building a loyal fan base that will follow you wherever you go, not necessarily motivated by what your product does so as much as the values and culture that defines your company as a whole.