Sunday, February 6, 2011

This is how you don't give someone feedback

I build stuff all the time. Sometimes it's just for me but most of the time, if I think the work I've done would be useful to others I open it up and share with others. For free. And a few of these projects have been very well received.

One such project I've shared is Ringerous. A simple tool that lets you blog to your Posterous site via a telephone call. It was the very first Twilio app I ever did after I discovered that lovely API. I use Ringerous on my own site and my family uses it on a private site. Very few people - 26 to be exact - have signed up to use it. It was never a company or marketed and it has its own share of flaws. Most notably those related to authentication in the Posterous API.

But it's there for others to enjoy. Like all the other projects I've shared, I try really hard to support it when I get questions. I've even added some features for a couple of users. The support part is really the most fun because I usually learn a lot from those interactions. Who doesn't want to make a product that delights people?

Then I got a trifecta of emails from a disgruntled person last week. I'm doing the only thing I know how to do. I'm sharing them. Because as much as people get pissed about poor customer service from AT&T, the TSA or the local cable company, there is such a thing as a poor customer. I won't say the world doesn't need them, but I will say that I don't need them. 

Next time you want to "provide feedback", here's a playbook for doing it badly...

Email #1 at 4:53pm : User is clearly running into a sub-optimal implementation (on my part) for discovering the posterous site, but also fails to read the instructions on the site)...

Ringerous is SHIT.
  I've tried *every way I know* to get it to work with my posterous, and it fails EVERY TIME.

   "Oops..configuration problems" can basically suck it.

Email #2 at 5:02pm : User must have a bad monitor or a funky browser theme because I can't figure out how "background-color: white;" turns into pink. I want to know. Sort of. But I can't get over "is SHIT" and "suck it" in the first email to want to dig in.

1. change the colors.  tiny grey writing on that godawful pink(????) background is *impossible* to read under even the best of circumstances, so putting your "helpful" examples of what to enter into the fields in a way that people can't actually read is.....sub-optimal, at best.

  2. "oops...configuration problems" has *got* to be the shittiest, *least* informative error-message I've ever seen in my life.  How about maybe having the error message list what was *wrong* with what I entered, instead of making me end up with a photosensitive MIGRAINE from straining to read the bloodydamn, invisible grey-on-pink print, hmmmm?

  3. Better yet, how about making whatever setup you have over on *your* side be able to deal with the posterous host-name OR your posterous site-address?  That would even eliminate the need for the godawful tiny, unreadable GREY PRINT that I mentioned earlier.


Email #3 at 5:16pm :  Apparently not content with the first two assaults, he came back with more... Snarky? I think he rounded that corner in line one of the first email. I'm mildly amused that I might have caused a migraine given the flogging I've taken at this point, but know deep down that migraines are likely a part of his daily life independent of Ringerous.

Not to sound snarky here, but:

      1. Ringerous (or something like it) *could* very very useful for the blind or visually-impaired in particular.  Unfortunately, because you decided to use really tiny fonts, and a REALLY bad color-choice (gray on pink?  Seriously????)  I now have a photosensitive migraine from straining to look at your godawful mess.

    Please study up on how to make this *more* readable for the folks who would actually benefit most from it, okay?   Between that, and the *totally cryptically unusable* error-messages, I wouldn't be surprised if a proportion of your potential users just wander away in disgust after trying -- vainly -- to get somewhere with the thing.

   Seriously: change the pallete and add some actual helpfulness to the error-messages, or at least make the "example" lettering bigger, and NOT grey on pink.) :(

    Haven't actually tried to phone in yet, but given your web-based signup interface, I have my doubts.  (Plus, I'm waiting for the damn migraine to go away, thanks to you!!!!) :(

To kill the suspense... yes, he did phone in and successfully posted to his blog. Unfortunetly, there were no fireworks in that post. That makes sense, it was his blog after all. He's saves his best stuff for his service providers. That gave me an idea. I should really setup a Ringerous account for Ringerous. That way people could provide feedback directly over the phone. Ahhh... a project for another time.

My response was short and simple. 

I have very little motivation to help you. Your tone is laughable. There are a few nuggets in there that I can take away from this, but I'd actually prefer that you didn't use the service.

It's worth pointing out that there is no pink on that page. So you might need to check your monitor.

Your loyal free service provider



  1. This would make a wonderful cartoon. :)

  2. Excellent response.