Tag Archives: riverfold

Customer support

One of the most interesting (and difficult) parts of running an independent software business is responding to support email. It is very time-consuming and often more frustrating than writing code because the solutions can be illusive. You want to help the customer, but it’s not always obvious how.

Two blog posts in the last week take entirely different approaches to customer support. The first is from Ryan Carson, who is well known for DropSend and The Future of Web Apps conference. Here’s a snippet from his response to a customer:

I am now marking your email address as spam and your communication will no longer get through. If you don’t want to use our service any more, please cancel your account.

I was relieved to read the comments, which are more sane. I think Ryan made a mistake in how he dealt with the customer, and wasted a bunch of time in the process. Adding a customer to your spam filter? Yikes. I would have refunded the customer their $5 immediately.

(I actually like a lot of what Ryan writes and the events he puts on, but lately I find myself noticing the differences. As another example, his post about outsourcing programming work to Russia left me puzzled.)

Joel Spolsky also wrote an essay on support, and it’s just about perfect. I especially like his section on memorizing awkward phrases:

It’s completely natural to have trouble saying “It’s my fault.” That’s human. But those three words are going to make your angry customers much happier. So you’re going to have to say them. And you’re going to have to sound like you mean it.

For almost every support email I get, I start by responding like this:

Hi Bob, Thanks for purchasing Wii Transfer. I’m sorry to hear it was not working correctly for you.

This does three things right away that I think are important:

  • Greet the person by their name. Kind of like making eye contact. And it’s respectful without being overly formal.

  • Thank them for using the product. If they haven’t bought it yet, replace “purchasing” with “trying.”

  • Apologize that the software gave them trouble. This is mostly equivalent to Joel’s “it’s my fault” phrase.

Although I could probably respond faster by using some macro shortcuts that do this for me, I actually type this out every time, varying it slightly as is appropriate for the question. I then move on to the actual solution or follow-up question about their issue.

This is more than just trying to be nice to people. As someone in the comments to Ryan Carson’s post said: you need to show the customer that you are on their side. Going negative demonstrates that you care about receiving their money but not actually building something useful that makes their life easier.

Here’s a portion of 37signals take on being on the customers side, from Getting Real:

At 37signals, all of our support emails are answered personally by the people who actually build the product. Why? First off, it provides better support for customers. They’re getting a response straight from the brain of someone who built the app. Also, it keeps us in touch with the people who use our products and the problems they’re encountering. When they’re frustrated, we’re frustrated. We can say, “I feel your pain” and actually mean it.

Most people who buy Mac software from independent developers know that it’s only 1-5 people behind the company. We can’t compete with the Microsofts and Adobes of the world on application size, but we can compete on quality customer service. Being small is a competitive advantage.

I’ve exchanged at least a couple hundred emails in the last few months with customers or potential customers. (I don’t actually distinguish between users who have bought the product or who are just trying it out. They all get the same level of support.) Have I handled each one perfectly? Probably not. There are a few people who are still experiencing problems. But my hope is that just writing this blog post will serve as a guide and reminder of why taking support seriously is worth it.

I hate domains

There is a story behind the name “Riverfold”:http://www.riverfold.com/, but it’s probably not a very good one and I won’t go on a tangent by telling it here. What I will say is that I hate domain names.

Maybe it’s because I remember when domain names used to be free (I do), or maybe it’s because I get some thrill out of typing in IP addresses (I don’t), or maybe it’s because I think domains should last forever, like a printed book in wide circulation. But in any case I decided not to register WiiTransfer.com when I first named the product. Five days after announcing and shipping 1.0, someone else registered the domain, for their own presumably evil purposes.

I’ve owned just a handful of domains over the years. During the dot-com days I registered MyEdit.com and started building a web-based note filing system (sort of like “Stikkit”:http://stikkit.com/, but not as good). Then there were the family web site and related domains.

I let all of them expire, except manton.org. I kept riverfold.com for “everything else”, and I’m pretty comfortable with the simplicity of that decision right now. It was probably foolish to pass up the domain for my own product. But how many people type in photoshop.com to go anywhere? No one who matters.

There is a thread on the MacSB mailing list about the rise of product-oriented web sites (the “DiscoApp.com”:http://www.discoapp.com/’s of this new era of glitzy Mac shareware), and it really made me second-guess my decision to not register everything. But at the end of the day, it’s one less thing I have to worry about, and I can focus on stuff that is more interesting.

Holiday hacking on Wii Transfer 2.0

I got sick (the flu?) shortly after Christmas, but nevertheless managed to sneak in some coding on Wii Transfer 2.0, which I hope to release this weekend. The big new feature for 2.0 is music and picture sharing. Essentially, there is a web server built into Wii Transfer. You can use the Wii’s Opera web browser to connect directly to your Mac running Wii Transfer and pull up MP3s or iPhoto albums. I’ve licensed “Jeroen Wijering’s Flash-based tools”:http://www.jeroenwijering.com/ for listening to MP3s and browsing photos. The interface isn’t perfect yet (the buttons should be bigger for easy TV viewing), but I think it’s pretty good for a first shot at this. The web server portion is based off of “Jürgen Schweizer’s Cocoa example code”:http://culturedcode.com/cocoa/.

“Check out this screencast”:http://www.riverfold.com/software/wiitransfer/screencasts/sharing.mov to see what most of it looks like. The first part shows the new Wii Transfer main window UI with a source list for switching features, and the second part shows what it looks like from the actual Wii. I just setup a tripod and filmed off the new HDTV with my digital camera.

I also started back on “real work”:http://www.vitalsource.com/ today. We have some neat stuff shipping later this month that I’ll be blogging about more once it’s ready to show. I knew I could easily get lost in inconsequential stuff on the Tuesday after a long break, so I spent a bit of time yesterday reviewing to-do lists and getting my head on straight. Got some real coding and design done today, so no complaints there either.

All in all, 2007 is starting off great. (Except that I still seem to be sick, but I’m going to try to ignore that for a bit longer.)

MacSanta and Wii Transfer 1.5

“Wii Transfer”:http://www.riverfold.com/software/wiitransfer/ is now listed as part of the “MacSanta promotion”:http://www.macsanta.com/. Only $7 through Christmas day!

I also released Wii Transfer 1.5 late last night. The major change in this version is support for automatically backing up saved game data files from an SD card. The Nintendo Wii by default does not save games to SD cards, but it’s easy in the Wii settings interface to copy your saved games to an SD card or restore later. If Wii Transfer is running when you insert an SD card into your Mac, it will automatically copy the saved games to your hard drive (in Application Support), organizing them by date. Then there’s a simple UI for restoring the games back to an SD card. “Here’s a short screencast”:http://www.riverfold.com/software/wiitransfer/screencast_backup.mov if you are curious what it looks like.

One neat part of this that I was able to do — and this is consistent with the whole point of Wii Transfer, improving the experience of transferring Wii data — is to show the real game names in the restore list. The data files actually use a 4-character code, but “WiiSave.com”:http://www.wiisave.com/ is maintaining a list of codes to real names. I’ve baked a portion of that list into Wii Transfer 1.5, and the application also automatically downloads an updated list from the Riverfold web site so that as new games are released, Wii Transfer will know about them.

Now head over to “MacSanta”:http://www.macsanta.com/ and pick up some great Mac applications, all 20% off.

Re-introducing Wii Transfer

I guess it’s a sign I’m not blogging very often when I don’t even announce my own product! A big thanks to “Dan Benjamin”:http://hivelogic.com/ and “John Gruber”:http://daringfireball.net/ for linking up “Wii Transfer”:http://www.riverfold.com/software/wiitransfer/, a little application I quietly rolled out last night. (I’d thank the other links too but I’m still sorting through referrers for today. Maybe it’s time to buy “Mint”:http://www.haveamint.com/.)

Wii Transfer started as a weekend hack to make the process of converting QuickTime movies to more Wii-friendly codecs much smoother. Not many hours into it I realized there are a bunch of useful features I could build around the Wii. Rather than work on it for a few months leading up to a big 1.0 release (all the while not knowing if it would be well-received), I borrowed a little “less software”:http://gettingreal.37signals.com/ch02_Build_Less.php and brought it to the point that it was generally useful and worth paying for.

This kind of quick iteration is great because it means tonight I can announce version 1.2. There are a handful of minor improvements, but the two big new features are AppleScript support and an interface for quickly opening video podcasts from iTunes.

Overall this has been a really fun process and I’m interested to see where it goes from here. I will write more about Riverfold, the company, in a later blog post.