LearnHow to deal with abusive customers


writes on February 15, 2007

Every once-in-awhile I get a really angry (and slightly abusive) customer support email for DropSend. It’s always tempting to lash back in anger – but it’s never the right thing to do.

Here is a recent example:

Refund me the 5 dollars ASAP

No attempt whatsoever at civility or courtesy. Not even a “Hello” or “To whom it may concern.” Just a one line demand for a refund . To be honest, it didn’t ruffle my feathers at all. I’ve grown a pretty thick skin and have come to accept that people will often say things in email that they would never dream of saying to someone in real life.

So I just took a deep breath and responded with this:


I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Why should we refund your money? Did you not mean to upgrade? Have you used your account?

Kind regards,

My hope was that he would respond with a story about how he tried the service and it just wasn’t right for him. Every once-in-awhile, we get someone who says “I upgraded and then immediately downgraded as I realized I didn’t need the service any longer. Would you please refund me?” And of course we happily oblige.

But then I got this one back:

What the fuck is wrong with you guys?

I have emailed you guys several times now. REFUND ME ASAP

Wow, now that’s not nice. Normally when customers ask for support, we happily help out. Even if it’s annoying and time consuming. However, verbal abuse just isn’t cool. So I sent this back:


We do not tolerate verbal abuse. It was your choice to upgrade and then downgrade immediately. It states clearly that you will be charged for a pro-rata amount of the month.

If you’re not happy with the service, feel free to cancel at any time. All you have to do is log in to your DropSend account (https://myaccount.dropsend.com/login), go to the “My Account” tab (https://myaccount.dropsend.com/account), scroll to the bottom and click “Please cancel my account”.


I kept my cool and stated the facts. I took the time to explain how he can easily cancel the service if he’s not happy with it. Seemed like a fair way to handle the situation.

Then I got this zinger:

I downgraded immediately, because the dropsend application didn’t work for uploading my files.

Just refund it asap; I don’t have time for this shit.

And don’t tell me something that I have already done. I want you to REFUND me, not cancel. What part of the word REFUND do you not understand?

Hrmmmm. So he wants to continue using DropSend, but get a refund for his last invoice. That just isn’t fair and this email exchange is starting to spin out of control. So I responded with this:


As I said, our policy states very clearly that the charges would be made and you agreed to our terms and conditions by checking the box.

If you weren’t so abrasive and rude, I would’ve refunded your money – even though we are under *no* legal obligation to do so.

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.

All you have to do is log in to your DropSend account (https://myaccount.dropsend.com/login), go to the “My Account” tab (https://myaccount.dropsend.com/account), scroll to the bottom and click “Please cancel my account”.


Usually I get angry customers emailing me demanding for help. I always respond with a friendly response, doing my best to help them out.

But every once-in-awhile, you get a customer who is just cruel and really doesn’t want to be helped. In those cases it seems best (to me) to state the facts to them in a professional manner, and move on.

I actually got sucked into this one a bit too much, but like any fight, it drew me in.

What are you opinions on this one? How would you have responded?


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129 Responses to “How to deal with abusive customers”

  1. Nice write up. From time to time we do get customers just demanding to help them on the simplest things. That’s why we have an extensive help section.
    But when people get rude.. you really want to tell them sometimes to “shoot themselves”,
    but, staying professional is the best way to treat this kind of people.

  2. I think your email response was reasonable, if they were polite then I expect your response would have been also. I have had a week of dumbass customers (that equates to 5 dumbass customers) demanding goods now and not appreciating that they come from elsewhere, even though they were advised at the time of purchase there is a time frame, which they excepted. Most customers are polite and friendly and ask for updates which we respond to quickly. When someone comes in accusing us of lying to them and demanding there goods appear from out of nowhere blah blah blah. I lose respect for them immediately. I try and keep patient but the last one this week got a blast from me. Enough is enough. Treat people with respect and expect the same in return. We are not here to create a problem and we are not here to be abused, we will do our jobs as best we can, your patience is appreciated.

  3. Enigma Valdez on August 5, 2013 at 7:08 am said:

    I would have basically stopped with your second reply where you stated that it was his choice to upgrade and immediately downgrade, as well as the cancellation steps. You are right, you did get a little sucked into that negative energy, and it’s a challenge when you’re dealing in customer service rep. Overall, I do think you did remain calm and courteous to this person.

  4. 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.

    You just escalated the issue by stating that I’m afraid

  5. Beatricemoonbeam on February 17, 2011 at 7:10 pm said:

    Actually I tend to ignore the rude customers, I will do whatever I can for someone who is nice and not swearing, screaming talking to me like I just crawled out of a swamp somewhere. So if you want help don’t call screaming, accept that there are some people in other parts of the company that cannot resolve your issue and give what you expect in return. You can’t demand respect especially with abuse.

  6. i know im bringing back the dead, but i stumbled upon this write up and agree with the writer. in my opnion, golden rule to T when it comes to service. if someone is a complete d*ck, throw it right back at them. if they are nice, they go well out of your way to help them out. get rid of the demmanding pricks of the world, just because you raise your voice and force yourself upon people doesnt give you the right to always get your way

  7. christine derrit on February 24, 2010 at 10:54 pm said:

    I think the main reason people are rude when they ask for a refund is that–at least in my experience–being polite tends to get you ignored. And based on this guy’s emails, he already felt ignored. So he was rude, because rudeness gets people’s attention. DO you ignore people who ask politely for a refund, or do you just tell them, no, it’s against my policy? You say you don’t, but my basic customer service experience with any company has been, if you are polite they tell you it’s against policy. If you are rude, then sometimes you get a refund and sometimes you don’t, depending on whether the service rep interprets your actions as assertive or rude, which you have no control over.

  8. Oh boy. So many things wrong with this story.

    First. Basically, you admit that there was no reason for your first reply other than getting the customer to repeat the same thing, only more nicely.

    So it has nothing to do with professionalism or learning about the customer’s point of view… and everything to do with your hurt ego and trying to teach a lesson and somehow coming out on top. So you send him twenty questions, the single most certain way to piss him off.

    Then the customer replies. If you cared one tiny bit, you’d have picked up on the important clues: he’s frustrated, and he’s E-MAILED YOU SEVERAL TIMES. Bingo! YOU had screwed up. YOU had ignored his previous e-mails. YOU made him mad. YOU made his original e-mail so terse and rude.

    Now would have been the time to search for records, and either find his alleged e-mails, lament on your lack of timely response, and word a grovelling apology; or fail to find his e-mails, decide that you believe him (lying about such stuff and pretending to be angry just in order to get a $5 refund would be unlikely), and, again, word your apology.

    Nope, you blabber about “tolerating abuse,” using the royal we at that; blame the customer and draw his attention to a flawed and probably illegal policy; and top it all off by obnoxiously repeating some completely unrelated crap.

    Then he reacted as any frustrated, angry customer having to deal with abysmal service would have. And finally, you reacted by being judgmental, patronizing, childish and rude. You were criticising the manners of a justifiably angry customer (really, WTF?), and wrote all this crap that I will keep using as a counterexample. Really, this should be taught at customer service schools, as in, how never ever ever to treat any customer for any reason ever at all.

    If you provide a service, people expect you to be impersonal and professional. By no means judgmental. Ever. You absolutely need to ignore the swearwords. Pretend they’re not there. You’re not a court of law, the customer cannot be held in contempt of you. If the customer is right and his complaint is justified, solve his problem. Be polite. Ignore his cursing. Especially if it’s your poor service that pissed him off.

    I think people confuse two things: a prospective customer with a bad attitude, and a customer with a complaint who has a bad attitude. The former you can ignore, even tell him to go to hell, if you don’t mind the consequences. As for the second: his attitude is much less important than the contractual relationship that already exists between the two of you. Now you have obligations. If he has a complaint, you are legally required to investigate it. And while you may think that there’s no obligation for you to refund (based on your crappy terms of service), I think this particular customer did actually have grounds for the refund, based on your ignoring his repeated complaints.

    I think the main problem here has been taking a very egocentrical view of the situation. It requires effort to try to put yourself into someone else’s place, especially if you feel attacked by his point of view. But in dealing with customers, it’s obligatory. Your overly defensive attitude made you completely blind to this user’s problem and needs.

    As far as the dangers of being too nice and having every asshole keep asking for refunds: come on now. If you feel abused, i.e. someone cancels on the last day and still wants a refund; or someone keeps asking for refunds on questionable grounds, repeatedly: if the problem is really costing you, then do something about it. Don’t let customers pull the same unreasonable shit repeatedly. Or something. Write a nice formula for firing a customer. Write it when you’re calm. Not when you have an actual situation.

    But better still: don’t. Just live with it. Firing customers is bad and makes you look weird. Someone will always side with them. If someone is really trying to take advantage of you by asking for unreasonable things (that go beyond what your service level agreement states), just politely decline. Oh wait, maybe you don’t have an SLE either.

  9. You article made me feel much better about myself today. I normally am a very patient person and always deal with angry/rude/cruel with lots of patience. However, there was one customer that i’ve been unhappily dealing with her for 2 years now. She’s a very very demading customer. Everytime, we extra-charged her with something that’s supposed to be charged, she had called me bloody or stingy. And whatever we charged her never exceeded $1(we work at the restaurant). The one-sided shit talking about me has been going on for 2 years. However, today –>i lost it. I went up to her and talk to her based on the most possible reasonable reasons. I said, we are not even a franchise. The business has been owned by a family.To cover costs, sometimes we do charge for extra things. Then, she said ” i have the right to say whatever i want to say blah blah blah”. Finally, i told her “If you are not happy with us, you do not have to come back”. Ahd she said she will not return.

    I think, everybody’s patience is very limited. Thanks for the article!

  10. Irt sounds like you’re being the dick not refunding him. People are casual online, deal with it.

  11. I realize I’m commenting on this 2 years later, but felt I had some 2 cents to give.

    ‘The customer is always right’ is such an archaic saying, most of the time they AREN’T right and they are very loud about how not right they are, I have personally experienced people obviously lying in order to get a refund, free stuff, etc. that is definitely not right.

    I think the customer in this case was a grade a jerk for 1. being so blunt and rude in the very first e-mail and 2. caring so much about 5 dollars that he verbally abused someone in such a fashion. While this maybe could have been handled a bit better I think it was the best route to take with someone like this, they can’t think they can treat people like that and get what they want.

    • Martin on July 31, 2017 at 2:15 pm said:

      Amen, Amen.

      This is online bullying. If not one stands up and says “You are being a bully” then you are just as bad as the bully.

      And you are correct — “the customer is always right” is so wrong. Today’s customer will lie, cheat, distort, fabricate and use abusive tactics. I am willing to bet a ton of money there were NO previous emails. That is the first sign of a customer lying … “I sent several emails ….” or ” No one returned my call …” Such BS. We are here to answer those emails and return those phone calls. NO email goes unanswered and NO phone call goes un-returned. Our CSR system keeps track of every email and every phone call … nothing is left behind. Even if the caller did not leave a message, the phone call is still logged and sent to us to call the customer back even if they just hung up without leaving a message …. so that … “I send several emails or … I called several times” is just flat out lying from the customer.

      I do not let any of my staff take this kind of abuse. We provide A+ customer service and our ratings are almost to the nth degree as 5 star on every rating website. There is NO excuse for this kind of behavior from any customer of ours … This customer can take his business elsewhere. Just like his one nasty review on the internet is like a drop in the bucket – so is his impact on my business. “You don’t like us. What a shame. I’ll need a few moments to get over the tragedy.”

  12. Adam Watts on August 7, 2008 at 6:27 pm said:

    Angry customers usually have a right to be as this is sometimes confused with frustration. Dont forget the customer is always right for he can take is business elsewhere and remember word of mouth is the most effective mode of marketing.

    I would have refunded him instead of frustrating the dude and expelling all that energy into a negative globe of frustration and confusion.

    Your enemy is your friend in reverse think about it !

    • Martin on July 31, 2017 at 2:18 pm said:

      You are wrong.

      The customer is not always right. Usually they are not. Doesn’t mean we won’t do our best to help them…. but we do not take bullying or any kind of verbal abuse from anyone.

      If you condone or even want to sweep that kind of behavior under the rug, you are just perpetuating it and as bad as the person who is doing it to start with.

      That is not saying we are going to try to change that person’s behavior … we are not, we just are not going to tolerate it in OUR workplace. Step on down the road.

  13. i think u did the right thing. to the person that said the 1st e-mail wasnt that rude, i’m sorry, but if u dont make any attempt at being courteous or respectful, that’s rude. anyone that would bow down and submit to someone like that is a moron. good for u for not giving him his 5 dollars back!

  14. Ryan, could you change the $5 to $5000? That should make this discussion even more interesting.

  15. Well, something positive did come out of you putting your story on the web. It made me feel better. Thank you! I’m a photographer and rarly have any complaints, but there are plenty of unhappy people in the world, it’s just a matter of time before we run into one, or one runs into us.
    I had a verbally abusive customer that informed me the pictures I took looked like “Crap” because they were printed with a white boarder (for matting the photo if you want to) she wanted them reprinted. I lied to her and said I don’t have them on file anymore seeing the shoot was a month ago and all orders had been completed. But since they were such “crap” I’d refund her $44 when she returned the 1 8×10, 4 5×7’s, 4 3×5’s, and 12 full wallets, even though I clearly state on my order forms that all sales are final. She wanted her money back and to keep the pictures and when she couldnt have both, she told me she wanted the photographs destroyed in front of her, so I couldnt use them for my portfolio! I still don’t have the pictures back and I’m sure if I do get them she will have scanned them into her computer first.

  16. Cool writeup. I know I had to deal with a lot of annoying or crazy customers.
    specially those who wanted to cancel tickets, get a refund, or request a change to the scheduled to the booking (hey they chose their schedule in the first place), or check the price of the airplane tickets (I feel that making price quotes over the phone is unprofessional, it can be dangerous as it could easily lead to misunderstanding between both parties in the worse case scenario: arbitration) but it seems our company doesn’t understand this. Believe me a few even like to drag me and the other co-workers around in circles..bombarded with silly questions such as I don’t know this co-workers name, I have booked a ticket with him/her, can you help me out (how am I supposed to know everything).. oh well

  17. I think you did great, Ryan.

    Like some people have been saying, it’d probably have been easier just to refund, but I don’t think it’s right. You have to let the guy know rudeness or abusiveness is not acceptable, no matter what happened and no matter who they are. Otherwise, he’ll think he has every right to be rude and verbally abusive just because he couldn’t get what he wants, and he’ll be rude and inpolite again to rest of the world.
    Maybe, he was mistreated by someone else in your company, but still nobody should treat others like the guy did.
    I think you did great. You let him know what he was doing was not acceptable, but still remained professional and tried to help. We have to respect ourselves, too, you know? Also, we should be responsible for the rest of the world when we make choices.

    But I also understand it’s still stressful and upsetting to deal with these kinds of people. So for your sake, I agree with Farrell. So you wouldn’t have had to deal with the guy as long as you did.

  18. Nothing a smile or laughter can’t change!

  19. Customer service has sure changed from promoting a product’s reputation to hospital triage. You seem to place importance on authority, rather than negotiation. Let’s face it. Technology has exceeded performance requirements of most products. The only thing left to sell is your smiling face, and you failed.

    The best thing to do would have been to let the guy give up on you, unless you are the only game in town.

  20. It is ridiculous to advocate a culture of customer abuse as a requirement of doing business, when customer abuse and beratement can transcend the most remedial rules of social interaction. Forcing businesses to tolerate abuse and beratement never enhances the customer experience; nor does it EVER make businesses more profitable.

    All the above suggestions are right, and we typically follow the 3 strikes rule. The most important thing though, in our view, is to support the growing discontent with routinely disrespectful and/or cruel treatment of other people and take a stand for basic manners and self-respect.

  21. and he tells his friend he was refunded, and he tells his cousin, who tells her neighbor. And you know what? Then everyone wants a refund. You were good not to back down and refund what was not due to be refunded. It sounds good at the time to simply refund and be done, but that’s the easy way out. In time, you will realize that a customer like that, 90% of the time forgets they were even mad. look at this customer’s record. they probably called back to upgrade again the month after.

  22. I would never, never have said such a thing as “I would have…….if you weren’t so abrasive and rude.” I don’t think anyone in Customer Service would be trained to do such a thing and in the company in which I work one would be fired for such a statement. Have you never heard that its rude to tell someone that they’re rude? You should have left it at your first reply and included the service agreement that was agreed to. If the customer continued to reply, you should continue to provide a copy/paste of the original answer. And, I don’t know what the deal with “say things in email they would never say in person”. In my customer service experience, that was never true. I have been threatened to have things placed into openings in my body, that I am evil and the devil and that I will be cursed for life. To which I respond. “I’m sorry you feel that way. However, I will not be able to continue this call unless you discontinue such language….”

  23. If properly dealt with, at times such customers are the ones who are your best and the most long lasting ones. They are being ‘straight’ with you from day 1 after all 🙂

  24. ziggy on May 8, 2007 at 7:57 am said:

    >> despite the good advice that people have given you. Said policy as shwon on your website below:
    “If I cancel will you refund my current months charges?
    Unfortunately not. We don’t issue refunds for payments that have already been taken. If you want to cancel, make sure to do it before the 1st of the month so you don’t get charged for another month.”

    Why would he refund that charge??? Very clear and straightforward to me. You’re billed monthly. Cancel before the end of the month.

    >>the customer is always right

    As others said, no, they’re not, and in fact you want to get rid of your worst customers who are eating up all your time and resources and annoying your already busy staff. You want them to go to your competitors and ruin their business. In fact, the best thing you can do is get rid of the worst 10% of your customers and concentrate on the rest and getting more like them.

    That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t solve/avoid problems, but the customer is not always right and many you don’t want as customers, especially if you are a small overburdened business.

  25. > In those cases it seems best (to me) to
    > state the facts to them in a professional
    > manner, and move on.

    > “…I am now marking your email address
    > as spam and your communication will
    > no longer get through…”

    I have no idea how you manage to reconcile those two statements. Marking a customer’s email address as spam and blocking all further communications from them — basically the electronic version of sticking your fingers in your ears and humming loudly — is pretty much the antithesis of a “professional manner”.

    (Not sure it would be right to call the guy a “customer”, actually — from the looks of things, you took his money and refused to relinquish it even though your service didn’t work, for whatever reason. I believe there are consumer protection laws about that. Frankly, you should feel lucky you didn’t get sued (probably thought it wasn’t worth it for $5)).

  26. I find it interesting to see that the ill-advised refund policy that started the highly negative customer interaction remains intact. I for one would never use dropsend service quite simply because you seem to be incapable of learning from your own error in customer service despite the good advice that people have given you. Said policy as shwon on your website below:

    “If I cancel will you refund my current months charges?
    Unfortunately not. We don’t issue refunds for payments that have already been taken. If you want to cancel, make sure to do it before the 1st of the month so you don’t get charged for another month.”

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  28. I have the right mind for this; I live for fixing problems. That’s all I want to do.

    If you people really are struggling with email support for your customers, outsource it to me, provided the volume is reasonable for one bloke. We can negotiate something that makes everyone happy; drop me a line.
    Ryan I haven’t stuck my address in here; that would be evil, but if you’d like to post it here I’d be happy with that.

  29. Kathy Grace on March 20, 2007 at 11:43 pm said:

    As a freelancer for many years, I have “fired” clients who were costing me more in stress than they paid in $$. However, there are some key words here that make me think your customer might not fit in that category:

    “I’ve emailed you guys several times now.”

    If you’re absolutely, positively sure that this fellow has not, in fact, emailed you even once, then go ahead and flip him off. But if he has mailed and gotten no reply, then of COURSE he’s pissed off. Maybe he told you exactly why his uploads didn’t work and your software has let him down, and you just ignored him.

    As the author of “The No Asshole Rule” points out, there are chronic assholes, best avoided, and there are the rest of us, who may have an assholish moment now and again but are still basically not assholes. I think it’s possible you misclassified this one.

    Give him his money back, charm the pants off him if you can, and by all means find out what went wrong. (And if your policy really says that the customer who uses your service for 10 minutes has to pay, you should change it. That’s a disincentive for folks who aren’t quite sure they love you yet.)

    I have a story similar to the one on Joel’s posting about customer service. I used to sell Mac-based desktop publishing systems, back in the days when that was A Brand New Thing. And the Mac was a wonder of user friendliness, except that the serial port and the printer port looked exactly the same and were distinguished only by a tiny, molded icon that was literally about a quarter-inch square. If you plugged your printer cable into the serial port, it would fit perfectly, but nothing would come out of that printer, ever.

    I cannot tell you how many times I got calls complaining about non-functioning printers. I would tell them that those little cables were easy to plug in (most printer cables at the time had tiny screws requiring a wee screwdriver, sharp eyes, and lots of patience), but that they did sometimes work loose, and it was usually at the computer end, so they should unplug the cable even if it looked tight, inspect it to be sure the pins were straight, and then plug it back in. “You know, into the printer port–remember, it’s the one with the little molded picture of the printer above it.” If that doesn’t work, I told them, I’ll get into my car and bring you a free replacement right now.

    I believe my success rate with that one was about 99.9%, and my customers thought I was a whiz, because I didn’t make them feel like dopes.

  30. Steve Roach on March 9, 2007 at 9:31 am said:

    The initial response was, I feel, correct but badly worded
    I’m sorry, I don’t understand.
    This simply puts you at a disadvantage – it wasnt neccessary
    Why should we refund your money?
    Immediately seen as agressive by the cusomer
    Did you not mean to upgrade? Have you used your account?
    These are contrary to the opening statement – it suggests you know that he upgraded and his account has been accessed – again unneccessary
    A starting email would have acheived more worded something like this;
    Thank you for your email.
    We will of course be happy to refund your monies.
    We would however like to have a clearer understanding first of what has gone wrong for you, so that we can make your continued support, and that of others, a better experience.
    Please contact me at your earliest convenience with any relevant details.
    Your help is very much appreciated.

    That way not only do you disarm the customer and put the owness of the next move on him. You also have explained that he will get his money back, you will look into his issue and you are making him part of the team to resolve this issue.

    His abusive second email may have then been avoided and you keep a happy customer and your Wife gets a better present from your growing profits ;OD

  31. I agree with Mark Brown’s comment: “The customer is NOT always right.”
    Imagine if someone took the tone of the email with you on a face-to-face level? I mean, c’mon: there’s little chance.
    You are completely right to operate a “three strikes, you’re out” policy to abusive customers.

  32. I’m not sure I’d have replied quite the same way you did; I’d probably have refunded his money after the second message and told him that we never wanted to do business with him again.

    We’ve had some really quite extreme cases; possibly the worst was an Irish American chap who bought our product, then sent five e-mails all giving different reasons why he wanted a refund (he didn’t know who we were… he didn’t mean to buy it… he though it was free… etc, etc…). Finally he sent one describing the British in terms I won’t repeat. (I should say that all these e-mails were sent within a minute or so of each other; we didn’t wait for the sixth e-mail to reply.)

    The actual reason he wanted a refund, of course, was that he was a bigot and had discovered that we were in the U.K., which (in his eyes) made us responsible for all of the happenings in Northern Ireland for the past few hundred years.

    I refunded his money and told him that I found him amusing. Which, in a way, was true.

    A month or so later we got another e-mail from him, even more offensive than the first round. At that point I just told him to go away and that if we had any more messages from him they were going straight to the Police.

    My experience overall is that most people are very pleasant and quite reasonable. There are one or two whose behaviour is just inexcusable. I have considered whether to alter our privacy policy to state that we reserve the right to publish e-mail sent to us if it is that outrageous. I’ve also been thinking that it mightn’t be a bad idea to have a global blacklist that small software companies and indie developers can use so that all of us get to avoid the jerks to begin with, rather than taking their money and refunding it over and over. I don’t think we have the time to set that kind of thing up ourselves though…

  33. How unpleasant.

  34. Mark Brown on February 26, 2007 at 10:13 pm said:

    Alot of good comments.

    First off: The customer is NOT always right. They simply aren’t. They are human, and make mistakes just like us in customer service. The ‘customer is always right’ is just a marketing gimmick that is on par with going to make a “xerox”, or pass me a “kleenex”.

    Second off: Shame on any small business owner that doesn’t have clear policies that protect the business. We have a policy of ‘Try before you buy’. Use the product for up to 30 days as an unlocked trial. Call us for training, any questions, what ever. But after that 30 days, you either buy or stop using the software. Once you purchased, you purchased. There is no refund. Note: we are talking about software that starts at $1795.00.

    Three: Always make a good faith attempt at resolution. If your a jerk after we’ve tendered the olive branch, we consider it broken. We won’t do business with you again.

    Four: Chances are if the customer is truely that big of a jerk, their reputation proceeds them and people will tune out to any rant’s they may have.

    Five: I love sending the ‘potential’ customer that would other wise dominate my time to my competition. I have had customers that have taken up five times the amount of energy of a ‘normal’ customer. Bottom line speaking: they are better off being a P.I.A at our competition. Which leads me to…

    Six: Build business so you can say no to a potential problematic customer. You will be glad that you did. Every once and a while we tell a potential customer that we are not going to be a good fit for them. I have a better shot using that time to close 5 other deals to their 1.

  35. No, I definitely agree with what you did. It is a matter of principle. He has no reason to be on a “mission of hatred” over that. Probably the fact that some companies would have refunded him after that encourages him to act that way. I guess I understand the argument that it’s bad for business, but I’m not a very business-oriented person and if it were me I would probably feel that I did not make my product for people like that.

    “Good for business” should never be the first priority anywhere. Polluting the environment is better for some businesses than taking steps to reduce it, but the environment is still the priority. Yes, I realize we’re talking about a $5 refund, but, again, it’s the principle of the thing.

  36. Probably would have been better just to refund the $5, no reason to send somebody on a mission of hatred over $5. That guy will be on a mission now.

    Having said that, I understand completely the temptation to engage the guy.

  37. In this case, you should probably have tried to find out what the problem was (to prevent a recurrence) and then refunded. But on the other hand, when you have employees, you cannot afford to have someone mistreat them. I guarantee that even if they cannot retalliate against THAT person, someone else will pay. In that case, refund the money and put that person on your persona non grata list so you never do business with them again. Better for them to mess up your competitors’ service than yours.

    After all, very few employers ever back their employees for doing exactly what they are ordered to do. Give your people a wide lattitude to solve problems and the power to disassociate a noxious customer from your business. Back them up, making sure that they understand that banishing a customer is a MAJOR step and should only be taken when said customer is hostile and abusive despite their best efforts to calm the waters. Again, if you have employees, BACK THEM UP.

    Joel Spolsky disagrees (http://joelonsoftware.com/articles/customerservice.html), but he’s never been a powerless victim in a retail or restaurant setting, and you’re experiencing the same mistreatment that employees in that setting get. No wonder so many of them are surly.

  38. Bad form.

    Being holier than thou on a matter of principle doesn’t win you customers.

    “The customer is always right, even when they are stupid.”

  39. Seriously, wasn’t I reading that this app was going to be sold for around 1 MILLION? So you are worrying about a $5 refund ( I understand the principle, etc.) on your 1 MILLION dollar business?


    everything you need to know.

  40. I spent a good four years working at a college bookstore. Dealing with what I consider to be the most impatient and rude customers you can happen upon. We had returns and refunds with clearly stated rules and restrictions. No matter, you always encountered the over the top and downright mean customer trying to return a book two weeks after the stated deadline. I just wanted to say that you handled the situation amicably! I felt like I was back in the returns room! Understanding that they don’t really want to be helped and ending the exchange was always the best way to handle this situation.

  41. The customer is an asshole – so what? Many are.

    The best method is to define some rules, like “someone asks for a refund? respond ‘yes, of course’ no matter he or she asked” and stick to them. No matter how many people tell you your reaction was “right”, it was still stupid from a business POV.

    I recommend http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2007/02/19.html

  42. I truly don’t understand why the majority of people are saying to ignore the bad customer, take the abuse, and give him/her what they want NO MATTER WHAT! Otherwise you’re losing out on business. Can you guys please let me know where you all work so I can buy a service from you and try it out and do what I please and then a few months later when I feel like I don’t need it, call and demand a refund otherwise I’ll do a charge back on my CC? Thanks!

  43. There is nothing easy about dealing with abusive customers, but this Joel on Software article is pretty timely.


    A highlight:

    “The no-questions-asked 90-day money back guarantee was one of the best decisions we ever made at Fog Creek. Try this: use Fog Creek Copilot for a full 24 hours, call up three months later and say, “hey guys, I need $5 for a cup of coffee. Give me back my money from that Copilot day pass,” and we’ll give it back to you. Try calling on the 91st or 92nd or 203rd day. You’ll still get it back. We really don’t want your money if you’re not satisfied. I’m pretty sure we’re running the only job listing service around that will refund your money just because your ad didn’t work. This is unheard of, but it means we get a lot more ad listings, because there’s nothing to lose.

    Over the last six years or so, letting people return software has cost us 2%.


    And you know what? Most customers pay with credit cards, and if we didn’t refund their money, a bunch of them would have called their bank. This is called a chargeback. They get their money back, we pay a chargeback fee, and if this happens too often, our processing fees go up.

    Know what our chargeback rate is at Fog Creek?


    I’m not kidding.”

  44. Ryan, did you happen to see Joel Spolsky’s article on (exemplary) customer service and tech support this week?


    The article represents what I always consider to be the best approach to customer support and customer service, in any field.

  45. I would have refunded his money, and deleted
    his account and files right away.

    Fuck him.

  46. “If you argue with an idiot, chances are he’s doing just the same.”

    (Heard on Usenet.)

  47. alexander on February 20, 2007 at 8:10 pm said:

    Hi Ryan,

    I don’t agree with the behavior of that customer, but I would have refund him too after the first mail, because you’ll not change this kind of people anyway and the time you waste answering and thinking about this kind of people is far more worth the 5 dollars.

    Ottantaventi blog

  48. Chris Rathjen on February 20, 2007 at 2:44 pm said:

    If you’re not just trying to max your revenue, you could always have a ‘trial’ of the upgrade (even for a day!) – this guy would have done the trial, it didn’t work, and happily not upgraded and not lost anything.

    Or you could find out why it didn’t work for him, of course – either there’s a bug or inadequate usability/docs somewhere.

    Of course, such trials should NOT ‘go live’ automatically IMHO – many do, but that’s just pushing the problem out one level.

    There’s a nice hard line between ‘free’ and ‘not free’ – and it’s crossing that boundary that customers want CONTROL over. Clear terms isn’t enough when you still feel like your choices are ‘stay free’ and ‘start paying when I’m not really sure I want to’. You should always strive to make the choice between ‘free, and content to keep it that way’ and ‘ready and willing to pay’.

  49. Would have been better to refund him “ASAP” and ask as a courtesy to spend 5 minutes explaining how the “uploading application didn’t work”. Who knows how many thousands of customers won’t use it because of that bug?

  50. I agree with Patrick McKenzie, it’s best overall just to refund the $5. Also I felt the ‘marking your email as spam’ remark was extremely rude! He is certainly not spamming you, he is asking for a refund and you know that, so calling him a spamming is just untrue. It’s also defamation of character. The guy used bad words. OK, fine. So we haven’t heard bad words before? Why was he using the bad words? Well, he explains that he is frustrated because he could not get your software to work properly and so to wants a refund. That’s frustrating to be sure. But then being treated to the weird attitude is even more frustrating. I’m surprised he wasn’t more abusive actually. I would have been really ticked off if software didn’t work and the company was refusing a refund just a few days after purchase. Perhaps the customer will file a lawsuit. He probably should.

  51. Jason Smithfield on February 20, 2007 at 5:43 am said:

    Ryan, props to you for standing up for your business. Life is too short to give in to self-righteous individuals who don’t take the time to be civil and respectful. Many consumers these days have a hand-out/entitlement mentality. Just because an individual paid $5 doesn’t give them the right to be treated well if they communicate rudely. I’d have to agree with Chris D. – don’t give asshole discounts. Just ignore them entirely until they submit a respectful request. There’s not enough time in the day to focus on the customers that don’t want to be good human beings.

  52. It seems that nobody has taken time to see things from the customer’s perspective: here’s a guy who logged on to a site, typed in his credit card information, agreed to a monthly charge, tried it out, didn’t like it, canceled it nearly immediately, and was still charged money. If he can be believed, he has sent multiple emails already and the service he paid for didn’t work for uploading files. This sounds like bad customer service to me even before Ryan received the email. (Is the feedback link broken? Did others ignore the email? Were his first mails spam filtered?)

    The customer liked the service enough to be a free customer (and probably tell friends about the service, if the service doesn’t embed its own advertising when he uses it), but decided he didn’t want the full service. What is wrong with this customer wanting a refund? And why should he have to explain himself to anyone before he does?

    I’ve been in the computer industry for over a decade now and the first few years of that was in retail and helpdesk support, so I definitely know how it is being on the service end of the equation. I also know that there are some people that really are better just to not have as customers (the “don’t give in to problem customers” crowd and I have that in common, at least). However, I have to own my behavior regardless of how poorly the person I’m dealing with acts.

    I agree that this customer got things off on the wrong foot with his email and that getting information about his experience (i.e. what made him go from being willing to fill in his credit card information and click “charge me” to wanting a refund) is important to the business, but Ryan’s first response was baiting, snarky, and childish. His final email was unprofessional and simply unacceptable. Spam filtering a customer? Wow. There aren’t words to describe how bad that is in my book.

    I love Mike Mindel’s first response, but it sounds like this customer might not have ever gotten around to the “Sorry. I just got really angry” bit. In this case, I would have refunded the guy’s money after the first email and as politely as possible asked what I could do to have made the service worth the $5/month, assuring him that his answer would help you fix the problem for him and future customers. I would count myself lucky if he responded along the lines of Mike’s fantasy interaction. Either way, I’d only be out the $5 I would have been out if the customer had never taken the time to fill out my credit card authorization web form. And if I’m lucky, I might have tempted him to try the $10 or $15/month service in the future.

    Unless you think your customers are more there for your entertainment than to help you provide them the best product imaginable, in which case there are more issues at stake than whether snarky emails are sent to customers.

  53. I’ve spent $30 of my time-value just reading through this post and its comments.

    Refund issued immediately, for sure. =)

  54. anonymous on February 19, 2007 at 11:23 pm said:

    The “I have emailed you guys several times now.” should have told you that there’s a history to this. If he already explained his problem (e.g. your product is broken or whatever) and your company has not reacted properly, then the initial mail is totally appropriate.

  55. The adage that “the customer is always right” is overrated IMO.

    I work in a field where a special relationship with my customers is required. Dealing with irate or abusive customers has its own ironic twist when you are a personal coach or therapist (there isn’t much of a difference), and it can pay off to keep the client’s needs in focus even though it might be painful — for yourself (refund) OR your client (refuse). Both kinds of reaction can make sense.

    I expanded Ryan’s article to the field of coaching/therapy; you can read about it on my web site if you’re inclined to.

    (Ryan, delete the paragraph above if this seems like blogspam to you, and delete this paragraph if it doesn’t.)

    (Gotta love those self-referential statements!)

  56. I, like many others, would have refunded after I found out *why* the party wanted to cancel (did they have a technical issue, a specific problem using the service, etc.). Asking a few questions might turn them around so you don’t have to give a refund.

    At the same time, I don’t understand why people think that sending in an abusive email is going to make them get their way. Sending in an email like that automatically puts the representative on the defensive.

  57. Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing 🙂

    I do agree that your initial response set the exchange off on the wrong track. It was too defensive – the “why” word is the key here and was sure to get the guy’s back up. Perhaps something like “Please tell me why you’re unhappy with our service” would have been a better way to start. Personally I would not have given the refund based on his first email which didn’t give any detail at all.

    In a similar vein to Mike Mindel’s post, I’ve only had a couple of unhappy “refund my credit card immediately” customers and both times I’ve turned them around by asking for their phone number to discuss the matter. The response both times was “oh you needn’t have called all the way from England, I guess I just got a bit hot under the collar”. By the end of the conversation, they can’t thank me enough and are happy to give the software another go!

    Now this is for $300-$400 products rather than a $5 subscription so I’m not suggesting that this would have been worth doing in this case but just to put the idea out there…

  58. I think refunding the $5 is reasonable, but, I would’ve still asked why he wanted the refund.

    At times, it’s best just to sit back, breathe deeply and realize that this customer just very well be an ass.

  59. The customer is always right. Even in an extraordinarily pissed off customer lies the opportunity to achieve a customer success story. Don’t see any value in the way that this customer was handled.

  60. Thinking of what Mike Mindel then others said…

    1 bad customer experience handled badly = tells 5 people your service is bad

    1 bad customer experience handled reasonably = tells no-one

    1 good customer experience = tells one person

    1 bad customer experience turned around the Mike way (takes a lot of effort, but…) = tells 10 people


    If you’ve got the time, then it’s probably worth the effort, which will be especially true in the early days of building a service

    With apologies to whoever first invented that basic expression…

  61. I don’t agree that you should have done differently from the start. In my job, I get plenty of abusive email. I try and respond to every single one with a human, engaging response. Half the job is giving a human face to something people imagine is faceless (even if, like this time, it doesn’t work).

    I remember one guy who called me every name under the sun. I replied, saying thanks but he’d have to do better. He mailed back “You took me by surprise,” he said. “Wow. I’m impressed. And hey, I’ll never write another bad thing about you IF you publish something nice about my company.”

    I mailed him straight back to say, “You took me by surprise. Wow. The only thing I’d ever say about your company was that it couldn’t even be bothered to blackmail people properly”.

    He never said anything bad about me in public, and was hopefully too ashamed to say anything in private either.

    Ryan, this guy was just an arsehole; I suppose you could have tried to get more out of him about why he wanted a refund, but there should be no rewarding the behaviour of pricks. There’s $ cost and there’s the cost of your sanity… I know which one I prefer.

  62. Hmmm…

    I don’t know if I’d call it ‘turning the other cheek’. I don’t enjoy being slapped in the face. But nor do I want an unhappy customer telling 10 of his friends when I have the chance to turn him around and make him a supporter.

    Now in this case he did start with a short ‘Refund me the 5 dollars ASAP’.

    But I don’t think this customer got confrontational/abusive until he read your response ‘Why should we refund your money?’

    Personally that would have irritated me. But I wouldn’t have responded as he did.

    You know what I’d REALLY like to know. Whether the customer was really just being an ass**** or whether he was just plain angry, busy etc.. and the
    support reponse got him more angry.

    Ryan, I know this is a bit of a wild idea. But why don’t you send an email to the guy saying that we’ve been discussing the exchange on your blog post as it confused you.

    Point him to this link and ask him to let us know why he responded like that. For the benefit of us all.

    He MIGHT tell you and us to get lost. Then we’ve got an answer.

    But then he might, just might help us get the complete perspective.

    Wouldn’t it be interesting?

    Go on. I dare you.


    Mike Mindel

  63. I would have checked he was a customer, closed his account, refunded his money, and complained to his boss/ISP regarding the tone of his email – most ISPs have terms of service which make clear that abuse isn’t permitted.

  64. Ryan Carson on February 16, 2007 at 10:45 pm said:

    Wow, thanks for the flood of responses.

    I think it’s interesting that there’s a clear split between the “Abusive customers don’t deserve a refund no matter what” and the “Turn the other cheek” crowd.

    As I said earlier, I will probably handle situations like this differently in the future – leaning towards the “Turn the other cheek” crowd.

  65. I probably shouldn’t be surprised by the majority of reactions here, but I am. So many people are too eager to give a refund right away. And the louder more obnoxious customers are, the more they seem to get. I’ll tell you what:

    I don’t give “asshole discounts”. Period.

    Neither should you. There’s a risk in that. I probably won’t get his business and quite possibly the people he talks to. But if that saves me from dealing with twice the number of assholes, then it’s a good deal in my book. And chances are, if he’s a really obnoxious one, the people who he talks to aren’t paying attention to what he says anyhow.

    Businesses should always do their part to be responsible. If the guy had made a legitimate mistake, then yeah – refund him. You know, even if he didn’t make a legit mistake and was nice about it I might have refunded.

    But customers are not excused from being responsible in my book. I don’t create special rules for being courteous that are different for businesses and customers. They apply to both roles! There’s simply no need to be an asshole and I’m definitely not going to *pay you* for being one.

  66. Interesting post. I just want to add my thoughts to the list.

    1) I understand where you are coming from. The customer is certainly an abrasive SOB.

    2) I agree with the folks that said “I would have refunded his money by the second email.” A dissatisfied customer is better than one who’s irate, verbally abusive, and full of negative PR. $5 seems worth the slight chance that even though he was not satisfied with the software, he might give positive comments of your customer service and you’d get some more business because you’re considered helpful. As I saw on “Chop: King of Cars” sometimes you have to practically give away a car just to spread the word about your business and making more money in the future.

  67. Well I’ve got to say there is no excuse for the email he sent to you, but there is no excuse for your responses either.

    I’ve not been a dropsend customer in the past, but I can tell you now that if this is considered an acceptable response then I won’t be in the future either.

    Frankly, neither you or the “customer” (if that’s the right word now!) come out covered in glory from this exchange.

  68. I have to agree with Ryan. Ultimately, turning this guy into an advocate of your software was always going to be a mission (having said that I have noted the technique Mike Mindel suggested).

    People need to take responsibility for their own actions. I wonder if the cost of the product was $50 or $500 a month would people be offering a refund as the first port of call. This person made a decision (that ultimatelty he didn’t like), be contrite and nicely ask for a downgrade because you made a mistake not demand it. I agree with the bullying comment above. The beauty of owning your own business is choosing who gets to be a customer and who doesn’t.

    We just had a client who was 5 months overdue on their annual invoice, when I followed up with him (after a few reasonable exchanges) he sent me a email saying he had paid but at the top of the email was a passage of text in German (I’m Australian). Anyway, I have a german friend who translated the text and it was a passage from a book talking about the shady old collector asking for money from a very close friend (I’m assuming he thinks he’s the very close friend). I waited for the cash to clear in my account and then I sent him a formal letter on letterhead asking that he make alternative arrangements for his service after August as we will no longer be able to service him. No reference to that insulting email, no hoopla, just short and sweet (unlike my comment ;)).

    You would not believe the satisfaction that gave me. One of the best ways to grow your business is to find better customers and get rid of your bad ones. Let them go to your competition :).

    Kind Regards,

    P.S. Ryan, is there anyway we can suggest some topics for you to blog about. I would love to hear what you have to say about a couple of topics.

  69. It happened to me a couple of times to have rude emails sent to 16bugs support, but no matter what I think about it, I make it mandatory to answer in the politest way possible.
    I think you managed it very well in the example above…

  70. I think you did the right thing, at first. The original email (all you had to go on at the time) was unclear to say the least.

    Inquiring about the reason for the return is standard business procedure in any business, and typically the money will be returned regardless unless there’s clearly something illicit about the transaction.

    After the (rude) response I would have simply replied stating what you did and add that the $ was refunded at that time.

    That’s basically how it would work in brick & mortar retail, where I’d spent 14 years of my youth, and I think the same applies to online retail as well. The next step would be to promptly walk over to a co-worker and start making fun of the customer.

  71. I would have refunded the person straightaway – the time it would take me to argue with him/her would be more than $5. I wouldn’t be happy with doing so on a personal basis, but from a purely commercial point of view it’s often better to just deal with people like that immediately because time is money and often it costs more to deal with these sort of complaints that it does to just issue a refund.

  72. Demanding customers are always a problem, but if I was in this situation I would have agreed with Patrick and Mike and have been on the customers side.

    I work in retail part time and one thing I have learnt is that the customer is always right, reassure them and give them what they want as far as you are allowed to. If you don’t they will get angry and that isn’t good for your customer, even if it is over 63p (that is another story though).

    I would also like to criticise your pricing policy and say that by providing a free trial period you would not have had this problem, although you wouldn’t have the money from customers straight away you wouldn’t need to bother refunding people.

  73. I would have refunded the money, then spent hours building a banning utility to make sure he could never use the app again, even with a free account. : )

  74. Just wanted to thank you for sharing this. The great thing about only providing email support is that you have the time and distance necessary to avoid a knee-jerk reaction. Imagine if this happened over the telephone? You’d either snap back at the person or hang up. In fact, maybe that’s not a bad policy in the case of abusive language – ‘hang up’ by simply not replying.

  75. TBH I’m really impressed with how you chose to handle the situation and think you did a really good job.

    Personally I would have refunded the money and asked what the problem had been.

    Life is too short to spend it entertaining assholes.

  76. Mike Mindel – I’ve printed your comment and will put it as my Support Guideline for my Nozbe app.

    I’ve worked in Support for my other customers’ products and all I can say is that there are times, when you can do what Mike says – convert the bad guy into an advocate of your product… but sometimes some people remain bad… so the rule of 3 strikes mentioned above is a good one… and what cedsav wrote – just pay the man his bloody five bucks and move on…

    But luckily your energy Ryan has not been wasted on this one… made you write this post and provoke this nice and fruitful discussion 🙂

  77. Some interesting points raised here, both in the post and comments.

    Personally I would’ve taken a similar initial approach to Ryan. I don’t think refunding immediately with no questions asked would have benefited anyone. After reading some of the comments, perhaps a beeter approach would be to have issued the refund or assured him it would be done whilst trying to get to the root of the problem.

    A lot of this and similar issues come from “Bad” complaints where people don’t detail the reason they are complaining. Personally if I ever complain about anything I try to give as much information as possible to help them, help me. (cue Jerry Maguire)

  78. Hi guys,

    I love it when this happens. An angry customer can be your best friend. You turn their negative energy around and make them your biggest supporter.

    This is how I would deal with it.

    >Refund me the 5 dollars ASAP

    Sure. No problem. Just one thing. Can you tell me what happened?

    (Find out the difference between what you promised and what you got. But most importantly show that you are listening.)

    > Rant. Rant. Rant.

    Thanks for letting me know. What should have happened?

    > Bloody software should have done X. Sorry. I just got really angry…

    I’m sorry for your trouble. So you were expecting the software to do X but Y happened right?

    > Yeh.

    Ok. What can we do to make this right?

    > I want a refund.

    Sure. I’ll do that right now. Tell you what. I’ll also let you continue to use the application for a month at no charge.

    I’ll make sure I get X fixed and would love your feedback. Is that ok?

    (Satisfy customer, overdeliver and then re-engage customer)

    > Yeh. Wow. I’ve never been treated so well. Great support. I’ll tell all my friends.

    Mike Mindel

    P.S. I’m not taking full credit for this. I used to just try and convert negative rants into a positive customer experience with overdelivery.

    But Michael Campbell also opened my eyes when told me about the What happened? What should have happened? What can we do to make it right? in his February IMS newsletter.

  79. My experience with situations like this is to refund his entire month’s service and cancel his account as abussive. Financially, it just not worth having customers like this. A person who is an a** once will continue to be one even if you refund their money and is just not worth having a working relationship with.

  80. I tend to agree with what everyone else has said already, but I just wanted to add that I really liked the ‘your email address has been marked as spam’ touch – really makes the other guy feel impotent when all he wants to do is vent. 🙂

  81. One last thing to add; I don’t think accepting bad manners, or bad email etiquette is ever a way to go. Acceptance of bad behaviour breeds bad behaviour.
    That’s not beneficial to anyone.

  82. I think you did the right thing, Ryan.
    The customer knew full well that his agreement was binding, knew you were not obliged to refund him his 5 dollars, but took the chance of bullying you out of the agreement. You stood your ground, and kept it civil.
    You can’t ask for more than that.
    That you responded more than once, also shows your willingnesss to explain the situation- which is very nice of you.
    I don’t think paying off bullies like this is ever a way to keep a good business profile. Chances are, people like that will badmouth you -no matter what you do. But so what? How many people will actually listen to him? Would they actually be willing to pay 5 dollars for your service anyways? Doubt it.

    In my own business- we also answer grumpy client mails ourselves – we are only two partners, afterall- and we use (what we call) “the baseball rule” for mails like this. 3 mails and you’re out! If the client can’t understand a situation, or if there is no solution after 3 mails-it’s best to drop it. If it continues- the next day, or something. One mail can be used to cut the arguement short – like you did with your “Spam” answer. I liked that;)

  83. In addition to all what has been rightly said, it’s always important to let customers know about policies or the fine print – though they/we check every box that a web site presents us, I bet most of us don’t read the fine print – it’s not in human language, plus, my lawyer isn’t sitting besides me to read it and approve/disapprove of what I might be agreeing to.

    Taking this further, it may be better to have a 30 day refund policy, since many a times people are more relaxed if they know there exists one. Plus, this would take the headache off your mind. Consider the first email pop-ed in and you had a 30-day money back guarantee on offer – that would have taken the conversation in a totally new direction and would have saved everyone’s time! 😉

    The way I’ve handled our customer support on email, in the past five years (and we are a little web design firm) is that when I sit to read customer support emails, I change the role I’m playing. I’m not a company owner, partner, sales champion … I’m someone on the customer’s side. When you’re on the customer’s side, you won’t take the first email as an offense – I wouldn’t have.

    However, here’s what I’d do, if an abusive letter came in – offer the refund, thank them for using DropSend, delete the account forcefully and ban the email on the system.

    Plus, I’d always want to have that as a clause in our terms of service.

  84. Ryan Carson on February 16, 2007 at 7:16 am said:

    Patrick – great post.

    I definitely will do this differently in the future. It would’ve been better for the business to just refund the $5 right away.

  85. I’m a small software developer (similar to yourself, but smaller) and a former customer service representative. I would not have handled this exchange in the way you did (I completely understand the situation, believe me I have been there, but I do not believe the tact taken maximizes profits or minimizes bloodpressure). As it was extremely illuminating and this topic is near and dear to my heart I wrote a blog post about it.


  86. Ryan Carson on February 16, 2007 at 6:20 am said:

    Is there more background you haven’t posted?

    Nope – I’ve posted all the emails.

    Generally, I have very little patience for jerks, which in turn just makes me a jerk.

    You’ve hit the nail on the head. The difference between good and bad customer service is patience. I’m not always amazing at this, but I’m trying! 🙂

  87. Your response to the first email should have been:

    “Done, thank you for using the service.”

    Or after you asked him why and he complained further.

    “If you dislike the service we will be more then happy to cancel your subscription and credit you for this month.”

  88. This is a great post. Thanks for sharing. I’m about a month out from launching my first web app (I’ll let you know when it’s up and running) and one of my biggest worries is how to handle customer service. Generally, I have very little patience for jerks, which in turn just makes me a jerk. I’d like to think though, that I’d just give him his five bones back. I guess I’d be tempted to sign his email address up for a bunch of boner pill spam as a cherry on top, but again… must… stay… strong… arrghhaaa!!!

  89. cedsav has a point – it’s not worth your time to argue about $5. But it’s a matter of principle: you’ve pointed out that his request was not fair and you haven’t let him trample all over you.

    Of course, that may not be the best business outcome: to how many people will he badmouth DropSend? Perhaps he would have done so anyway.

    Is there more background you haven’t posted? He says “I downgraded immediately, because the dropsend application didn’t work for uploading my files”, but there’s no mention of what he means by that. Was it a problem that could have been addressed? Would a reply of “we can’t offer a refund, but we’re happy to help resolve the problem you experienced” worked? (Not that that would be worth your time, either, especially for someone so abusive.)

  90. Interesting story — but no doubt painful to live through.

    I think I might have ended it after the customer’s second email, which was clearly abusive. At that point, I’d probably have refunded his money and told him not to do business with my company again — ever.

    I’d want to make sure nobody else at my company would have to deal with that nasty customer again.

  91. customer service rules

    1. Never let owner or ceo of the company to do customer support. CS needs different kind of state of mind.

    I notice this also happens on 37signals. Don’t ever let JS do customer service. His words always made customer angry.

    2. Just reply and refund. It’s only $5. But it lets you think for hours and days (which cost you dollars).

  92. Great article. We occasionally have similar exchanges. One recent customer wanted to cancel. I emailed instructions on how to unsubscribe and he refused. I explained it was for his own security and he accused us of credit card fraud, then threatened to report us to his CC company. There’s really no point in continuing a conversation like that, so I just reiterated how to unsubscribe and told him to do what he needed to do. He unsubscribed a minute later. I think you nailed it – people take on a different persona with email. Just know your limits and don’t let it escalate past that point. Thanks again for the post.

  93. Another thing to bear in mind is he’s probably going to contact his card issuer, and have them reverse the charge.

    Even when you have a no refund policy, you actually have a 90 day refund policy thanks to chargebacks. And if it happens too often, you lose your merchant account.

    Most of the time it’s just easier to refund and move on, but kudos for not taking crap from nasty customers.

  94. What cedsav said.

  95. I agree with cedsav — I would’ve sent the refund on the first email. If he really did downgrade immediately then he didn’t get any use out of the service. You might lose more in the long term by angering him than the $5.

    And personally, I didn’t think the first email was that rude. Maybe I’ve just developed a really thick skin as well 🙂 Of course, his later emails were way out of line.

    • Samantha on March 21, 2016 at 10:30 am said:

      Usually, on the first email, if a person does not act completely entitled, it is reasonable to refund them (sometimes, as long as it doesn’t cost too much money). If you go into depth about how “you were gonna but now…” no, you weren’t.

      What you tell them is “I have canceled your current charges.” You get rid of the charge. You also wipe out their subscription. They are still subscribed and get the refund, you tell them to f*** off.

      There are indeed people people who are ignored or who really need help. In general, you can disarm these guy’s temper simply by interrupting them and saying “I have taken care of X problem, you no longer need to worry about it.” People call about an overdue book, I simply renew it and tell them the new due date. If they persist about the fines, I try to tell them you can pay the fines a little at a time.

      Sometimes they give me a reason, and I can waive fines. Sometimes they are entitled and completely out of line, and there isn’t much I can do for them.

  96. I personally would have refunded the guy on the first email (regardless of the tone of the request). For $5 there’s really no reason to spend even 5mn arguing about it.

  97. Great writeup. I think a lot of times people do things on email they would never do in person. Could you picture someone walking into a Sainsbury or Harrod’s and saying that? Security would be all over them.

    We must always remember that just because the medium is different does not mean there is not a human behind the email.

    • You know I think you handled that about as nicely as you could. I’m in a similar position. In my company our only responsibility is to stay with an account until we get everything up and running, all services are tested, installed, customer and their employees are trained and comfortable and then legally we’re done. We have a 24 hour 7 day a week including holidays Customer Support 1-800 number. All CSRs speak English and Spanish very well. They are paid to handle service issues around the clock. To be a nice guy, 99% of the time I will go above and beyond when Customers think that they should call their sales reps cell phone at 11:30 on Friday night instead of the 24 hour Customer Service number. Even though I have no obligation to do so, I really try to go the extra mile and handle issues for our clients so they won’t have to. To my amazement, it is these same customers that I go the extra mile for who harrass, abuse, cuss, fuss, cast doubts on my mother and the legitimacy of my birth. After 4 years of this bull shit I have a basic policy. Nice people get nice, extra mile, service. People who are friendly and who can maintain a certain level of civility will find that I will get out of the bed at 11:30pm and get on my computer and do my very best to help them out. If it’s something that only Customer Service can handle, I’ll look up the prompts and give them shortcuts to get directly to the dept. they need. But by god you let one of these ass holes decide that I’m the guy that should take the brunt of their miserable life and cuss and threaten me. I’ll withdraw myself from the situation so fast it will make their head swim. I don’t care if its $5, $500 or 5 cents, if somebody is so incredibly stupid that they can’t talk to me any other way than this fool talked to you above then I’ll wish him the best of luck and be on my way. I say this with all due respect to the ones who posted that they would have just refunded it on the first email. I have learned that chasing my tail trying to appease idiots takes so much time away that I’m unable to effectively serve the customers who appreciate the level of service I render. So, I left a ridiculously long post but it can be summed up in this. Nice people – I’ll stop everything I’m doing and work around the clock to assit you. Ass hole idiots who have absolutely no brain and have no skills to deal with anybody without cussing and making threats, best wishes – best of luck, that click you’re about to hear will be the last thing you hear from me except my voice mail. Well that’s my 2 cents (or 3 or 4). I think you were just as nice as anybody could expect and I would have probably told the guy to screw himself about 1 or 2 emails earlier. Good luck and take care.

    • Samantha on March 21, 2016 at 10:11 am said:

      I work at the circulation (i.e. Customer Service) desk for a library. I have had my hours cut for inconsistent customer service, although most of it is not actual complaints but just me being kind of a slacker. At least I hope not.

      Anyway, last week I had a customer who had her kid with lost books (which gives a huge fine). So she’s like “Maybe I’ll check out on my card.” Bigger fine. “Erm, my husband’s card.” Yet even bigger fine.

      She was generally polite about it, but today my manager gave me grief about “not making excuses” for the previous bad customer service. It got me her excuses and how I don’t want others treated this way, and thinking about at least paying down her debt. But all the same, I can imagine some other customers abusing this, and the library does need to make money, so I kinda feel torn. Wanna help, but don’t want to feel exploited. It just makes me sad, because there is only so much I can do without getting grief either from the manager, or by becoming depressed at giving to people and having them betray me.

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