Developing Perspective

#182: Unconventional Wisdom, Listen to Spock.


00:00:00   Hello and welcome to Developing Perspective.

00:00:02   Developing Perspective is a podcast discussing news of note and iOS development, Apple and

00:00:06   the like.

00:00:07   I'm your host, David Smith.

00:00:08   I'm an independent iOS developer based in Herndon, Virginia.

00:00:11   This is show number 182.

00:00:14   Today is Friday, April 25th.

00:00:16   Developing Perspective is never longer than 15 minutes, so let's get started.

00:00:19   All right, first, just a quick update on the t-shirt situation.

00:00:24   Many thanks to all of you who have purchased some, and I just wanted to remind you that

00:00:27   I am indeed doing another run of t-shirts for the show.

00:00:30   If you'd like to get one, by all means, they're at teespring.com/developing.

00:00:32   They'll be available, I believe, through Monday, Monday evening, something like that.

00:00:38   So you have a, hopefully if you hear this over the weekend, you will have a chance if

00:00:41   you'd like to, to go ahead and get one.

00:00:43   And otherwise, thank you so much.

00:00:45   All right, so I'm going to keep going on my series called Unconventional Wisdom.

00:00:51   And it's, I've gotten some pretty good feedback about it.

00:00:52   I think I've heard from a lot of people who kind of like the approach of taking contrarian

00:00:57   kind of antagonistic positions against things that are somewhat conventional in our industry

00:01:03   in the hopes of trying to help us think more critically about it.

00:01:06   If you have any ideas or thoughts about topics that you'd like me to try and attack, that'd

00:01:10   be pretty fun.

00:01:12   And just, you know, just send them along.

00:01:14   And then also, I'm tempted to, and this is just something I'm floating out there and

00:01:18   also kind of getting any feedback on, what I may also do is at the end of the series,

00:01:21   I may go back and revisit all of the different things

00:01:24   that I've attacked and take the other position,

00:01:27   take the pro position and sort of talk about

00:01:28   why I think they're important,

00:01:30   and kind of see how the two balance out.

00:01:33   Anyway, so today I'm gonna be diving in

00:01:36   and talking about customer support.

00:01:37   And just like last week,

00:01:39   I'm just gonna take the brief disclaimer

00:01:40   that what I'm gonna say

00:01:42   isn't necessarily my actual personal position.

00:01:44   These are an intentionally contrarian thing

00:01:46   saying unnuanced statements about a topic.

00:01:50   So anyway, I'm going to dive in and talk about and kind of dissect the thesis of providing

00:01:55   good customer support is important for our products and for our business.

00:02:01   And start off probably fair to say this is a topic and a subject that I hear all the

00:02:05   time when I'm going at a conference.

00:02:07   You'll often hear someone get up and talk about how I built my business, how I got to

00:02:12   where I am.

00:02:13   And they're talking about, oh, one of the things we pride ourselves is that we provide

00:02:16   amazing customer support.

00:02:19   It's a critical part of our business, and it's what we do.

00:02:22   And that may be true for them, but also, I'm

00:02:26   always a little bit skeptical when

00:02:28   someone says that because of the type of company that's

00:02:31   typically saying it.

00:02:32   It's usually coming from companies

00:02:33   that are these larger companies, companies that have big staffs

00:02:36   and have overheads that can easily support something

00:02:38   like customer support.

00:02:40   I very rarely hear support being referred to in those same terms

00:02:44   by smaller independent shops, perhaps the audience

00:02:47   of a podcast like this or someone like me.

00:02:49   And so I'm always a bit skeptical about that.

00:02:52   And as such, I kind of disagree with that,

00:02:56   at least in that context.

00:02:58   If you're not working in a constraint where

00:03:01   overhead costs are significantly important to your business,

00:03:04   maybe you can get away with providing good customer support.

00:03:07   But if you're not in that luxury, maybe you can't.

00:03:11   And I'm going to start off my attack on this

00:03:14   by invoking Spock, which would probably sell any matter if you can bring Spock into it,

00:03:19   and especially on your own side.

00:03:22   And he famously referred to the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few, which

00:03:30   is a core sort of concept, I think.

00:03:32   It logically makes a lot of sense that you want to do things in your business that benefit

00:03:37   the many far more than you would do things that benefit and improve the lives of the

00:03:43   few.

00:03:44   You're almost necessarily, unless you're in kind of some VC environment where you have

00:03:49   just sort of money thrown at you, you're always going to be operating your business in an

00:03:53   environment of scarcity.

00:03:54   You're forced to make trade-offs between how you spend your time and your energy and your

00:03:58   money, and there's always a constraint on that.

00:04:01   At least everyone I know is typically working in that environment where they don't have

00:04:05   infinite resources, infinite time, infinite money, infinite people.

00:04:09   And so you have to make choices between how you're going to spend your time and your money.

00:04:15   And if you're spending time, energy, and money on customer support, you're necessarily kind

00:04:21   of improving the lives of a very small and hopefully vanishingly small percentage of

00:04:26   your customer base.

00:04:27   You know, if your customer base is anything larger than a few people, which if you want

00:04:31   to have a sustainable business probably needs to be, you know, dealing on a one-on-one basis

00:04:37   with people is going to be very inefficient and not really

00:04:42   putting your time and energy where it's going to have

00:04:44   the most impact.

00:04:45   Making the life better for one customer,

00:04:47   while it might make you feel good,

00:04:49   it might be a nice interaction, you're in that same time,

00:04:53   the thing you're not seeing, the hidden cost of that

00:04:56   is all the other customers that who use life you did not

00:05:00   make better by improving your product, by making it better.

00:05:03   If I have eight hours in a day to sit down and work

00:05:05   on something. If I spend one hour of it on customer support and seven hours of it on

00:05:11   make my product better, you know, I'm one eighth of my time isn't actually going to

00:05:16   affect most of my people, most of my customers, which it probably should, especially because

00:05:21   the time and energy you put into making your product better will necessarily indefinitely

00:05:25   improve the experience, you know, for like the 99.99999% of your customers. Whereas doing

00:05:30   customer support, it only might it's a possibility, you may have someone who's just a curmudgeon

00:05:35   or someone who just doesn't understand your product

00:05:38   and who is going to take up a lot of time and energy,

00:05:41   but not actually end up in a place

00:05:44   that they're going to be happy about your product.

00:05:46   That's just the reality.

00:05:48   And so you're taking your time and energy

00:05:49   and gambling it on something, whereas you

00:05:52   have a definite return on the other hand.

00:05:55   We're kind of relentlessly focusing on making your product

00:05:57   better and better.

00:05:58   And having that be your sole focus necessarily

00:06:01   will also reduce your need for that customer support.

00:06:04   By putting your time and energy into making your product

00:06:07   better, by kind of ignoring or diminishing the time and energy

00:06:10   you put into one-on-one interactions,

00:06:12   you may actually reduce the need for those

00:06:13   to a point, which is something that I'll reinforce a bit

00:06:16   later.

00:06:17   And next, kind of along those lines,

00:06:19   I mean, it's kind of a horrible and unscalable hourly rate.

00:06:23   If your product is available in the iOS App Store,

00:06:25   the revenue you're going to get from it per customer

00:06:27   is likely kind of small and is likely somewhere between maybe

00:06:33   $0.70 if you're selling a $0.99 app, maybe $2.10 if you're a big baller selling your

00:06:38   app for $3.

00:06:39   And these are optimistic numbers.

00:06:41   A lot of apps are even worse than that if it's free with ads within a purchase or free

00:06:46   with ads.

00:06:47   You may see much smaller numbers.

00:06:49   So say you spend 15 minutes helping these customers.

00:06:51   You're kind of looking at an hourly rate for that interaction of maybe it's $2.80, up to

00:06:57   maybe $8 an hour.

00:06:58   At this point, you'd be better off burning coffee and mispronouncing names that cut Starbucks.

00:07:03   you're not really making a great return on your money.

00:07:06   And hopefully, your goal is to have a life and a lifestyle

00:07:09   and a business that's bigger than that,

00:07:11   that can give you a bigger return on your effort.

00:07:14   And it also just doesn't really scale,

00:07:17   because if you want to provide that level of support

00:07:20   to somebody, to your customers, and your customer base

00:07:23   continues to grow and grow and grow,

00:07:26   you're going to need to ultimately bring

00:07:28   on additional people and help to work on that.

00:07:31   And it's going to be pretty hard to necessarily justify just providing somebody to do help

00:07:36   desk because each of those interactions isn't necessarily going to give you a strong return.

00:07:44   Next I was also going to unpack the concept of really them being your worst customers,

00:07:48   the ones that you're helping.

00:07:51   Just from a business perspective, the best customers you have for your business are the

00:07:56   ones who give you lots of money and don't expect very much from you. I mean, that's

00:08:02   just sort of, I guess, an addition and subtraction. You know, what you want are customers who

00:08:08   are delighted to give you large sums of money and then expect as little from you in exchange

00:08:13   for that. The more you have that as your business, the more likely you are going to be able to

00:08:17   sustain and grow your business because you're getting a lot of money for not a lot of work.

00:08:24   I guess what sort of the core of having a successful business

00:08:27   is that your input succeeds your expenses.

00:08:31   The customers who require the least work

00:08:34   are going to be the ones who are best able to help you do that.

00:08:37   So you want to make probably-- make your best customers happy

00:08:42   rather than your worst customers.

00:08:43   And I'm not saying worst in the sense of these

00:08:45   are actually like worst people.

00:08:46   They're just more expensive.

00:08:48   They're not the people who are making your business grow

00:08:51   and thrive.

00:08:53   if you wanted to apply the 80/20 rule,

00:08:55   you want to optimize and focus the experience on that 80%

00:08:59   rather than on that 20%.

00:09:01   You want to make that 80% of your customers

00:09:03   as happy as possible.

00:09:05   And in this context, I'm saying making them happy by doing not

00:09:09   necessarily-- by having a product,

00:09:11   by setting things up in such a way

00:09:13   that they don't need customer support,

00:09:15   that they're happy to just take your product and use it as is.

00:09:18   And lastly, another thing that I wanted

00:09:21   to settle on a little bit, you probably don't need good customer support. I'm often struck

00:09:28   by how the most wildly successful apps in the App Store often don't provide any customer

00:09:33   support whatsoever. And largely I'm thinking of games in this instance where, you know,

00:09:38   you almost, I can think of very few games that have like a contact us button or a get

00:09:42   support button or those types of things. It seems like they just kind of spend the time

00:09:47   and energy and effort up front, making a solid app,

00:09:50   deploying it to the marketplace, and then

00:09:52   reaping the benefit from that.

00:09:53   And you could argue, oh, no, but productivity apps

00:09:56   are different.

00:09:58   And I would ask to that, are they?

00:10:00   What makes them different?

00:10:02   Are we just kind of lazily using that as a crutch to say,

00:10:07   well, I don't need to make a product that is really

00:10:11   thoughtful and robust and does all the things in a way

00:10:14   that customer support isn't necessary.

00:10:16   I can just fix those later.

00:10:18   It's kind of like the old thing with photography or videography

00:10:21   where you're just like, oh, I can just fix that in post.

00:10:23   Is that what we're doing when we're creating an environment

00:10:26   where we expect to provide extensive customer support?

00:10:29   Is that what we're doing?

00:10:30   Are we just saying, oh, I'll just fix it later.

00:10:32   I'll just fix it later.

00:10:33   If someone has any problems, I'll just let them email me

00:10:36   and I'll deal with them then.

00:10:38   Is that kind of lazy?

00:10:39   Are we making products that aren't

00:10:41   as good as they could be because we're kind of allowing

00:10:43   ourselves to fix it later?

00:10:45   And it kind of makes me wonder if that's really what it is.

00:10:47   Like the necessity of providing customer support

00:10:51   is probably just a symptom of not really building

00:10:54   your product out in as thoughtful of a way.

00:10:57   Maybe we're not thinking of all the different ways

00:10:59   that our app could be used, or we're not marketing it

00:11:01   correctly, or we're not providing the right copy

00:11:03   or framing it to our customers in such a way

00:11:07   that they'll get it, and they'll use it, and it'll be fine.

00:11:10   Are we making our products more overly complicated?

00:11:12   Are we trying to tackle things in ways

00:11:14   that are kind of beyond our grasp.

00:11:17   Maybe we are.

00:11:18   Maybe we should just focus our time

00:11:20   on getting it right the first time and putting it out there,

00:11:23   and then not needing to provide customer support

00:11:25   in the first place.

00:11:27   All right, so that's my attack on customer support.

00:11:30   Hopefully you found that interesting.

00:11:32   Like I said, I think it'll be fun to kind of also

00:11:34   in a couple of weeks do the flip side of that

00:11:37   and talk about why customer support is important.

00:11:39   But hopefully I got you thinking.

00:11:40   And anyway, that's it for today's show.

00:11:42   As always, if you have questions, comments,

00:11:44   concerns or complaints. I'm _DavidSmith on Twitter. You can email me, David@developingperspective.com.

00:11:50   Otherwise, we have a great weekend. Happy coding, and I look forward to talking to you

00:11:53   again next week. Bye.