Support and Snark

Support can be a hard, unforgiving job. You get abuse and you feel the temptation to lash out. I saw this on Twitter this morning:

Firstly, yes, the tone of both emails from the end user are unacceptable. The first one is a bit rude, the second a lot. Having been on the receiving end of similar messages in the past, both for my software company and in my day job, I feel for Federico.


But I really don’t think he helped himself with his response. It was unnecessarily antagonistic and, likely, resulted in the second message. I feel that could have been avoided. Let’s take a look at the response.

Absolutely no problem. Sorry we still send you our newsletter for free. Must have been a MailChimp bug.

The first sentence is fine, albeit a little ambiguous. It’s important to start with acknowledgement of the issue and that you’ve done something to resolve it.

The second was great, right up to the last two words. Demonstrating that you understand the problem shows you’re not just some drone sending a form letter. People appreciate that. What people don’t like is more marketing of the product or service that failed them. The words “for free” also read “you didn’t pay for it — why are you even complaining?” It’s true but not helpful.

If you want to reassure someone that they’ve not been charged, it would be better just to be straight and factual: “You have not been billed because of this error.”

The last sentence is terrible. It’s not MailChimps bug. It’s yours. I mean, sure, it’s probably the underlying cause but so what? They’re your customers. You have to own the problem. Assure them you’ve fixed the immediate problem and, if you can, let them know that you’re making sure it can’t happen again.

Good job on the polite email, by the way.

Oh, the snark. So tempting. But, no. Not a good strategy. It’s this, more than anything else, that likely prompted the second email.

In my experience, you need to be at your politest when receiving these nasty-grams. It sounds counter-productive, but it often results in an apology. Wholly an anecdote, but when I reply to a support email I usually don’t get an acknowledgment. When I’m overly polite to a rude message, more than half the time I get a response. The sender often was angry and didn’t realise that an actual person would read or respond to their message.

And yeah, I’m not perfect. Federico is certainly a better writer than me and I’m absolutely guilty of sending back snark or replying with rudeness. But I can say what’s worked for me over the years.