View Full Version : The Year-Old-Software Returner (by Me)
I had no idea I had saved this story and thought is was lost in the last hack. I found it while rummaging about in my document folder. I sometimes refer to this story in my posts and figured I'd put it up.
As you will see, it's not something I would have tried to compose again from scratch, so I'm glad I found it.
This happened over a couple of months. It contains some technical stuff, but is more about a customer's inflated sense of entitlement than about the technical stuff.
We manufacture very specialized software. I can't say what it does because it would make it too easy for someone to find out where I work. One of its functions is to drive a specific sort of device which is manufactured by about 2 dozen competing companies. We do not manufacture the hardware, do not sell it and, do not make a dime from hardware sales.
We sell our software direct to the public and also through a network of resellers. Most of our resellers sell one or more brands of the hardware as well as our software.
Our software comes with a 90-day money back guarantee. It's very unusal for any software company to offer any kind of refund on opened software. Nevertheless, we feel that it's important for customers to be able to buy with confidence and not have to worry about it. Most find that they love the software and love he way we support it. Very few people return it. Even fewer try to return it after the 90 days, but it happens...
The Cast of Players
Mark-our director of marketing and reseller liaison
Carl-our best tech support person and THE guy for hardware interface issues
Keith-the owner of our company
Bub, The Most Entitled Teacher in the Whole Wide World-a customer
Lou-a beleagered IT professional who works at the same school as Bub.
Our story begins with an email from Bryan, the reseller, to Mark. He told us that a customer, Bub, had emailed him and demanded a refund for "defective software." He wanted to know what to do.
Mark looked up the Bub in the database and saw that his school had purchased the software a year ago; the 90-day refund period was well past. His reply reminded Bryan of our refund policy, but also expressed concern that the customer wasn't satisfied and asked what specific problems Bub had reported.
Fortunately, Bub had sent Bryan an email about the "defects," and Bryan just forwarded the entire thing to us rather than try to play interpreter. I can't paste it wholesale here, but I will try to paraphrase the tone and content of the key section as best I can:
"I have tried numerous times to contact Awesome Software and they have ignored all of my emails and phone calls. I have finally had to revert to the prior version and expect a full refund of the $2500 I paid for the update I can't use."
This was a flat-out lie. We aren't perfect and mistakes can happen every now and then, but there is NO WAY IN HELL that we would systematically ignore a customer numerous times. Just. No. Way.
At this point, Mark realized that Keith, the owner, would need to be involved. But, as luck would have it, both Keith and Mark were going to be away from the office for a trade show, so I got to be the person who would communicate with the customer and the reseller and try to resolve it while they were absent.
I certainly wasn't going to take any action at all until I had collected every last bit of information about The School's transaction and their dealings with us. The more information I had, the easier it would be to prove Bub for the liar he was.
Information is Gathered
My first job was to talk to Carl and see if he had any recollection of dealing with these people or knew what the problem was. To say Carl was insulted by the customer's insinuations would be an understatement. As luck would have it, he DID recall talking with a guy named Lou, the IT guy at Bub's school at least once. He reported that Lou seemed very nice and seemed to know what he was doing, but was unable to describe the problem very well, because Bub wouldn't let him near the computer where our software was installed. Bub felt that telling Lou "it doesn't work" with his hardware and having him call us would get his problem solved.
Carl did offer them a solution, which had worked for 90% of the calls about that hardware brand. Lou promised to try it and was never heard from again.
I asked Carl if he could try contacting them again and see if he could find out if they were still having problems and see if he could help them any further. It was really the last thing he wanted to do, but he was game to try. He promised to let me know the results of his attempts in a few days, because Carl is awesome!
The next job was to find out if $2500 was what they paid for the update. The number didn't make any sense in our pricing structure. I went to Hanna, our accountant, and asked her to pull the invoice for Bryan's purchase, which would list both Bryan's price and the suggested retail price.
It turned out that Bub's school had actually paid about $1200, not $2500. I can't say that I was surprised, since Bub didn't seem to have a good memory about other things. But Hanna did manage to surprise me with another piece of information. Bub's school hadn't purchased an update; they had purchased an upgrade from an individual license to a multi-user license. The upgrade portion of the transaction was included at no extra cost. The upgrade, for which they were demanding a refund, was...free.
I certainly had enough information to prove that Bub's statements were not true, but still not enough to know for sure that he was trying to scam us. So I dug through our database to see if I could find any history of his dealings with out company. What I found was pretty telling.
Bub first contacted us about eight years ago and wanted to try our software out before deciding to buy it. We offered him the demo version, but he felt he couldn't properly test the demo version. We issued him a fully-functioning evaluation copy. Back then, this was done on the honor system. We had no way of keeping someone from using and installing an evaluation license on as many computers as they wanted for as long as they wanted. Even worse, we had no way of keeping them from installing pirated updates by "borrowing" update CDs from others. The only thing we could do was wait for them to call us for tech support and catch them out.
Apparently that is what happened with Bub. He called in 2004 and was told that his evaluation license had expired and we were no longer supporting it. He was told to buy a license or go to hell (but much more nicely ). Shortly after that he bought an individual license.
In 2005 his individual license qualified for a free update and Bub downloaded it. Unfortunately (for Bub, that is) the update was protected by our then new anti-piracy scheme. The upshot was that, when Bub's school tried to install it on a bunch of computers, they ran out of installations. Bub called to find out what was going on and was told to purchase more seats or go to hell (but much more nicely ). [I think most of you are beginning to sense a pattern to Bub's behavior by now. ] Bub chose to purchase more seats via Bryan's dealership and now, a year later, he is trying to get his money back.
I had gathered all the information I could about Bub. Now all I had to do was sit back and wait to hear the results of Carl's attempts to provide tech support. Then I was going to respond to Bub and cc Bryan.
But I was not prepared for Bryan to throw a monkey wrench into the works...
Bryan Sends an Email
While I was waiting for Carl to get back to me and trying to come up with a well-worded response to Bub, I received an email from Bryan, the reseller. Basically, Bryan felt that a refund was due to Bub because he "buys a lot of hardware from " and "has a lot of influence among school administrators in [Bryan's] area." Bryan felt that it was worth taking the hit to keep on Bub's good side and was willing to take that hit, even if we didn't re-imburse him. Of course, he really, really hoped we would re-imburse him.
Bryan is a grown man. If he wants to let a customer bully him into making a poor business decision, he is certainly free to do so. However, I have enough of a heart to want to be sure that Bryan had the correct facts before refunding $1000 too much to Bub and I also hoped to convince him not to do it. So I had to tip my hand a bit before hearing back from Carl. I let Bryan know that the invoice was for $1000 less than he thought and I also let him know that the update portion of the purchase, the one that Bub was kicking up such a huge fuss about, had cost nothing. My wording on the reply was close to this [re-worded a bit, just in case Bub is reading this; we would rather he suspect he's the star of this story instead of being able to prove it ]:
"The full amount [Bub] paid was for converting his individual license for [the prior version] to a multiple-user license. The update to [the current version] was free. If [Bub] has gone back to [the prior version] because he can't make [the current version] work on his machine, he received exactly what he paid for and we cannot issue a refund. Nevertheless, we appreciate that you and [Bub] have gone through quite a bit of trouble trying to make [the current version] work for you. I will email [Keith] and see if we can do something for you.
In the meantime, [Carl] is going to be working with [Bub] to find out if we can resolve the issue they are having. I'll get back to you after I hear from [Keith], which may take a few days since he currently out of the office on business. Thank you for your time and your patience."
I suspected that Bryan would share this with Bub and Bub would get a chance to change his story so that the update wasn't really the issue, it was something else. Something else which would entitle him to a full refund. But what else could I do? At least I had bought myself a bit of time.
[B]Carl Gets Back to Me
Later that day I heard back from Carl and he was, if anything, more confused about what was wrong with their software. I don't know if many of you are familiar with the Rules of Tech Support thread in Technical Tribulations. These guys broke just about all of them...
Carl called the number he had from Lou's previous call and got Lou again. Lou is the IT professional at Bub's school. Carl asked if Lou was the guy who primarily used the software and he isn't; that would be Bub.
Then Carl asked if Lou had tried Carl's fix from last time and asked if it had worked and, if not, what happened. Lou wasn't sure because Bub wouldn't let him near the computer. He did know that Bub still couldn't get his hardware working with our software, but Bub hadn't filled him in any more than that.
At this point Carl was wondering why he was talking to Lou instead of Bub, since Bub was the only one with the information we needed to get his issue solved. So he asked if Lou [or Bub] could call from in front of the computer so he could see what was going on. This wasn't possible; the computer was in a classroom and class was in session.
Could the computer be removed from the classroom? Impossible; Bub might need it for a class.
How about calling when the classroom was empty, perhaps after school? No way; the classroom is always in use and besides they are on the west coast and we are on the east, we'd be closed after school.
Before school? Nope. Bub didn't feel that anybody should have to come in early just to accomodate our limited business hours.
Fine. How about we stay late so that you we can work with you after school? That wouldn't work. Too busy. Besides they shouldn't HAVE TO deal with this. It wasn't convenient, blah, blah, blah...
According to Carl, the rest of the call went like that. Carl and I both had the feeling that Lou was being used a a pawn in Bub's game. Since he has to work with Bub every day, we couldn't blame him too much for doing Bub's dirty work. Lou must have hated every minute of that call as much as Carl did.
I thanked Carl from the bottom of my heart, which puzzled him. Carl thought he had just wasted a bunch of time for nothing. Carl HATES not being able to help someone. He can't stand unsolved problems; they gnaw at him until he has solved them. It's why he's so darn good at tech support and why 99.99% of our customers adore him. I assured him that he had done something very helpful by confirming one important thing about Bub.
You see, we get two kinds of upset customers. Those who are upset that the software they paid for isn't useable and those who don't want to pay for the software they are using. The first kind are happy when we make it work; the second will find any excuse to make it seem like it isn't working. I now knew for sure which kind Bub was. But I still wanted to give him one more chance to make everything right.
Our Response to Bub
The next day many emails went back and forth between me, Mark and Keith. Carl was cc'd all of them. We all agreed that they weren't due a refund and Bub wasn't so much interested in working with us he was in getting a refund. It was decided to make a very generous offer of a future version as a free update. It was way more than we had to do and much more than they deserved, but we had an ulterior motive. This offer would be very tempting to a legitimately frustrated customer, but wouldn't please a scammer much. If Bub took it, it would cost us money, but it would compensate him for the "frustration" he experienced and he would have no further reason to be upset. If he rejected it, too bad.
So I finally wrote to directly to Bub, cc'd to everyone at our company, Lou and Bryan. I expressed "concern" that Carl's fix hadn't worked for him, since all of our other customers with that hardware brand reported that it worked fine. I recapped the call between Carl and Lou and explained that there was "some confusion" as to the exact nature of the problem. We would, of course, be "more than happy" to help if perhaps they could describe the problem? In detail? And let us know what version of Windows they are using? And perhaps tell us if they saw an error message? And what it said? Or perhaps find a way to get in touch with us while seated at the computer? Etc.? Etc.? Etc.?
I then let them know that I "appreciated" that they had a frustrating experience and offered the update to [the future version] for free.
We all really hoped that Bub would appreciate how lucky he was to get such an offer and take it. We suspected that Bub was greedy enough to think that was only our FIRST offer and that he would reject it in hopes of getting a better offer or his refund. I suppose I could have made it very clear that was our one and only offer, but I have a slightly evil streak which wanted to see how greedy Bub would get.
Bub Gets Sillier
Sadly, Bub didn't prove us wrong. The next week Mark and Keith returned to the office and were anxious to see what Bub would do next. Like me, it was more out of morbid curiousity than anything else. We first received a reply from Lou. He thanked us for the "troubleshooting suggestions" but stated that Bub "felt he had spent enough time trying to fix [the problem]" and had "given up hope that [we] could support [our] product." I don't know if Lou was just doing Bub's bidding or was truly clueless enough not to know the difference between "troubleshooting suggestions" and "asking him to actually define the problem and answer basic questions about his setup." The consensus is that it is the former and we feel very sorry that Lou had to compose that embarassing email.
The next reply was from Bub. He went on about how much time he had spent trying to make it work and he wasn't about to do any more work. Our offer of another version at no cost wasn't of any use to him because he felt he had lost confidence in our company and products. As predicted he changed the issue from "the update doesn't work" to "I've wasted my valuable time and you guys don't back up your product." That way he could demand a refund for something besides the free update.
His next demand was just plain silly.
He stated he was "willing" to give up on getting a refund if we would send someone out to fix the problem on site. Sure enough, he had mistaken our ONLY offer for our FIRST offer. What he was asking for was impossible. We aren't about to pay for one of our two hardware interface support guys to spend three days flying out to California for one lousy customer who was too lazy or incompetent to use phone support. We actually have other customers, you know? Customers who wouldn't be getting phone support from Carl for three days, if we were stupid enough to send him to Bub's.
We weren't sure if Bub purposely asked for something impossible in the hopes of tricking us into giving him the refund as the "only" alternative or if he was truly that delusional about his importance to our company. Anyway, after we had had ourselves a good hearty laugh, we had to come up with a professional response. This was again left to me.
I decided that I wouldn't even address the silly request, because addressing it would give it legitimacy. Instead I focused on expressing regret that they had given up on solving the issue. I informed them that our tech support was always available if they wanted to tackle it again. Whether they used the previous version or the current version was up to them and we would support whatever version they chose to use. I did not repeat the offer of the future version. They had rejected it. If they still wanted it, they could darn well ask us.
I never did hear back from Bub again, which would seem like good news. I also never heard directly back from Bryan, the reseller, but Mark cc'd me his subsequent correspondence with Bryan. I'm afraid the story doesn't have as happy an ending as we could have hoped.
Bryan Jumps Into the Fray Again
A few days later, Bryan, who had been following the whole email exchange (we'd cc'd everything to him), got in touch with Mark and expressed concern that we hadn't been able to convince Bub to stop demanding a refund. Bub was now putting the screws to Bryan to issue him a refund, regardless of whether we re-imbursed him. Bryan decided to try one last time to see if we would give his money back. Mark very emphatically said "no." That issuing a refund wasn't called for because the update portion was free and if Bryan did so, it was his decision alone and the consequences were his alone.
Bryan then came back and told us that Bub didn't want to return the update; he wanted to return the "license expansion" and go back to an individual license. Mark said that wouldn't happen under any circumstances. Nobody can expect to buy and return "seats" on a multi-user license that way. They were stuck with exactly what they asked for, paid for and used for an entire year.
That's when Bryan began to lose his dignity. He felt he had no choice but to cave to Bub because Bub was a "very good customer" who buys lots of hardware from Bryan [Good for Bryan! Besides the disputed license, Bub has bought nothing from us and giving him a refund for the only thing he ever bought from us would get us what, exactly?]. Bub has "lots of influence" around the region Bub was threatening to buy our competitor's product and could talk others into doing so as well. [Funnily enough, a school district in the next county placed a HUGE order with us a week after that exchange. Yeah. Lots of influence, there, Bub.] Of course, Bryan understood that we had a 90-day return policy, but couldn't we just make this one exception? Bryan would hate to stop carrying our product, but couldn't be constantly worrying about our inflexible policies, blah, blah, blah... [Since when is a 90-day return policy on opened software and free tech support as long as you own it not flexible?]
Mark took a cue from me and chose not to dignify the whiny complaints by addressing them. He simply stated that Bryan was a valued independent reseller and Mark wouldn't dream of telling him how to run his business. Of course Bryan would always be welcome to sell our product, but if he chose not to, we'd understand completely, and Godspeed.
Sadly, that didn't stop Bryan's wheedling and he guilted us into caving, sort of...
Bryan kept writing back saying the he had no choice but to issue the refund to Bub and was going to do so, authorized or not. We were all inclined to wish him well and leave it at that, but decided there was a way to give him a break and finally get rid of Bub as a customer forever. So we made an offer to Bryan.
We would give him two new individual licenses to sell [not updates to existing licenses]. That would help ease the sting for and also get us two new customers who might expand the licenses and/or purchase updates. However certain conditions HAD to be met and there would NOT be any exceptions:
1. That all copies of the current version were proveably de-activated. Generally, if someone returns a license within the 90-day period, we will try to verify that they de-activated it. If we can't verify it, we'll take their word for it. If we get burned, at least they can't ever activate again. But this case was special. We weren't going to take anyone's word for it. They had several open activations and those would have to disappear from our database BEFORE we would give Bryan his licenses.
2. That Bryan understood that Bub's license was going to be permanently removed from our active database and that it could not be transferred or re-sold to anyone.
3. That Bub would not be reverting to an individual license or an earlier version. He would NO LONGER HAVE ANY LICENSE at all. No updates. No tech support. No rights to use our software AT ALL.
4. If condition 1 was not met, then, as far as we were concerned, Bub still possessed the software and we would not invoke conditions 2 and 3, nor would we give Bryan his free licenses.
The Conclusion and Where Everyone Is Now
So Bryan gave Bub a refund, but Bub didn't de-activate right away. Poor Bryan was pretty screwed, but we couldn't feel very sorry for him; it was his choice to give up the refund BEFORE checking with us that Bub had de-activated. Bryan kept bugging us about it and we kept telling him to talk to Bub. Bub was the one holding things up.
This went on for quite a few weeks and I was going to say that's where everything stood, but I checked the database this morning. It looks like Bub did finally de-activate at the beginning of the month. A few days later the license was removed as an active license by Mark according to the notes in the record.
So we ended up giving away two licenses, which is worth less than the offer of a future version we made to Bub, so we kind of feel we came out ahead, even though we were also kind of screwed over.
Bryan ended up with the freebies instead of Bub, but also ended up giving money back to Bub. I guess that makes Bub happy enough to keep buying things from Bryan. And if Bryan is enough of a masochist to want to keep Bub as a customer, I guess he's happy too.
As far as I know, Lou has to work with Bub. But at least, he hasn't been bullied into making awkward phone calls or writing embarassing emails to us. So there's that.
And last but not least, there's Bub. Yeah. He got his way, but he also burned bridges and he is no longer our customer.
I suppose he could keep pirating the previous version [which doesn't have anti-piracy protection], but it's very dated and won't work forever. If he updates his hardware, Windows or other software it's likely he'll run into compatibility issues. He won't be able to fix them by pirating a newer version or call us for support to find a workaround. Too bad, so sad.
I also suppose he could use the money to buy our competitor's product. If he was unhappy with us, though, he's going to HATE them. Their product costs more than ours and their company is basically a one-man operation. One man won't be any more able to provide instant psychic tech support or send "someone" out on-site than we were.
So that's it. We caved a bit. The reseller didn't lose out too badly and the end user succumbed to his own greed and short-sightedness and lost much more than he gained.
"Congratulations, Bub. You're fired!"
I suppose there is a slim possibility that Bub could manage to buy from us again (at full price and no special treatment), but let's hope not.
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