In the last years I have written to many companies about all sorts of bugs, issues and misbehaviours. Some companies put more effort than others into making themselves available after they successfully sold their product or service. If you are a company and don’t have time to spare for your customers, here’s some useful tips that will help you get rid of them, without making it too obvious.
Let me first introduce you to the golden principle upon which all of my tips stand: make your customer stumble for hours from one end to the other of your website.
Be subtle about keeping the final solution away from them as long as possible. When they finally realise that there is no contact form at the end of the path, the longer you’ll have kept them hopeful without giving yourself away, the harder they’ll fall. They’ll be broken beyond repair, so much that they’ll never want to hear about you or your company again, or any of your excuses which you might or might not issue in case they end up whining about their heartbreaking experience on social media or some review aggregator.
A customer’s first hope is always to find a Contact link at the top or bottom of the main page. (You may want to title that page Welcome.)
How to keep them wandering, you may ask? First of all (I mention it even if it’s obvious), the Contact link should never reveal a direct email address or a contact form with a Submit button.
Instead, fill the linked page with FAQs. If you have some spare time, it’s worth investing it in compiling credible questions and answers so that the user won’t become suspicious already. Of course, the answers will all be collapsed by default so that they only become visible after selecting the small triangle beside the respective question. Then, designate one or two of them to also contain a button named “Contact support”. After having gone through most of the FAQs and having discovered the keyholder ones by accident, seeing that button with that particular name will infuse new hope.
If you’re serious about gathering user data, you’ll probably already have a login service set up. If not, consider recruiting a computer science student who is willing to program it for you, cheaply. Give them the impression that they’re doing something very important with an outlook on a fixed position with an above-average salary and when they’re done, fire them. Before doing so, make sure that when the user selects the “Contact support” button mentioned earlier, the login screen pops up.
If you’re lucky, the user won’t be registered yet (or maybe it won’t matter in case you already charged them enough in exchange for the login credentials). For them, seeing a login screen when they were clearly expecting a plaintext email address or contact form is particularly frustrating, and you know it. Everybody knows how sick people are of creating a new login for every different service that they use. Personally, when I click on a link expecting to find a contact form and a login page appears instead, I get an allergic reaction. For most users, a login screen is like a gate, and they stupidly think that they will be kept hostage if they bring their complaint forward once inside the restricted zone.
If they are stubborn enough to register … and log in … forward them to the chat support page where they will be greeted by an automated message telling them to kindly wait until they’re first in line. Again, seeing that they will be able to talk to someone in real time and not have to wait for an email response will give them the hope of solving their issue faster than they thought. If you want to give the appearance of a professional customer support, also drop the image of a smiling young lady with a headset on who doesn’t actually work for you but is a paid model, so that in case the user feeds that image to a search engine with the intention of finding some hidden information about you or an employee of yours, they will bump into a modeling agency.
So here they are in front of the chat support page. Now, let me suggest a possible way for how your software could handle the interaction with the user. Every time the user enters a phrase containing the word “hello” in the input field, the bot will answer “Howdy! How can I help you today?” That will also be the first message printed after they’ve advanced to be the first of the virtual waiting queue. The first thing they’ll try will be to write things like “forward to human” or “talk to supervisor”, or they may even enter some gibberish in the hope that they’ll be automatically connected to a real person! In any of these cases, the bot’s answer should be “Sorry, I don’t understand your question”, even if the text doesn’t contain a question mark. However you end up programming the bot, don’t make it too hard to overcome since I have two more tricks to teach you.
Defeating the bot will finally disclose an email address. That’s the thing they’ve been looking for the whole time and which could be as simple as email@example.com. It will be so simple that the user will repeatedly smash their forehead with the palm of their hand, asking the heavens why they didn’t think of that before.
They will write an email, trying to sound as nice as possible. Nobody should answer it. Not yet.
Two months later
Since they didn’t hear anything from you or your company in this long period of time, they will search your website from top to bottom once more. Your website will be so cleverly set up, maze-like, so that, blinded by their anger, they will get lost and eventually stumble upon the firstname.lastname@example.org email address without having noticed it before (they will come to the conclusion that it must be because their inquiry has nothing to do with privacy).
At this point, since their desperation has been building up for a while now, they will copy paste their previous email and send it to your privacy team, whom you will have instructed to ignore all emails that are not strictly about privacy. (There could be serious legal actions happening to your company if you fail to respond to privacy inquiries, so you’ll better not ignore all emails altogether. After all, there’s a reason why 90% of the websites have to ask you for permission to install privacy intruding cookies on your computer.)
The user, whose head will be hanging low because of all the fatigue, will be picturing in their mind that there must be some benevolent and some malevolent teams at your company, the one behind the official contact email being the malevolent one. Their hope will be that the privacy team is one of the benevolent teams, that it will be so good as to forward the email to the right one, or even to take care of the issue personally. Until that moment, their heart will be so swollen with frustration that they will swear to god that, would they be working at your company in the privacy team, they would do everything in their power to come to the rescue of that helpless human being who contacted them.
One year later
Having heard nothing, they will initiate one last attempt to get your attention. They will beg you to help them. “Please”, they will write, “please … I will give you anything.” And at the end once more: “Please!”
Show no mercy.
Take the time to appreciate the tragedy of the user’s life.
At last, instruct your support agents to reply to that final, most desperate email where they will explain that in order to investigate the reported issue the customer will have to pay one of your engineers who will cost 180 $ per hour or an equivalent amount in your local currency. That will be your final move, because even if they offered anything in return for your help, the reality is that by buying your product they expected to have gained free lifetime support. As soon as they hear that exorbitant price they will leave you alone.
Now you can finally enjoy the results of your hard work with peace of mind.