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The Negatives of Selling Themes and Failing at Trying to Please Everyone

Let me first start this post off with saying that without customers we would be nothing. I say this to myself all the time and it reminds me to always appreciate our customers -- even some of the ones that make me want to pull my hair out. :) I believe that working with different customers -- good or bad -- gives us more knowledge to positively change how we work and it makes us better equiped to handle similar or future situations. It's all about improving.

I realize that ThemeSnap.com will never have a 100% customer satisfaction rate. I can live with that idea based on the nature of our business and how it fits in with the open source community. It's a nice goal to have for sure, but hardly achievable when a company sells thousands of products.

I also understand that customers bring different skill sets to the table when they purchase and install any theme - whether it be for Drupal, WordPress, or any other CMS. But there has to be a line somewhere between the product sold and the expectations of the customer for that product, or the services given or not given for that product.

I would normally never "air dirty laundry" so to speak or share an email from a customer, especially if it related to problems with that particular customer. But I'm going to share one such email below that I shared with my lead developer earlier today (I had to vent to someone!)

My goal of sharing this is to illustrate a few of the negatives of selling themes and why failing at trying to please really bites:


From: ThemeSnap.com Support

Subject: Fwd: Re: [I Have a General Question] Problems Loading ThemeNews

Date: December 8, 2011 11:06:29 AM EST

To: M

Here's the sequence of events for a recent sale from one customer... Sorry up front for the length but I'm sure you'll appreciate it having been in similar situations.

Before this guy decided to buy the ThemeNews theme he simply asks me this via email:

"I will be using Drupal 7 hosted on HostGator ([site name removed]). Will your theme work here? I am a non-techie, will I be able to install your theme?"

I reply with:

"Thanks for the email. All of our themes use an installation profile to install but any of the setup guides for a D7 version theme will help you get it installed on Hostgator, as that's where we host our demos and main website (on their VPS solution)."

Shortly later he buys the theme and disappears for a day or two, only to return with an email saying "I'm getting an error" installing the theme I purchased. I think to myself, rather than spend another 3, 5, 10+ emails and a bunch of unnecessary time, that I just ask him for the cPanel/FTP login details so that I can simply install the theme myself. I ask for nothing in return even though we normally charge for theme installs. He sends the info, I install the theme, and it all works 100%. No issues whatsoever. No errors.

Then, he emails back the next day with questions on how to change the "Site information" in his Drupal website and about how to change the logo, etc. I try to be a nice guy and help out, so I write out a long-ish tutorial (with screenshots!!) for him and then I mention to him that if he cannot figure out how to configure the theme exactly as he wants it, then perhaps searching or reading a few of the MANY Drupal tutorials or even paying a "web manager" of sorts for a little time might not be a bad idea. 1 to 2 hours should be all that's needed for reading or someone to make his changes -- or even write him up a short tutorial on how to do it. Honestly though, if he just chose to read one or two tutorials it would have solved many of the basic questions he had. However, it comes down to what I believe was just plain laziness on his part.

Receiving his reply email I could see that something about my comment on reading tutorials or hiring someone caused him to blow a head gasket and he comes back and says the following:

"Before I ever purchased ThemeNews I explained that my lack of technical skills. Now in your words you say "I would recommend that you take some time to review some Drupal tutorials or perhaps look into paying for help if you don't know how to manage the site."

I'm taking your recommendation. I have deleted ThemeNews from my site and will go elsewhere. Please issue me a credit immediately on my credit card.

I'll also be certain to share my experiences on Yelp and other social media sites. There's tons of guys just like me out there. Unfortunately the original commitment I felt when I signed up for your product is not he assistance I received.

Your unsatisfied, ex-customer,

RC, PhD" [name removed]

Please tell me -- where did this guy "explain" to me his lack of technical skills to me for Drupal? He never said that he knew NOTHING about Drupal, which I only find out in the end of this ordeal. He only said, and I'll quote him again verbatim -- "I am a non-techie, will I be able to install your theme [on Hostgator]?" in his original email. I answered that question quite honestly and to the point.

Please also remember that I even installed his theme for FREE and also helped him out with an in-depth tutorial on how to change the basic things in his particular theme -- the Site information and logo -- quite possibly two of the most basic Drupal admin configurations to begin with. Oh! And I extended the 30% off theme purchase discount for him even though it was 2 days since the sale had actually ended. This whole ordeal is like hearing that your support and time to go out of your way to help a customer is completely worthless. :(

Do you want to know the funny thing about all of this? After the percentage split on the sale and processing fees I would have ended up with only $20 for all of this work and time. It's frustration to see the desparity gap between a purchased product, customer expectations, and the effort to make things right. This guy deserves a place right up there with the top 3 worst customers I've dealt with over the past 4+ years of selling Drupal themes.

I mean, what can this guy possibly say on Yelp or anywhere else that's negative considering all I've provided him? Needless to say, when he asked for a refund I quickly gave it to him. I'll let him go back to being a bitter old man. lol.


Let me say that my style of working with customers is straight-forward and I'm extremely honest and transparent. I help out as much as I can with product support and I've given away so much of my time for free theme help and support over the years that I'd probably pass out if I knew the total amount of time given away.

Don't get me wrong. There is something about helping customers work through issues that's very rewarding. But helping customers like the one above only to be kicked in the stomach for ALL of your efforts really blows! I think any designer, developer, or web-related service can relate to this situation.

Sometimes a customer's knowledge-base, or lack thereof, of Drupal or managing a website just doesn't stack up though. There's that 1 out of 500 customers that expects everything to be done for them with literally zero effort, learning, or work on their part. The result is that they just end up as a bitter person who writes bitter emails with threats of posting negative things about us online with no actual proof or substance behind the accusations.

I'm left with several questions and a glimmer of hope that we can get some positive feedback to improve. Comments would be appreciated:

  1. What could I have done differently here for this customer?
  2. Was I out of line anywhere in my reply to him about reading a few tutorials or possibly hiring someone?
  3. Does anyone think that my original answer for his initial question asking about his technical skills required to simply install our theme on Hostgator was incorrect? Remember, he only asked the non-techie question in reference to installing (which I did for him for free). He said nothing about basic Drupal management.
  4. Was I supposed to read his mind or understand that his technical skills were literally zero with regards to managing a Drupal site? If so, is that my fault?
  5. For future cases like this, what's a good protocol to follow? I thought our TOS covers this stuff pretty well but maybe I need to stamp it in 3-4 other places in regards to basic Drupal knowledge and basic management of a Drupal website before purchasing.

Ultimately, I press forward... I don't let customers like this get me down. I like helping people create things and the negatives are certainly outweighed by all of the positives and successes with our themes and custom projects. As I said in the beginning of this post, customers are our business and that's the most important thing at the end of the day.

Comments (5)

Rod's picture
Dec 09, 2011 By Rod (not verified)

What could I have done differently here for this customer?

Nothing, there's no helping some people

Was I out of line anywhere in my reply to him about reading a few tutorials or possibly hiring someone?

Nope, you're not a free web developer sitting there to help the world in their hour of need!

Does anyone think that my original answer for his initial question asking about his technical skills required to simply install our theme on Hostgator was incorrect? Remember, he only asked the non-techie question in reference to installing (which I did for him for free). He said nothing about basic Drupal management.

Nope, you answered exactly what he asked.

Was I supposed to read his mind or understand that his technical skills were literally zero with regards to managing a Drupal site? If so, is that my fault?

Nope, see above!

For future cases like this, what's a good protocol to follow? I thought our TOS covers this stuff pretty well but maybe I need to stamp it in 3-4 other places in regards to basic Drupal knowledge and basic management of a Drupal website before purchasing.

I don't think you can panic when 1 out of hundreds of customers is an idiot.

My local garage wouldn't change the way they do business if I went and bought a car engine and then phoned them from home saying 'how do I put it in a car - I'm not technically minded'

Take a deep breath, laugh at the guys foolishness, thank the stars you don't live your life in a rage of pent up self loathing and move on!

My 2 cents? Your support is supurb, continue just the way you are.

Rod

ThemeSnap's picture
Dec 09, 2011 By ThemeSnap

Rod, I/we really appreciate the reply. As with most jobs, sometimes the one on the receiving end of things has to vent or either post the ridiculousness for others to see and try to take customers like this with a grain of salt.

This is a hard business, just like most others. Harder in some regards because we sell something that lays over open source and the customer can then do with it what they wish.

But customers like this that I've bent over backwards trying to please make me question our ethics and business moral, even when I should stick behind what we say and do.

You're right though. I won't panic because of one crazed customer who wants their website to manage itself and wants to do nothing to learn even the basics of Drupal.

Thanks again! Your comment made my Friday a little brighter.

Jason

David's picture
Jan 05, 2012 By David (not verified)

I completely feel your pain.

Only a few websites people would pay $5000 for a website to be developed that is not even a tenth as powerful or as impressive as your themes. Now suddenly they want to pay you $60 and don't even have the courtesy to read the readme file.

It's been so difficult as a web designer / consultant these past years, and I've found my pricing structure has to be entirely based on the technical skills of the client.

Is it unfair to charge someone more for the same website because they have no interest in computers? No. Becasue if they don't take an interest;
- I will have to upload all of their products... forever
- I will have to update all of their modules... forever
- I will have to modify their site... forever
- I will be held accountable for anything that ever goes wrong with the site... forever
Even if it's not included in the price - otherwise they will say I don't provide customer service.

I feel like giving customers a $100 DISCOUNT if they do a 1 hour training and pass a test at the end.

ThemeSnap's picture
Jan 09, 2012 By ThemeSnap

Hey David,
Thanks for taking the time to share your experience. You're absolutely right! Charging based on the customer's skill set is more of an ideal situation. However, it can't work for us since we sell a "one price fits all" product. I do like your idea about making a customer pass a test. Believe me, I've given it some serious thought. :)

I could say with a high degree of certainty that every designer and developer I know has gone through this situation with customers who know nothing about the "tools" they've purchased and then the same customer expects a magic genie to pop out of the bottle to manage their site for them. This guy thought just that.

I've tried to fine tune our policies and TOS over the past few years. There will always be those few who just don't care to read one line of it though.

It'a reassuring to know and hear of similar stories like yours. At least we always know we're not alone in this.

Best,
Jason

Rick Adlam's picture
Mar 12, 2012 By Rick Adlam (not verified)

Hi Jason,
From what I have seen your themes are a bargain.
You get the power of Drupal wrapped in beautiful design. [hard to find for Drupal]
The nature of Drupal is different than WordPress. It takes a lot more resources. Most web hosts are happy with WordPress but some are not with Drupal on a shared account.
One thing I would let your prospective buyers know is that they should:
1.Talk to their web hosting provider about using Drupal, to see if they are OK with Drupal on shared hosting. Maybe you could have a list of hosts that meet your themes needs.
2. Ensure that they can up the php memory to 128 MB, if you don't have permissions to do this themselves.
I recently had a WordPress theme that could not run on 32mb, and my host moved it up to 128mb for me. [I am in Australia, and use an Australian Host. They are more expensive, but you can pick up the phone and talk to them if something goes wrong, and they fix it whilst you are on the phone most times!]
Many people need this kind of service but want to pay peanuts.
Newbies to Drupal would really need some hand holding. [Its a big jump up from WordPress.]
Just a suggestion.

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