People Who Pay For A Service Are A Lot Nicer Than Those Who Don't

from the meeting-expectations dept

Dealing with customers can quite often be a pain for many companies and other people who offer goods and services that require some support from time to time. When offering a free service, the barrier for new customers is eliminated and you can get a whole lot of cranky people when the service is down or not operating to expectations. So what happens when a free user turns into a paid user? Will those people become even more entitled and become even more upset when downtime happens? Actually, it could very well be the opposite.

Over at the Agile League, one software developer, Micah, shares his experience with offering a paid subscription for a free service.

When I finally flipped the switch to add paid subscriptions to Obsidian Portal, I was terrified of the coming support nightmare. I reasoned that if people were angry and demanding when it was free, they would be infinitely more angry and demanding after they had paid. Instead, what I quickly learned was that the paying subscribers were vastly more polite, understanding, and patient than the free users.

So why exactly did this happen? Why did these customers, who decided to pay money, suddenly become more polite in their interactions with this developer? Micah offers what he feels is the best explanation for this change.

My customers don’t pay me in order to buy the right to yell at me. Most of them don’t care at all who I am. They pay money because my service addresses a pain point in their lives. They’re so happy at how well it addresses the pain point that they gladly get out their wallets and fork over payment. If there’s an interruption in the service, they aren’t interested in pointing fingers and assigning blame. They just want the service back. If service interruptions or bugs are the norm, they may get angry, but the point is that they don’t get extra angry just because they paid.

When people find software or any other service that addresses their needs, they will gladly pay for it and be happy about it. This is something we have addressed in the past on numerous occasions. This is what makes Valve's Steam platform so successful in the games industry. This idea is what leads us to shake our heads at the boondoggles that the movie and music industries throw out there. It is all about identifying a need in the marketplace and offering a service that is convenient and actually meets that need.

Of course this is not going to be true for 100% of users who do pay. There are still plenty of people out there who seek an opportunity to complain. The key is to not be afraid of putting yourself out there.

What I am suggesting is that you relax any fear you have about being beholden to them because they paid you. Asking for payment does not fundamentally change your relationship with your users. Some will love you, others won’t. But, there’s a good chance that the ones who love you will match up to the ones paying you.

So while there may be some paying users who do complain, there is still a large group who will not because they actually love your service enough to have paid. These customers feel that the service offered at the time of payment was worth the money. As long as the service meets those expectations, they are happy. When your customers are happy, you could make a lot more money in the process.

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Comments on “People Who Pay For A Service Are A Lot Nicer Than Those Who Don't”

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ken (profile) says:

Free stuff gives sense of entitlement.

Before becoming a programmer I worked for an airline for many years as a reservation agent and the thing that generated the most complaints was the Frequent Flyer Program.

Yes the freebie. The give-away. It generated more complaints and ill-will by customers far more than even lost baggage, late or cancelled flights, extra charges, or airline food.

Free stuff gives people a feeling of entitlement. When they pay for something they are much more grateful for what they have and subsequently are less demanding and satisfied. People want to feel like they actually worked for something. It gives them self worth and a sense of accomplishment.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Free stuff gives sense of entitlement.

“Free stuff gives people a feeling of entitlement. When they pay for something they are much more grateful for what they have and subsequently are less demanding and satisfied. People want to feel like they actually worked for something. It gives them self worth and a sense of accomplishment.”

Or it could be that “free stuff” is stuff that for one reason or another customers feel is not quite so free.
In terms of frequent flyer miles, they may well just feel that they have already paid for it and therefore be more demanding when it fails to be what they expected it to be as people generally are when something they paid for is less than it should be.

Another example, actual cable company in the UK.
Their prices aren’t actually too bad, almost reasonable even. But here’s the thing, some people have found that if they call up and threaten to leave, they get even better deals but those deals tend to be for a defined period, say 12 months. So what some of these some people do, is repeat the procedure every 12 months and so consistently get even better prices than pretty much everyone else.
But on the whole, these people aren’t happy.
They feel that unless they make the call once a year that because they then won’t get a special deal, that they would be in effect be being cheated. So now they resent the company that forces them to jump through this hoop on a yearly basis to get what they now consider to be the “proper” deal.

It’s not that they view it as a freebie, it’s that they view it as at best a reward for work done (phoning the company to negotiate a better deal) or at work they are forced to do to avoid being “cheated”

I don’t know the specific circumstances of the free to use games or services being discussed in the article but I suspect that Zach isn’t far off in suggesting that paying customers in those circumstances are largely going to come from free users who are particularly happy with the service offered and therefore a self selecting group of people who mostly are not going to be particularly complainey.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Free stuff gives sense of entitlement.

That can be understanding. As an ex-frequent flyer I would sometimes go out of my way for a flight on my preffered airline for the miles. Sometimes flying odd hours or alternate airports. People feel like they worked for those miles by being extra loyal. So yes when things go wrong it can be frustrating.

Also when claiming your free miles or hotel room it is far to common for something to go wrong. You start to become primed for it and are ready to go right to management with any issue. It can be frustrating to have 100 transactions go flawlessly but every time you try to use your rewards something “goes wrong”. Personally as a systems guy myself I could understand, though an average customer who does not really understand systems, logistics or how these programs are handled it can be completely frustrating to a customer who feels they went the extra mile for the company.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Free stuff gives sense of entitlement.

did you consider the airline was “giving’ free stuff to you, or do you believe you paid for those points by flying and paying for frequent flights with that airline ?

if they were free, you would give them regardless of how often you flew with them.. and that is not the case..

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: Frequent-Flyer Miles As a Con Game (to ken, #3).

Look at at this way, there might have been a typical traveling salesman, who flew back and forth regularly between, say, Fort Wayne, Indiana and Ceder Rapids, Iowa. This was the sort of flight which was marginal for airline travel, because of the short distance, and the fact that both of the end-points are small cities. The big airlines competed for this kind of business traveler, not with low fares, but with frequent-flyer miles, which he did not have to tell his company about, even though the company was paying for the tickets. There were likely to be restrictions which prevented the frequent-flyer miles from being taken out in the form of free trips over the regular route (ie. volume discounts), or otherwise being transferred to the passenger’s employer. However, the frequent-flyer miles could be turned into a vacation in Acapulco. In plain language, this was bribing purchasing agents. It did not differ in any fundamental way from giving bottles of whiskey, or sets of golf clubs.

By way of “protective coloration,” frequent-flyer programs were oversold. People were encouraged to take out memberships, even if they had essentially no chance of accumulating enough frequent-flyer miles to actually go anywhere, the kind of people who only flew once a year (Grandma visiting the Grandkids). It was necessary to encourage these people in false beliefs to obscure the actual bribery which was going on. No doubt this generated a certain level of complaints.

A lot of businessmen who “materially participated” in their companies decided that if they were paying what the airlines wanted to charge them, they might as well charter a small airplane, such as a Cessna 172, piloted by a nineteen-year-old kid, and fly direct, rather than going indirectly through airline airports. Other businessmen did the sums, and decided that a salesman working for them could be ordered to drive instead, that there was no point in paying him to sit around in airports rather than driving down the interstate. Thus the airlines were selecting for the kind of business traveler who ran fiddles at the expense of his company, and got away with it. No doubt they tried the same tactics on airline reservation agents.

Davey says:

Re: Free stuff gives sense of entitlement.

People aren’t dumb enough to think FF miles are “free.” They know they paid with higher fares. Plus, the airlines go all out to make FFs feel “special”, so it’s hardly a surprise if they expect to be treated that way — and, in my experience, are not. The regular paying passengers have grown accustomed to being treated like cattle, so don’t see anything new to complain about.

Chris says:

Re: Free stuff gives sense of entitlement.

I wonder if this is a bit chicken and the egg though.

When something is given away for free, the giver also has a sense of “what are you complaining about, it’s free?” When they are charging for something, they act much more accountable to provide great service.

So with the frequent flier miles, it’s frustrating when you finally earn a flight and then dates are blacked out, there are extra fees, etc. But some airlines don’t care about these issues, because they see the program as a bonus. However, if something goes wrong with a flight you paid for, they are much quicker to correct the problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Free stuff gives sense of entitlement.

get a clue, frequent flyer is not a ‘giveaway’ or a ‘free’ service !!!.

(and you used to work there !!!, you should know)..

NO, the people have to pay to fly frequently, the users are paying for the ‘free’ points by paying money and flying on a frequent basis.. it’s like a bulk buy discount, except you only get a discount on more product. (in this case, flights).

But to say it’s a free service or a giveaway is clearly incorrect..

it would generate lots of complains if the frequest flyers did not recieve what they PAID for.. or if the company failed to deliver what they said they would if you paid the required amount (flew frequently).

but free, it is NOT..

you pay either way, free support is paid for as an extra cost in the original product, and paid support is an extra cost in the original product AND some extra as well..

If you believe companies do ANYTHING for free, you are very confused about business, stick to programming..

TruSeattleite (profile) says:

Not always the case

Apparently you’re not an MMO gamer at all. In World of Warcraft you have a paying subscriber base which for the most part is completely rancid. Constant complaining and crying about just about everything. In Guild Wars you play for free and you hear way less complaining and crying. In Lord of the Rings Online you have both free and paying subscribers and hear a lot of complaining. Mostly from the ones paying and how they are being treated. The big factor in this is the company and how they listen and react to their customer base. If you listen to your customers you will hear less complaining from them and they will be far easier to deal with. If you ignore your customer base then you will get exactly what you deserve. Tons of complaining and negative feedback. The pay vs. free is irrelevant.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not always the case

because people who pay for a service expect to get what they pay for, therefore, if you pay blizard a sum of money for a service you expect to receive the service you paid for..

a free service (like guild wars) you get exactly what you pay for (and you pay nothing).. and therefore you expect to recieve what you pay for. (again, you pay nothing)..

and again, there really is no such thing as free, even guild wars I am sure would contain probably advertising, therefore you pay for guild wars by paying more for products you purchase.. except everyone gets to pay.. not just you.. but me too, and everyone else, even if we dont play guild wars…

same as google, you think it’s free ?? where do you think google gets it’s billions of dollars a year from ??

advertisments,, who advertises ?? = EVERYONE, who pay for that advertising ?? everyone who ever buys a product that is advertised on google..

certainly NOT FREE..

because a cost is hidden does not make it not there…

vilain (profile) says:

NeoOffice users aren't so nice

The 2 guys in a garage who ported OpenOffice to MacOS have found that new users have become the bane of their existence. These people are upset that they have to pay $10/year for support of a ‘free product’. It’s gotten so bad that the developers have stopped fixing bugs because they’re spending all their time answer tech support calls from users.

So, they shut down the payment system and let the current crop of people go without help. Only if you’ve bought support in the last year will they allow you to pay for another year for support and then answer your questions.

This seems just the reverse of what the original article is saying. But this is pissing off a LOT of people in the Macintosh news groups. You can’t even post to the NeoOffice forums and emails from non-subscribers are bounced back. Their excuse is that they aren’t a company and are doing this ‘because they want to’. They took a free-software package (OpenOffice), forked it, changed the copyright to another form (it’s legal), and now users are left twisting in the wind. The last time a developer did this (Brian Clark, ‘author’ of Thoth, a MacOS news reader), users either held their nose or told him to bite the big one.

Someone needs to drop a house on these guys who are doing this to NeoOffice.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: NeoOffice users aren't so nice

If it was trivial to do, then someone else would do it. Providing paid support for forked FOSS is one of the primary business models built around FOSS. Just because some guys got in over their head trying to do that does change the fact that it’s a very viable business model.

I would call OpenOffice one of the worst possible applications to try that with though; everyone has experience with MS Office, and will expect MS Office, regardless of how ridiculous that is. Add in that OpenOffice is fairly buggy in its own right and you’re asking for disaster.

ld says:

Re: NeoOffice users aren't so nice

NeoOffice is free, they just don’t give away downloads of pre-built binaries because the GNU GPL that open office was released under doesn’t require them to, only to make the source code available. If you want it for free you can get the source code from the CVS repository and build it yourself. The instructions are here:
Requiring a build from source to get a free copy and charging a few bucks for a download isn’t new, lots of people do it. As to the tech support stuff? You can see their tech forum and search for your problem for free, if you want to post a question you have to pay $25 a year and to get actual direct support from the only two software engineers they have, themselves, it’ll cost you a $100 a year.
They didn’t just fork it, they had to port it to the mac which means reworking the source code to get it to run properly, just because it’s written in a high level language doesn’t mean it’ll just work on another OS simply by running it through the compiler, that only works for very simple and limited programs. they’ve also added other features as well. Such shoestring outfits aren’t for the faint of heart, these guys have no big donors or loads of volunteers or paid programmers, it’s just the two of them.

Bill W (profile) says:

Oh boy, do I resonate with this!

Not a “computer” service per se but I subscribe to American Express in a couple of different fashions. I find my contact with them to be much more pleasant, even if the call is related to a problem. Much of that is due to the great level of customer support but I am sure part of that is that I feel a level of status as a “paying customer” … I can afford to be gracious [but I expect you to recognize that …]

Whatever it is, it works for me!

Anonymous Coward says:

It sort of explains people like PaulT. They want it for free, and they are angry when they can’t get it.

It’s sort of easy to see who stands where on Techdirt by this standard. RD is one of the MOST upset PEOPLE on here, and he is perhaps the ultimate freetard.

NICE! Thanks for posting this informative article. It clears up so many things about Techdirt.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve been working in the travel agency biz for the past twenty-something years. Travel agencies used to get commissions (typically 10%) for whatever airline tickets we issued. On a 10% commission structure, we could afford to provide our service for free. Don’t get me wrong, we were never rich, but we got paid for our service by our suppliers, not our customers.

Then one day Delta said “yeah, you know those commissions you’ve been getting? Sorry, find somewhere else to make a living. We have this interwebs thingy we’re gonna use instead.” And within 2 hours, all the other airlines collectively said “yeah, what Delta said!” So overnight, our business model was turned upside-down, and we had to start charging fees for our services.

So now it’s some 15 years later, and how are things? I’m no closer to being rich, but I’m still making a living. So tell me recording industry: why didn’t all my customers flock to to buy their tickets?

I’ll tell you why. I take all the BS out of booking travel by giving them what they want at the best price I can find, and my customers think that’s worth $20.

If you’ll take all the BS out of buying music and movies (DRM, region-specific coding, artificial scarcity, etc.) people will buy your stuff too. Stop making it attractive for your customers to go elsewhere (Youtube, Spotify, Pandora).

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Did you notice a change in how well your customers treat you after you started charging?

I take all the BS out of booking travel by giving them what they want at the best price I can find, and my customers think that’s worth $20.

It’s worth far more than $20.

I can divide my nonrecreational service purchases into two types: ones that let me avoid a huge hassle and ones that require a skill I don’t possess. Oddly, perhaps, it’s the ones that let me avoid a huge hassle that I value more.

I realized this when I hired movers for the first time. Sure, I can load and unload a moving truck myself, but it’s more than worth a couple hundred bucks to not have to. But paying a couple hundred bucks to get my car fixed? That annoys me.

F! says:

anecdotal much?

I disagree with this heartily. It largely depends on the attitude of support personnel. You know, the underpaid geeks who get placed on the front lines – I don’t envy their position and consider myself lucky that I was able to skip that initiation into working in the tech sector.

The article is based on anecdote, so I thought I’d share my own – I always give support the benefit of the doubt, whether I pay for it or not. They should know more about what they’re talking about than I do, right? That’s why they’re there.

When I get the “RTFM n00b” response from free support, I can generally take it with a grain of salt. When I get that kind of response from support I’m actually paying for, well let’s just say it’s a completely different story and leave it at that.

I’m also very grateful for any free support I get because for one thing, if I’m rude they would lose nothing by cutting me out entirely which is totally their prerogative.

Completely beside the point, isn’t this article actually a bit counter to the message of free/open culture that seems to permeate TechDirt?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: anecdotal much?

” isn’t this article actually a bit counter to the message of free/open culture that seems to permeate TechDirt?”

The message that permeates Techdirt is finding new or different ways to make money.
Some of the stories of people doing that are occasionally about giving users the choice of whether to pay or not and techdirt’s own particular view
is that customers need to be given a good solid reason to pay
that companies shouldn’t be trying to make money by pretending that choice doesn’t exist or thinking that they can just force people to pay them or that other people have some moral obligation to just give them money.

Anonymous Coward says:

I tend to get more angry with stuff I paid for/was given to me as a gift by a close freind family member not working than stuff that was offered for free.

After all, it’s rude to expect a small hobby game/app developer to cater to your every whim.

But you can and should expect better when you or someone you care about has to pay for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

It's not about the Money

Many years ago I took a night job with a call center so I could attend some day classes.
All the people calling in were paying customers and that year I talked to about 30,000 of them!
The vast Majority were very pleasant but there were the few who had the attitude of “you will do it my way or else”!
They called in expecting to do battle and there wasn’t much you could do about it.It was Game on!
Basically it boils down to expectations and not cost.If someone calls your company and expects great service,and THEY feel they’re not getting it they are going to turn into the customer from hell.
The key here is how THEY perceive you and not how YOU perceive you. Money has nothing to do with it.

Anonymous Coward says:

free pron downloads are awful things aren't they

lol stupid study , should look more at how ignorant dumb people pay for stuff because they don’t know any better and would feel even better when they have more money to spend on other stuff

more studies show you are more healthy when you are more wealthy and what better way then to provide more services freely to you so you can BUY other stuff and even get into that cool thing called saving. ALL THE rest above is moot.

Burton F Skinnose says:

When you buy, you invest

When you decide to pay for something, you invest more than money. Every purchases you make also involves your belief that you’re able to discern good products from bad and that you’re able to make good decisions about what’s good for you. Once you’ve decided to buy something, you’ve invested not only in the product, but in your ability to choose a product. Owner loyalty derives from this, as does service user loyalty.

Man o man I loves me my iPad/android/bmw/whatever.

Ninja (profile) says:

I have mixed feelings here. I’m surely more demanding when I’m paying for a service. I tend to let a lot of things go when I’m on a free service. That said, I certainly won’t rage if they crash every once in a while because shit like this can happen.

And Google probably doesn’t have any issues with paid or free services, their customer service is non-existent.

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