Advice for Online Vendors: Sample Customer Questions

January 18, 2010 at 7:33 pm 2 comments

So you think you’ve created a great product and you think you’re ready to become an online merchant? Hold your horses. Having a great product is just one factor of selling things online. You’ll have to deal with… customers! That’s right- real, honest-to-goodness people!

I’ve been selling digital products since 2001 and I’ve been running the Vanishing Point website since it started in 2004, so I figured it was time to share some of my experiences. Over the years, I’ve been asked numerous questions, ranging from the intelligent and challenging, to the downright “out there”.

Here’s a list of questions I’ve received over the years, with my sarcastic answer, which for obvious reasons, I never sent to the customer. I’ve also included a real answer in case some people don’t get the sarcastic one. In many cases, I’ve tried to retain the original grammar and spelling errors in the e-mail, though it’s not the customer’s exact e-mail message.
Please note: although I try to address some real customer-service issues (such as rudeness), this blog is meant to be humorous, along the lines of other customer-service humor websites, such as Rinkworks. (link opens in new window)

I’m trying to use my American Express card [via PayPal] to buy one of your items, but PayPal won’t let me. What gives? What’s the real reason I can’t purchase from you?

Sarcasm:
You got me. The gig is up.
I’m actually in collusion with American Express and PayPal and we’re all conspiring to make sure you don’t buy from me. In fact, to be on the safe side, anyone who tries to buy with your credit card will be added to our “Do Not Buy” list, kind of like the TSA’s “No Fly List”.

Reality:
Although this person suspects a grand conspiracy, there’s absolutely nothing like this at all. As I’ve tried to explain to people a number of times, I have no control over PayPal, nor can I control which credit cards they do or do not accept. If a customer has an issue with PayPal not accepting a certain credit card, the issue should be taken up with PayPal or the bank.

The best part about this question is how the customer jumps straight into accusing me of not letting him do something, when the issue is with PayPal and his credit cards. And, yes, customers jumping straight into threats and rudeness is a common theme in these questions.

PayPal charged my debit card instead of my credit card. How are you going to fix this?

Sarcasm:
Again, the gig is up. Since you found out that we obviously have access to PayPal’s transaction-processing system, I’ll get in touch with Sue in accounting and get her to fix this for you. Please don’t tell anyone else about this discovery or they’ll ask me to do the same thing for them.

Reality:
As above, we don’t control PayPal.
Unfortunately, this is also the start of the trend where customers don’t take responsibility for their transaction. After all, it’s up to them to pay attention to which account PayPal is drawing money from.

I paid with an e-check at PayPal. I demand you send me my download link immediately or I’ll report you for fraud!

Sarcasm:
You know, we enjoy sending out products before a transaction is complete. We trust that you won’t reverse the transaction before it’s completed so you can get a free product.

Reality:
The reality is that an “e-check” payment takes 5-7 days to clear and PayPal itself tells vendors to not to ship products until the payment has cleared. This “warning” by PayPal is included in the transaction e-mail they send to the vendor (and most likely, to the customer). And, although I’ve never paid with an e-check myself, I’m sure there’s a notice warning the customer about this delay.

So, again, this is a PayPal issue which we have no control over.

This question starts the trend of people not fully reading the instructions and then complaining when they don’t what they expect.

PayPal won’t let me enter an APO address when I try to create an account on their site.

Sarcasm:
Hey, Sue, while you’re changing the transaction-processing screens, could you get the guys in data entry to fix these screens? Thanks.

Reality:
It starts to get a little tiring trying to answer questions about how PayPal works. I can understand a customer’s frustration, but asking me to change PayPal’s data-entry forms won’t help. As before, this is a question that needs to be directed at PayPal’s customer service department.

Unfortunately, this is pretty much the full e-mail from the person. I would have been happy to give him alternative places to buy our products (which don’t require PayPal), but he seemed more interested in complaining than asking for a way to purchase our products.


Okay, enough questions about PayPal. Let’s read some site and product-related questions…

Your website looks funny when I use Safari 10.38 Beta for Max OS 12. Can you please fix it?
Your website looks funny when I use Mosaic 1.3 for Windows 95. Can you please fix it?

Sarcasm:
Sure thing, no problem. We know that it’s our job to support every single browser in existence, from the latest bleeding-edge technology to browsers that were popular fifteen years ago.

Reality:
This should probably be obvious to most people, but obviously it isn’t: Beta software may not work properly… which is why it’s still labeled “Beta”. Website developers shouldn’t be expected to code their site to work with software which may not even be finished.

And, let’s face it, if someone’s using a fifteen year old browser, it’s probably beyond time to upgrade. Yes, I know Mosaic 1.3 doesn’t have all the security vulnerabilities of Internet Explorer, but still.

Are you planning on making seat belts for the Veepster [your car model]? It’s illegal to drive without seat belts here in South Dakota.

Sarcasm:
Thank you for your interest in driving our digital models on real roads. At this time, we’re hard at work getting our digital cars road-legal in every state. Unfortunately, we expect it will take a while for our car to pass each state’s strict safety-approval process since the Veepster doesn’t come with any real-world safety features, including seat belts, air bags, anti-lock brakes, emissions controls, or power steering.

Reality:
I replied to this customer, explaining that it wouldn’t be worth the time and effort to make fully-working seat belts for a car model for a digital model.

I understand that people want realism in their models, but some details aren’t worth the effort to make: there’s no need to model every bolt and nut, just like there’s no real need to include seat belts.

But then I started thinking: even if it’s illegal to not wear a seat belt (in a real car), is it illegal to make an image of a digital model without a front seat belt?

Your latest product, the “Aeroplane Cruiser” is spelled wrong. The correct spelling is “Airplane”.

Sarcasm:
Thank you very much for taking it upon yourself to correct the spelling of my product. Congratulations for publicly shaming me for my lack of spelling ability. You win a prize.

Reality:
Product names are (usually) chosen carefully. This so-called misspelling was probably done for a reason. And to be blunt: who are you to be questioning how I spell the name of my own product? If I want to mis-spell it, I will!

You’d make more money if you converted the obj version of the F-15 [fighter jet] to Poser format.

Sarcasm:
Gee, even though I’ve been selling products since 2001, that idea never occurred to me. How can I ever repay you for such brilliant business advice?

Reality:
The reality is that, yes, there is the potential to make more money by selling a Poser version instead of an obj version. But, the other reality is that converting a model to Poser format involves rigging it with moving parts and re-mapping the materials.

In some cases, the models were not designed to be rigged with moving parts. For example, the F-15 fighter jet may have been modeled with its landing gear in the “down” position. I then have to figure out how to make the landing gear rotate up into the fuselage and close the landing gear doors. Many times, the landing gear (or the doors) were not designed to be moved this way: either the gear is too big to fit in the wheel-well or the doors are the wrong shape to fit against the fuselage.

I then have to make the decision about whether it’s worth the time and effort to fix up these models, especially when compared to the lower-than-expected sales of similar models.

I see that you’re no longer selling Panos’ Vietcong outfit and it’ll be on Renderosity soon. Do you know when?

Sarcasm:
Yes, on Jan 15, 2010 at 9:38am. We use a combination of clairvoyance and “farseein” technology to be able to predict the exact second when products are made live at Renderosity’s marketplace.

Reality:
In November 2009, the resale rights of the Vanishing Point products were sold to Renderosity. They now control when these products are released, and I am not part of their decision-making about what product is released when.

Has the customer ever thought to ask Renderosity or Panos (the merchant who made the product) about this?

I don’t see the [Starship Bridge] at Renderosity. Is there some other place I can buy it?

Sarcasm:
Meet me behind the store at midnight and I’ll get Guido to give you a good deal. Bring cash, come alone, and make sure you’re not followed.

Reality:
The bottom line is that many products are no longer Vanishing Point’s: they were sold to Renderosity and Renderosity now owns all the rights to these products. I can not sell them or give them away since they’re not mine. And doing so would be illegal, immoral, and unethical. Yet people still ask me if they can buy the no-longer-available products from me.

See the previous answer of contacting Renderosity and asking them about the product.

I accidentally uploaded a 200×200 thumbnail image to the [Vanishing Point] gallery, even though you don’t allow this. Sorry, but I thought this was Renderosity.

Sarcasm:
Thank you for thinking Vanishing Point is Renderosity. I know the sites look very similar since Renderosity has a black background and VP has a white background. The words “Renderosity” and “Vanishing Point” are obviously spelled too similarly and I understand how you could mistakenly think our site was actually Renderosity.

Reality:
It should be obvious that every site is different and has its own rules. Something that might be allowed at Renderosity may not be allowed at DAZ or Vanishing Point. It’s up to the merchant or artist to read the rules and follow them.

I just bought the Panel Van for Poser but I meant to buy the Utility Truck for Vue. Can I exchange this product?

Sarcasm:
What part of “Panel Van for Poser” did you not understand as you went through the multiple steps to check out and pay for the product? Did you not notice that not one of the check-out pages said “Utility Truck”? Did you completely ignore the list of items on the “Verify Order” page?

Reality:
First, we expect customers to be adults about their purchases, to take some responsibility for the items they’re purchasing, and to actually pay attention to what they’re buying. I don’t really care if “it was late” or “I was tired” or “the baby was crying so I couldn’t pay attention to what I was doing”. To be blunt: if it was late and you were tired or distracted, then you probably shouldn’t have been making a purchase in the first place. Is purchasing a product that important that it can’t wait until the baby stops crying?

Secondly, these are digital products. You can’t exchange them as you can with physical products: if I give you a new product, then you have received two items even though you only paid for one. Is this fair to me, to the merchants who may have worked on the product, or to the other customers who have paid for two separate items?

Thirdly, my cynical reply is that this is a ploy by some customers to purposefully get two products but only paying for one. They know that some sites have a “no questions asked” refund policy, so they figure they can “exchange” a “wrong” product and get a second item.

I realize that a vast minority of customers try this ploy, but it makes me very suspicious when a customer goes through the entire checkout process and never once notices that they’re buying the incorrect product.

I bought the PzVa Panther Tank but it won’t open in Carrera. What gives? I know the product says it’s meant for use in Poser, but I know Carrera can load Poser content.

Sarcasm:
I would have thought the words “for Poser” on the product’s description would have given you a clue that the product isn’t meant for use in other software programs. Obviously I was mistaken and every one of our products should naturally work in every single software program.

Reality:
What a fun question! The customer hits on two issues in one question!First, the issue of using the model in a program for which it wasn’t designed:

Unfortunately, the fact is that some products don’t work in every program. Should the artist who made the product really be expected to trouble-shoot the product in every program, even if he doesn’t have the program? And, although programs like Carrera may be able to import Poser models, sometimes the import process doesn’t work properly.

Here’s another example: suppose you own a 1995 Ford Mustang and you know it’ll accept BMW parts. Now suppose you go down to the auto-parts store and buy a BMW air filter (because it’s cheaper than air filters made for a Mustang). You go home, take out the air filter, put the new one it, but then find that it doesn’t quite fit exactly. Should you be entitled to a refund when you knowingly bought the wrong product? This isn’t a case of “the black dress isn’t flattering on me”– this is a case of you buying something that was not designed to work with your existing system, yet you chose to buy it anyway. Does a store have an obligation to give you a refund or exchange?

We’re also back to the issue of how to give an “exchange” for a digital product which can’t be returned.

Second, the e-mail was sent to me, the store owner. Should I be responsible for helping this customer trouble-shoot this product when the artist’s name is listed in the readme file? Wouldn’t the person who made the model be better able to help the customer? Why not talk to artist or merchant first, before contacting the store?

I just bought your Swap-A-Morph program for Windows and it won’t work on my Mac. Can I get a refund since I can’t use it?

Sarcasm:
Go jump in a lake! You knew it was designed for Windows, but you bought it anyway.

Reality:
As before, the customer bought a product knowing it wouldn’t work on his computer. I wonder why customers go through the entire check out process, pay for an item, download it, and then realize it won’t work? Why don’t they read the product description before buying?

Sorry, but I don’t think a refund should be issued since, as before, the customer needs to taking responsibility for his purchase: he should either read the product description fully, or if he doesn’t understand something, ask the person who made it, before purchasing.

I bought the “Veronica” figure from you and it doesn’t include a walk-designer file. Why is it missing? I expect you to issue me a refund immediately or make this transaction right.

Sarcasm:
What, you couldn’t find the super-secret file that was so secret it wasn’t mentioned in the product description?

Reality:
Um, did you even read check the product description to make sure “Veronica” actually comes with a walk-designer file? There’s no mention of this file any where in the description, so I’m not entirely sure why you assumed it would be included. And if you assumed it would be included, but you didn’t see it listed in the description, why didn’t you ask first, before purchasing?

How do I download my product? I purchased it, but now I can’t figure out how to receive it.

Sarcasm:
I’m so glad you asked that. We never would have thought about adding instructions like this to our website.

Reality:
This seems to be a re-occurring issue: people don’t take the time to read a website and, instead, they simply send e-mails to whomever they can find. Again, is this really the best option? How long did this customer wait for me to reply: an hour, three hours, twenty-four hours? If he had looked through the website, he could have found the answer in less time than it took him to write the e-mail.

1:00pm: I DIDN’T GET AN E-MAIL WITH MY DOWNLOAD LINK! I DEMAND THAT YOU MAKE THINGS RIGHT!
1:05pm: Look either send me the download link or give me back the $12.00. I haven’t received any e-mails from anyone at your company! I can’t believe this level of service! Let me know when I can download my purchase, within 12 hours or I will report the site to the Better Business Bureau, and file a disputed credit card charge with American Express.

Sarcasm:
(For once, I don’t have anything to say to this.)

Reality:
The first issue: this customer’s e-mail was “yahoo,con”… yep, the customer had a typo in his e-mail address, which caused the e-mail with the download link to not be delivered. Yet, instead of asking me politely why he didn’t receive the e-mail, he launches into a rude tirade about how it’s my fault and how he’s going to report me for fraud.

Second, this customer complained on the Saturday during Labor Day. Here in the United States, Labor Day is typically celebrated with end-of-summer cookouts. Suppose I had been out of town for the weekend. Would this person really have reported me to PayPal and the Better Business Bureau if I had waited until Sunday (more than 12 hours later) to reply?

Third, I can understand that a customer may be frustrated, but I have never understood why people send a second e-mail so soon after sending the first one. Some people wait an hour or so before sending a second e-mail, but still- if I don’t check e-mail until 5:00pm, I’m not going to see the 1:00pm e-mail any sooner. In fact, when I check e-mail at 5:00pm, I’ll see every single one of the complaining e-mails in the order in which they were sent. So, again, it makes no difference if the mail was sent at 1:00pm or 4:45pm: either way, I’ll see it at 5:00pm.

Fourth, whenever I reply politely to customers like this, they seem to re-compose themselves and apologize for their rudeness. Yet this doesn’t explain why they were rude in the first place. There are probably at least ten different ways to resolve this customer’s issue. Contacting the Better Business Bureau and threatening to do a chargeback should be a customer’s last resort.

Just because one merchant may have been rude to this customer doesn’t give him an excuse to be rude and threatening to every merchant and website.

I’m using Earthlink and I haven’t received my download link. Where is it? What’s going on over there?

Sarcasm:
Use an e-mail provider that doesn’t lock-down its users accounts with “advanced” spam filters!

Reality:
My real answer is close to the sarcastic answer: some e-mail providers (including Earthlink) require people to manually click on a link to “whitelist” their address before sending e-mail to an Earthlink account-holder.

As before, instructions on the Vanishing Point website tell people which e-mails they should allow so they can receive their download links. Plus, does this customer not realize that I won’t be able to answer their question if Earthlink (further) requires me to go through their “whitelist approval” process? Instead, he simply sends a complaining e-mail.

I didn’t receive the product I paid for instantly, so I’m going to post complaints in every forum I can find, rather than actually sending you an e-mail because I can’t be bothered to click on your Contact Us page. How do you like that?

Sarcasm:
I thoroughly enjoy chasing down customers who post complaints at multiple websites. Like you, I have nothing better to do with my time than to find a website, find a forum, start a new message thread, type in my comments, and wait to see who replies. I also enjoy it tremendously when I post a reply at one site but you’re already in the process of posting your reply at another site.

Reality:
Sorry, but I just don’t have the time (or the interest) to be chasing down complainers. The other reality is that I don’t believe a store’s staff should have to field customer service issues posted at other websites. Do people expect the staff at Renderosity to help fix issues discussed in the forums at DAZ? No, like any site, they’ll only fix issues when the issue is brought to their attention on their own site.

Related to this issue are the people who don’t like the product, but then post their complaint in an obscure forum (rather than contacting the seller or artist/ merchant) and then complaining again when he doesn’t receive a reply in the forums.

It makes me wonder if a person like this is complaining simply for the sake of complaining: after all, if he wanted help, shouldn’t he have contacted the artist/ merchant (whose name is probably in the product’s readme file)? I know some people post messages in forums to get help from other people, but these “other people” aren’t in a position to “make it right” if the product is actually faulty.

Can you make me a model of the B-24 Stratofortress, which flew over Europe in the winter of 1941?

Sarcasm:
And how much are you offering for this project? You say I should make it for free, out of the goodness of my heart? Well, since you put it that way, why not?

Reality:
This is something that customers don’t like to hear, but the reality is that I have plenty of projects already. Because of this, paying jobs have to take priority over requests for freebies. Yes, that’s right- like other professionals, I actually charge for my services.

I read an article on DeviantArt recently where they compare digital-content creation to other professions: would you ask a mechanic to fix your car for free? Would you ask a doctor to perform brain surgery on you for free simply because you need it for an upcoming project? Then why do people expect model-makers to make something for them for free?

If you don’t want to pay money for your request, at least have the decency to offer me something in trade: how about one of your own products or a service that you offer.

As an alternative, I send back a reply suggesting that people post requests like this in the forums to see if someone else would take the request. But, the person’s usual response is “But that takes too much time”. Yet it takes just as long to write an e-mail as it does to post a message in a forum. In fact, it now takes less time since the person already wrote the message when they sent me the e-mail: just copy the request from the e-mail and paste into the forum.

The other reality is that, after ten years’ worth of experience in the Poser community, I’ve learned a few things:

First, people tend to request niche products, usually because they need it for a very specific project. If the requestor isn’t paying me, but allows me to sell the model, I have to decide if the model will make enough sales to make it worth my time and effort.

Second, I’ve seen too many artists make something that was requested, but then the requester balks at the final price, as in “You want $10?? I certainly didn’t expect that high of a price. I’ll have to buy it next week when I get paid.” Obviously, this person never buys.

Every time I try to download something from your site I get an alarm from Avast! that a virus has been detected and I abort. Your site is the only one I get that from. I imagine a lot of people get it and simply don’t come back. Whatever is causing this–virus or otherwise–don’t you think you should get rid of it?

Sarcasm:
Well, gee, thanks for telling me specifically which item on which page is causing this! Your e-mail was so helpful in determining the cause of this issue.

Reality:
Although this e-mail doesn’t say it, the issue was caused by an item on our Free Stuff page, but the item itself was located on someone else’s website.

The first issue was that the “alarm” was a known false-positive by Avast. I did some research (which is what the complainer should have done) and found a number of user forums which talked about how Avast would create this “alarm” on certain international sites. And there were plenty of complaints about this false-positive in the forums as well.

The second issue is that the item is hosted on someone else’s site. While I try to do everything I can to prevent users from uploading malicious files, why doesn’t this person complain to the artist who’s offering the item? Why doesn’t he complain to the site which actually hosts the file?

Why doesn’t your store have a wishlist function? Now I’m forced to try and remember the model. If down the road I need something like this. You better hope I remember seeing it here, or stumble upon it again. I think your missing out not having a way to keep track of interesting models on your site.

Sarcasm:
Thank you for your business advice. I can tell from your lack of proper grammar and misuse of the word “your” that you must be an expert e-commerce consultant. I’m glad someone brought this to my attention since I never would have thought about this idea in the six years that Vanishing Point has been online.

Reality:
The reality is that Vanishing Point would have this feature if we thought it was a good feature to have.

When we were first creating the code for the website, we looked into the pros and cons of a wishlist system and we determined that adding this to the site wasn’t worth the time and effort. Yes, some people use it to do their shopping, but too many people simply drop things in their cart and forget about it.

We also studied sites such as Renderosity and we determined that many people would put an item into their wishlist, wait for the product to have its price dropped (due to no sales), and then purchase the product. We didn’t want to repeat this process and watch our customers only buy a product when the price dropped.

I have no money, as I spent it all on someone elses product, any chance you could let me have your new one “on account” until I get paid next week

Sarcasm:
We’ve invented a new system that allows people to use a “card” with a certain about of “credit” on it. With this “credit card” (as we call it), people will be able to buy things for which they have no cash. We hope our “credit card” system catches on with people.

Reality:
Again, this person must be serious about his question since he took the time to send the e-mail. I have to ask, though, why doesn’t the customer use a different credit card to buy the item? Is his card maxed out to the point where he can’t afford a $10 item? If so, then he probably should spend more time paying attention to his finances and less time looking at digital products.

And why can’t the person wait until next week, when he has money? What is so important that he needs the product right now, without paying for it?

I’ve setting up a new freebie site. I saw your freebies and they are really nice, is there any chance I could some put them on my site. Just one thing, as I do not know how to make things, can you take them down from your site and other places, and not say they are yours until I have made a name for myself.

Sarcasm:
Well, sure thing, I don’t mind giving up ownership and credit just to help some unknown person.

Reality:
My first response is: Is this guy serious? I suppose his is, since he sent an e-mail.

I know there are people on the Internet who steal content from other people and try to pass it off as their own, but I’ve never seen someone be so blatant about it and ask the original creator to remove it from his own site! Even if this guy “makes a name for himself” using other people’s content, what will that accomplish? Suppose a client hires him, based on the “work” he’s done. Can this guy really do the job or will he have to steal from even more people? Does this guy really think this is a smart way to do business?

How do I get started in Poser?

Sarcasm:
That’s an easy question to answer. In fact, the answer is so simple that I’ll also answer the meaning of life for you, at no additional charge!

Reality:
In all seriousness, asking how to get started in Poser is like asking how to get started with any subject: the question is so broad that I couldn’t even begin to answer it. And unfortunately, even if I tried to answer it, would this person then flood me with follow-up questions that could easily be answered by reading the manual or by experimenting with the program?

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Entry filed under: Digital Goods, Vendor Advice. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

Designing Artwork for Online Galleries: Image Size and Your Audience My Views on File-Sharing

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. pakled  |  January 19, 2010 at 4:11 am

    Wow…if I ever considered doing ‘spendy’ stuff, you’ve set me straight…;) (assuming I ever get good enoug at it…;)

    Sorry to hear people don’t understand, but the good Lord loved idiots, he made so many of them…it’s a pity they all seem to come to the Site.

    Don’t give up on VP, we need the stuff…take care.

    Reply
  • 2. Jen/Ruby Dragon  |  March 18, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    This is truly phenomenal … I’d like to offer my condolences for just how absolutely ridiculous human beings can be sometimes :S You do fantastic work 🙂 And I’m happy I stumbled upon your blog, you’re very humorous! 😀 I look forward to seeing more of your work, you’re one of my all-time favorite 3D content creators!! -Ruby Dragon

    Reply

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