80

I just received a quite rude bug report. The user basically says that we're doing it all wrong using capital letters here and there, although he's in fact just pointing at one bug.

On one hand, I care a lot about our users and want to maintain a good relationship and a good rating of our app. On the other I'd feel like a complete sell out if I would reply overly polite.

What's a decent way of responding? What should I keep in mind? What mindset should I have?

It should be added that the user seems to be a 24 year old CS student, and our product is an Android app that we're giving away free of charge.

  • 23
    If your app is free software, you could suggest the user to propose a patch and contribute to the source code. – Basile Starynkevitch Feb 21 '15 at 15:28
  • 134
    Observe how this bug report is handled. jira.mongodb.org/browse/PYTHON-532 – Eric Lippert Feb 21 '15 at 16:08
  • 8
    Fix the bug but respond with a sarcastic remark. – user150273 Feb 21 '15 at 19:29
  • 77
    Offer a full refund. – Michael Grant Feb 22 '15 at 2:09
  • 9
    Fix the bug. You don't need to do anything else. – Navin Feb 22 '15 at 2:20

12 Answers 12

105

What's a decent way of responding?

Thank them for the report. Reassure them you are listening to their feedback.

What should I keep in mind?

That you can't please everyone and that some people don't seem capable of not being rude.

What mindset should I have?

You don't have to follow through on all the points that were brought up. It is your app and you decide where it goes. You will not be able to please everyone - so don't try. Make sure the group of people your app is for is catered for, but not everyone that uses it.

  • 7
    Also, most of us have a lot going on and sometimes combine our frustrations and let them out inappropriately. Perhaps this user just had a bad day. Or perhaps they are a full-time jerk. Either way, don't let their attitude worry you. Just deal with the bug calmly and professionally as you would any other one. – Turophile Feb 23 '15 at 5:44
  • 3
    I saw a Google TechTalks with leader devs of an Open Source project (I believe the guys behind SVN or something). They pretty much said the same thing. They were incredibly happy that their (open source) developers completely ignored the tone of a bug-report and purely focused on the fact that there was, in fact, a bug that could be reproduced and needed fixing. Every time the Original Reporter came back there were CAPITALS and Exclamation points!!!! and f*%@!ng swearwords, and every time the rest of the team kept calm, took what relevant info was there and worked with it. – funkwurm Feb 23 '15 at 8:25
  • 4
    Sometimes the best counter to an insult is politeness. It makes them feel embarrassed at being so harsh. Also be sincerely thankful that they are reporting a bug - an angry bug report helps you more than silence. – Muz Feb 24 '15 at 7:41
  • Definitely the more rage in the report, the more polite I would be. It drives them insane. – Alan B Feb 24 '15 at 9:49
68

Remember, we are software professionals. The best way to deal with rude or angry customers (even if they are not paying customers) is to respond politely and professionally.

There are two very important points to keep in mind:

  1. Reputation is critical in any business. Do you want to be known as "that guy" who is rude to customers? That is a good way to lose business, both current and future.

  2. Responding in any other way than completely polite and respectful will escalate the situation. It will devolve into very nonconstructive behavior: see my first point.

Sometimes you need to swallow your pride and tell people what they want to hear, not what you want to say.

  • 12
    +1, though the last sentence ("tell people what they need to hear") is a bit debatable. "You're a jerk" may be both what this person needs to hear and what the OP wants to say; but that doesn't make it constructive or a good idea for this interaction. – ruakh Feb 22 '15 at 1:00
  • 1
    I took "Tell people what they need to hear" as, "Tell people what they think they need to hear in order to be satisfied with your response," not, "Tell people what's best for them as a person." And if I read it correctly, I agree. – Kevin Feb 22 '15 at 4:29
  • 1
    @Kevin I edited my answer. English can be so fickle sometimes, and others very vague. – user22815 Feb 22 '15 at 4:34
  • 1
    Exactly what I thought. Keep in mind , for some individuals those terms might seem 'normal day-to-day converstaion phrases' while a non-native english user/programmer might get offended by them. Its upto you how you are going to respond. To be on safe side - try responding in a polite manner , atleast it would make you seem a good person ;) – Abhinav Gauniyal Feb 22 '15 at 5:59
24

Here is the mindset that I have asked my developers to follow:

1) Imagine you are the doctor in the emergency room treating the obstinate patient. The doctor is professional in every way and helps the patient even if the patient is yelling to not help.

2) Imagine that the person who is rude just had something terrible happen to them and they are terribly upset about it. Then the urge to reply negatively turns into pity and it is mentally much easier to reply professionally. This helps overcome the problem of keeping the bad situation on your mind.

12

The existing answers cover the ground of being professional quite well. There's nothing wrong with being polite and professional in response. I'm instead going to cover being magnanimous.

I think a magnanimous response can make it unambiguous that the user has been rude--and you will help them anyways. There was even a now semi-famous example just this week.

Reasons to follow this strategy:

  1. Generously calling out etiquette errors (especially in public) performs a useful social function by both modeling and helping to clearly define appropriate behavior. ex: From time to time I will ask a server (reasonably politely) if we could get this or that--but will forget to say please. My girlfriend will add the please to our interaction. While this is embarrassing and sometimes I stick my tongue out at her when the server leaves, she has made an effective intervention in my behavior.

  2. Being able to respond to the offense will be far more mentally and emotionally healthy for you and your ability to continue to interact with your users than swallowing each offense and slowly growing bitter about the ingrates you have to suffer.

  3. Keeping your response magnanimous will help clear your conscience when the inevitable user still takes offense at being called out politely and rants back at you.

  4. If your bug tracker is public, sane users will recognize the fairness of your responses and respect both your dedication to your work and your ability to handle jerks deftly and without being a doormat. We all have interactions with nasty people in our lives, and we all have to make decisions about where to fall on the response scale. Because this is a shared experience we tend to empathize by:

    • Feeling shame or embarrassment when we watch someone else swallow these indignities. We may step in on your behalf, or try to comfort you after the episode is over.
    • Feeling catharsis when someone's nasty behavior is paid back to them.
    • Respecting those who are as noble and composed as we wish we could be, by taking the middle path and both refusing to be walked on while resisting the impulse to be rude.
10

What's a decent way of responding? What should I keep in mind? What mindset should I have?

You could keep in mind the Fundamental Attribution Error, which observes that humans tend to see our own mistakes and problems with the viewpoint "I'm fundamentally a good person, but on this occasion I did something wrong", but see other people's mistakes and problems from the view "they are fundamentally a bad person, they always to things wrong".

The complainer is probably not fundamentally evil, nasty and hateful. They are probably a normal human who likes and cares about very similar things that you like. They are a programmer, they found your app, they are interested in whatever your app does, they used it enough to find the bug, they cared enough to report the bug report instead of giving up; but they were angry and lashed out at you.

You are overlap a lot with this person, you have more in common than if they were a 50 year old conspiracy theorist who doesn't know what Android is or what your App does, and sent you a rude email about how you are doing everything wrong by using evil computers.

You wouldn't be bothered by that person at all, would you? It wouldn't strike a nerve, you might even laugh at it.

I care a lot about our users and want to maintain a good relationship and a good rating of our app. On the other I'd feel like a complete sell out if I would reply overly polite.

If you care more about App ratings than about keeping yourself feel good, you are a kind of sell out. If you care more about your users getting a good experience than yourself feeling righteous, you are a kind of sell out.

This is good, not bad. In the context of making your app the best possible app, it's not about you the author, at all. A cathedral builder will have to overcome a lot more problems than hearing some rude words to build a cathedral. A cathedral will stand for hundreds of years and countless people will wonder at it, what does a rude word to the builder in the first moments of it's construction count for? 0.00% of anything. The builders have better things to do than spend effort fighting back, more important things than putdowns.

Is the point to make something as good as you can, or be self-righteous, bitter and nitpicky over small details and individual user accounts?

  1. Is the bug genuine, and can you fix it?

  2. Do you want a world where people respond to anger with anger, or a world where people respond to anger with kindness?

  3. Ideally you would only get polite bug reports. That's not the real world. So would you prefer some rude feedback about bugs, or to not hear about those bugs at all?

  4. If you were rightly or wrongly feeling disappointed and let down by a piece of software and were extremely blunt about it, what kind of reply would you feel good about getting?

  5. Is it really as strong an attack on your App as it feels like? Are you about to lose funding, lose users, fail at your goals completely, have your department shut down, if you don't fight back?

I agree with the "don't take it personally", "be magnanimous" and "fix the bug, ignore the rudeness" people, I just wanted to write more than would fit in a comment about why and how you can frame your thinking to make it completely 'OK' to do that.

-- Edit; actually I want to write more than that --

There's nothing to actually stop you being rude right back. You exist in a post-God world where you don't believe being rude will send you to hell (I assume, otherwise you would have immediately thought about all your religious teachings on how to behave towards others), you are writing a free app so there's no business pressure on you to be unfailingly polite, and you are involved in programming - a pretty relentless technical meritocracy culture with prominent examples of leaders have a rude attitude under the guise of being 'no nonsense', and a culture of flame wars and anger.

In short, there's no higher pressure on you to arm-twist you into a polite reply and you are absolutely free to reply in kind with:

  • I wrote this for me, if you don't like it, tough.

  • I wrote this and gave it away for free, how dare think you have any grounds to complain, do you know how much passion I've put into this, I'm so offended right now.

  • It's open source. Why don't you improve it and submit a patch? Hope this helps. /smug :)

  • You are an idiot, here's a rant about everything wrong with you and your mother as well.

  • That was rude so I ignored it, lol. :)

And so on, and there will be no short term immediate consequences whatsoever. Short term, you will feel better. Justified, happy, correct, superior.

So why should you take a personal hit, and feel hurt, feel undervalued, and reply politely in the face of pressure not to?

Because without any higher guiding principle the only thing you can do is step back and ask yourself what kind of a world you want to build. Everything you do is a contribution to the world of the future. Do you want to contribute to a ragey, firey, inhuman, uncaring, technical meritocracy? Or do you want to be a calming, humanising influence, a relatable developer?

I'm leading it towards an obvious conclusion here, but it's not anymore a question of absolute, externally imposed right and wrongness, so maybe you will genuinely land on the other side from where I'm biasing it.

Torvalds swears at incompetent people. Knuth offers money as rewards for correct bug reports. Both are respected and successful.

9

Its already the highest voted comment but I think it deserves an answer

Like this bug report: [PYTHON-532] User-triggerable NULL pointer dereference due to utter plebbery

When a user responds in this way its always out of frustration. By dealing with their issue quickly and politely you can often turn an angry customer into a fan. My favourite comment from that bug report:

Person who raised the bug:
Apologies to anyone offended by this report. Thanks for your effort!

In summary:

  1. Be polite and thank them for the bug report
  2. Deal with the issue as quickly as you can
7

I like to ask myself a few questions.

Is the bug legitimate? Can I relate to their frustration? Are they misusing/misunderstanding the product?

In my experience we have to attempt to relate with customers/users. Sure, often they are stupid, but they do see things differently, and often this can be an indication of where improvements (in either documentation or user experience) could be made.

If they are misinformed, tell them you understand that it may have been confusing/frustrating and try to point them in the right direction and thank them for bringing it to attention.

If the bug is legitimate, then again, tell them you see their frustration, and thank them.

Sometimes using software can be very frustrating for non-tech, I know this, so I don't take it personally.

4

Don't take it personally!

Because it is not:
The author was angry - but pretty sure not about you or a colleague in person.

The bug report text expresses negative human emotions - against some abstract, vague opponent, representing the software, and the organisation creating the software.

If you see that very clear, you can just ignore the negative part - it's just noise.
A bug report with bad text layout, hard to read, nothing more.

2

The Fog Creek blog suggests LATTE (for dealing with angry people, but I think it's also applicable here):

  • Listen: more of a phone step, they suggest prompting the client with the last thing the client said
  • Acknowledge: make the person feel heard
  • Tell: people want to see that they are in a process, they want to see evidence of movement
  • Take Action: "I’m going to do something about that"
  • Explain: your immediate first response will be to explain, it is the worse possible thing that you can do (i.e. leave this till last)

my own experience can verify this list (and the acronym reminds you to get your Starbucks on)

1

Your app is free, your time and pain are not. Ignore the report, and don't feed the trolls.

  • 7
    This is IMHO not the best attitude. Just thanking for the report and noting that it will be addressed by the team of developers is better. Ignoring/deleting reports can cause a gossip spreading all over internet that the "reports of bugs which they don't want to fix" is ignored/deleted. Not good for reputation in business. – eMko Feb 21 '15 at 16:41
  • 6
    I disagree slightly: neither ignore the report nor feed the trolls. – user22815 Feb 21 '15 at 17:42
  • 1
    Ignore the bad attitude, don't feed the trolls, but investigate the bug as you would any other bug report; triage it appropriately, and allocate effort to fixing it according to its severity. – Carson63000 Feb 22 '15 at 0:00
  • 4
    If a paid/professional QA tester wrote a rude bug report, have a "stern word" with them about their conduct. Otherwise, whoever wrote the bug report has spent time (finding, downloading, installing and learning your software) and then spent more time (reporting the bug, monitoring follow-ups, etc) just to do "QA tester" work for you. They're paying (with time not money) to improve your product. If they were rude, that's unfortunate, but it's also irrelevant. – Brendan Feb 22 '15 at 7:13
1

It sounds like you really try to please your users and care about your software, which is good!

Some people just don't know how to express themselves in a healthy manner, I'm sure the user felt much better after releasing that anger - though it sucks to be the unwarranted target.

You can't change other people, and likely the person knows that they responded unprofessionally. Take it for what it really is at the core, just a bug report. I get the feeling you also want to express that they don't need to be rude, because you care about your product and you appreciate helpful feedback. If you'd like to respond to the user in some way, I would focus on that, and not their rude behavior.

You should be able to recognize that your user is trying to help, in his own way - so whether what he says is true or not, the best thing to do going forward is to continue doing your best and recognize that some users will always think there are better ways to do it, and may never be happy with your hard work.

  • 1
    Thank you. This answer really resonates with me. I'm not so sure his intention was in fact to help though (but I might as well give him the benefit of doubt here). – aioobe Feb 23 '15 at 20:31
-1

You say that you are giving your app away free of charge. From personal experience, I'd be annoyed if an app is worth a lot less than I paid for it. The conclusion is that the person complaining thinks your app is worth a lot less than nothing.

What do you think caused that person to write a very rude bug report? Do you think it is because that person is naturally rude, or is there a possibility that a bug in your app caused them so much aggravation that they were absolutely annoyed? For example, a free app providing a bus time table that gives the wrong times and I miss an important appointment because of that bug would be very, very annoying.

If your app has bugs that bring out the worst in people, then maybe you have a bigger problem than rude bug reporters. If your free app can really annoy people, then it can create a negative backslash against your company, so you better figure out what is going wrong there.

  • 1
    I think that he considers himself to be anonymous behind his email address and that he doesn't contemplate over the fact that there's a real person behind our info@... address. He simply doesn't think twice before projecting his anger onto the developer, that's what I think. – aioobe Feb 24 '15 at 11:04

protected by gnat Feb 22 '15 at 19:41

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.