Software, Development, and WordPress

Stop Complaining About Customers

One of the things that I enjoy the most about Twitter is the ability to meet, greet, chat, and learn from other people in my field.

Granted, not everyone uses Twitter for the same reason, but I’ve really enjoyed getting to know certain people in my particular development space, and enjoy the conversation as much as the next person.

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that it’s helped make me a better developer because of the conversations that have gone from Twitter to this blog, or vice versa.

But there’s something that I’ve noticed on Twitter among my fellow developers – most notably freelancers or those who are at the head of smaller businesses – that I can’t seem to understand (or endorse): It’s complaining about customers.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve shared my honest thoughts on supporting products – especially free ones. And for those who are just now following along, you can see some of the following articles:

And there are plenty more.

The thing is, I’ve tried to be as respectful as possible (and I hope I have!) when posing my questions because my ultimate goal isn’t to complain – it’s to learn from those of you who have done it and succeeded.

But here’s my question: Why complain about your customers in a public forum?

They Know Who You Are

When it comes to running a business, the costumer base is the lifeblood. They are they ones who are paying for support of your product and/or service and are thus responsible for keeping your business running and, thus, food on your table.

Because the majority of us are digital natives, it’s easy to find us online be it on Twitter, Facebook, our personal websites, or wherever else.

So, to that end, why risk complaining about the very people who are helping you to make a living when they can easily find out who you are?

It’s Disrespectful

I can’t speak for every development community that’s out there because I’m not part of them all – honestly, I’ve only been a part of a handful of them.

But I can honestly say that each community that I have been a part of has its fair share of drama. Now, I’m not saying that drama is wrong, per se – it’s generally rooted within the clashing of ideologies – but the way in which said ideologies are debated is what gets nasty.

The same can be said for talking about customers in a public forum: It’s usually a clash of ideologies. That is, the customers believe it should be one way, the developer or support provider think it should be another way.

This isn’t a statement that the customer is always right (because I don’t subscribe to that idea); however, at least in the context of community drama, two (or three or four or etc.) sides can chat with one another, but this isn’t possible when you take the drama from your business to the Twittersphere.

At the very least, you’re not giving your customers the ability to enter into the conversation. And, furthermore, I can’t imagine they’d enjoy seeing complaints about their questions out on public display.

After all, we, as the service providers, are inviting them to ask us questions when we give them keys to the support forum.

Everyone Needs an Outlet

Don’t get me wrong: support is tough. It can try one’s patience, it can take days to solve a problem, it can result in negative experience for both parties, and it can ultimately exhaust us.

But that doesn’t mean that it needs to be on public display.

Companies – especially large ones – deal with disgruntled companies all of the time. There’s a reason that the term “customer no service,” has become a recognized phrase. A professional developers, we should never be known as people who provide “customer no service.”

Instead, if we truly take pride in our work, then it should be pulled through end-to-end: From scoping all the way through supporting our customers.

Still, everyone needs an outlet. We get tired, we get frustrated, and it can be difficult. I just don’t think that a public arena is the best place to display it.

Maybe we should start up a “Support Anonymous” group ;).

But in all seriousness, I’d love to see us – as a group of developers, especially those of us who are self-employed – do a better job of demonstrating true professionalism in our industry not just in the code we write, but in the way we treat our customers.


  1. Kraft

    Mea culpa. I’ve been guilty of this on some level and thanks for calling it out. I’ve made a point not to discuss my clients as much as possible, short of some productive conversation (e.g. client whose delays caused me major pain being reason to change default contract).

    I’ve made light of support for the one little plugin I’ve made. You’re right that a public venue isn’t right for it; the problem is that, for some of us, there is not a private one that we’ve found. Being primary caretaker of three kids under three and doing paid work at night solo means I don’t have coworkers to vent to at the water cooler (physically or virtually). With the schedule, when I go to meetups, I can’t take the time to go grab a drink afterwards, etc.

    I think your “Support Anonymous” idea has merit for the solo folks out there. Twitter, while public, is often a very primary way to interact with folks we consider peers.

    In short, you’re right.

  2. Ryan Sullivan

    I couldn’t agree any more, Tom.

    I’ll be the first to crack a joke about a “Client from Hell,” only because there are clients who are nearly impossible to please, but it’s always totally generalized and usually months after the fact (and usually after any issues have been resolved and both sides are happy again).

    In most cases, I see client dissatisfaction as a poor reflection on me because it means I either didn’t manage expectations well, or I didn’t educate the client well enough.

    If I complained about a Big Mac and the guy at the counter turned to his coworkers and yelled “Get a load of this guy! He wants extra special sauce! BAHAHAHA,” I probably wouldn’t be too happy.

  3. Pippin

    You are absolutely right. I know I’m guilty of this.

  4. Carrie

    Thank you, Tom! You’re right that we sometimes need a place to vent, but public forums (especially when customers are on our social networks) are not the place to do it.

  5. Paul

    As a customer, I am very happy to see this post. I typically follow the developers of products that are important to my work and personal projects and all of the customer-bashing really rubs me the wrong way. There’s no question that there are some unreasonable customers out there, and it’s also important for developers to be able to vent in some way. But keeping the venting out of public view is really Business 101.

    Whenever I need support, I do my best to first work through the problem on my own, read the docs, describe the problem as completely as I can, and then be patient. I’m reasonably sure that I don’t get lumped into the “bad customer” category. But when I then see developers make disparaging comments about other customers or about general customer perspectives, it still has a negative impact on my impression of them as professional business people and makes me question their commitment to even their “good” customers.

  6. Mike Schinkel


    I complain about vendors on Twitter probably more than I should, but never customers. Not only is it inappropriate in a public forum especially if they are somehow identified, it’s also stupid because it tells people that you will complain about them publicly if hired.

    I think complaining about customers is simply a sign of a lack of maturity.

    • Tom McFarlin

      And this is where the tables are turned: It’s more socially acceptable for people to complain about vendors and service providers on Twitter, and this is the converse of everything here.

      I think that’s okay permitting it’s not done so when littered with threats, profanity, or whatever becoming a little too common place. It’s one thing to complain about a vendor, but going about it in an immature way is something that seems to be a growing trend. But I digress.

      I think complaining about customers is simply a sign of a lack of maturity.


      • Mike Schinkel

        I think that’s okay permitting it’s not done so when littered with threats, profanity, or whatever becoming a little too common place.

        Agreed. Threats are NEVER appropriate, no matter the context. And profanity usually not, unless it is shared between friends, maybe.

        It’s one thing to complain about a vendor, but going about it in an immature way is something that seems to be a growing trend.

        Ditto. Maturity is the hallmark. That said, we all slip occasionally (I know I have) but hopefully we only slip rarely if we do.

  7. Robert Neu

    I couldn’t agree more with this post, which is why I decided to create after reading it.

    Complaining is natural. Venting is healthy. Unfortunately, for most web professionals being in public 100% of the time is also natural and healthy for business. These two things seem to be at odds with each other, so hopefully this little forum can be a safe haven for dealing with these sorts of issues.

    Come join us and help make the site more than some hacked together mess that I spit out in a rush! :)

    • Tom McFarlin

      Complaining is natural. Venting is healthy.

      I agree with this statement 100%.

      Unfortunately, for most web professionals being in public 100% of the time is also natural and healthy for business.

      I think that it’s only unfortunate when the professionals cross the line of disrespect; otherwise, I think you’re spot on with it being healthy for business. Truth is, this is why I’m very selective about the stuff I chat about on Twitter.

      It’s not that I don’t wanna be personal with people that I chat with or have good conversation, but I certainly wouldn’t share some of the stuff that I do on, say, Path that I do on Twitter not because it’s complaining, but because that network is specifically for my family and closest friends. It’s mostly about stuff my wife, my daughter, and our friends are doing – there’s little value in doing that on Twitter, you know.

      Anyway, I’ve gotta say that I’m extremely humbled that this post inspired you to create an entire website. I’d be happy to check it out, though I won’t lie: Right now, I don’t know if I have the time to actually spend hanging out there. This is not to say that other developers have more time – I don’t buy that – I just mean that I may not be as present as I’d like because of circumstances out side of my control right now :).

  8. Corrinda

    Sometimes it is so difficult to contain one’s client frustrations. Occasionally when I’m feeling really bummed out or more likely angry over a client issue I’ll visit:
    and realize I’m not alone and wow there are actually worse situations. On a more serious note if I’m discussing a client issue/incident with another professional I keep the context in the frame of here’s what I did or didn’t learn.

    • Tom McFarlin

      It’s funny that you mention this because I immediately when to Clients From Hell after writing this post (not because I have any clients from hell, but because the site is so funny).

      But seriously, none of us are alone in this situation.

      And I think it’s important to remember to flipside of this, too: Clients get frustrated with us as vendors, too. I think they have a more socially acceptable case for complaining about service and it’s our responsibility to deliver service at a level that will prevent them from wanting to complain.

      It’s not a pipe dream, either. It can be done :).

  9. Corrinda

    P.S. I haven’t actually posted anything . . . yet on the website. But I like to read some of the stories. It makes me laugh then I feel better and the need to vent is pretty well taken care of.

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