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Friday Report: July 17, 2020

I spent much of this past week chasing down still more server bugs that weren’t previously on my list. I did a lot of research into how we can pull off a technical challenge associated with a significant upcoming business opportunity, and although I made progress, that was an unexpected time sink. There were also issues with O’Reilly and FastSpring that took quite a bit of time to work on. And I spent many hours talking to authors about their current and potential future projects, plus a tiny bit of time actually writing. <sigh>

My Take Control to-do list remains unchanged at 98 items.

And now a few words about customer support.

Customer Support, Part 1: Help Us Help You

We get a lot of email (and even the occasional phone call) from customers having questions or needing help with something. Sometimes there are glitches with checkout or payment, or account details are incorrect, or there are download issues, or whatnot. And, of course, we do our best to solve any such problems quickly and efficiently.

But often, the extent of the initial inquiry is something like: “My order didn’t work.” Or “I can’t download my book.” Or any of numerous other, similarly vague statements.

My request is: Please give us enough information to actually diagnose and solve your problem. The more you tell us up front, the less we’ll have to guess, or waste your valuable time with a lot of tedious back-and-forth.

By analogy, you wouldn’t go to the doctor and say, “I feel pain.” I think you’d probably narrow it down to a body part, and you’d very likely volunteer some additional details, as in: “I’ve had a stabbing pain in my right hip ever since I went swimming in eel-infested waters.” Now we have something to work with!

In our case, we don’t need to know your medical history or your Mac’s serial number, but relevant details would be very helpful. For example:

  • What series of steps did you take? Start with a step or two before you started having problems.
  • What device and operating system are you using? (The problem, and thus the solution, may be very different on a 10-year-old iMac running El Capitan versus a brand-new iPad Pro running iPadOS 14 beta.)
  • What exactly did you (or do you) see on your screen? (Sending us a screenshot is often helpful.)
  • If you saw an error message, what did it say?
  • If your problem occurred on our website, which browser are you using? Safari, Chrome, Firefox, Brave, Edge, and so on each have their quirks. (Bonus points: Let us know if you were using any browser extensions, ad blockers, VPNs, or other tools that could potentially interfere with your connection. Usually all of these are fine, but you never know.)
  • If you’re having trouble reading a book, which app are you reading it in (Preview, Acrobat, Books, Calibre, etc.)?

These are just examples. We aren’t asking you to jump through a bunch of arbitrary hoops just to check off items on a list. All we care about is solving your problem as quickly as we can. So use your best judgment to supply any information you think may be pertinent to the issue you’re encountering. Thanks in advance!

Customer Support, Part 2: Don’t Panic

We’ve had customers write or call in a panic, either worried or angry that they might have been charged twice, or that we may have taken their money without delivering a product, that they’ve found their way onto a spam list, or that some other tragedy or misfeasance has occurred. Nearly always, these are simple problems with simple solutions. Panic is unnecessary!

We don’t want unhappy customers. If something went wrong, we’ll figure out how to fix it. If you were overcharged, we’ll see to it that you are reimbursed. If you didn’t get your books, we’ll figure out why and make sure you do. And so on. Don’t panic. Whatever it is, we will take care of it.

Of course, we can’t always give you the answer you want. “Can I have the sale price after the sale has ended?” Sorry, but no. “Will you publish my novella?” Nope, we don’t do that sort of thing. “Will you keep putting out books that cover Snow Leopard?” Definitely not. We’ll say no if the answer is no, because we think you deserve a straight answer and not a weaselly song and dance.

If we ultimately can’t fix an order-related problem for whatever reason, we’ll refund your money. And if, despite our best intentions, we have somehow infuriated you so thoroughly that you don’t want to ever hear from us again under any circumstances, no problem; at your request, we’ll expunge your data from our system and that will be that. No hard feelings.

Just remember: we want you to be happy, and within the limits of our resources and business realities, we’ll do what we can to make sure you are.

Customer Support, Part 3: We Means I

Allow me to be candid here: when I say “we” I mostly mean “I.” Although our little company has two employees (the other one being my wife, Morgen, who does most of our social media and bookkeeping), I’m the person who handles customer support. I’m also the person who does all the programming and server maintenance; who deals with outside companies such as FastSpring, Apple, Amazon, Google, and O’Reilly; and who does the grunt work of producing the final files for all our books.

We have lots of freelance authors and editors, too, but in terms of the actual nuts and bolts of the business, it’s just Morgen and me (and our two elementary-age kids and our cat) working from our small and chaotic home. And, like everyone else, we’re trying as best we can to keep it together in these difficult times.

In any case, when you contact us, you’re really contacting me. And when you’re mad at us, you’re really mad at me. “We” aren’t some mega-corporation with a big customer service department in an anonymous call center somewhere. And “we” definitely aren’t a wealthy tech mogul. “We” are me in my home office with kids screaming in the other room, and a cat begging for scratches and treats, and a backlog of work a mile long.

Every once in a while someone calls and I say my name. And there’s a pause, and the person says, “Wait a minute, you’re not…the Joe? Joe Kissell? The guy who wrote all those books? The guy who runs the company?” And they sound a little starstruck or whatever. I guess I’m flattered to be thought of as being famous-ish, but really, I’m the most ordinary of ordinary guys.

We’ve always said that, when you read a book by a Take Control author, you should feel like you’re talking to your smart, friendly neighbor, who happens to know more about a particular topic than you do and is happy to share some help and advice with you. And that’s how we (meaning I) try to be all the time. Of course, like other ordinary guys, I sometimes have bad days, lose my patience, and fail to be as friendly as I’d like. But basically, I’m the guy next door who will happily lend you a ladder or reset your router or give you a cup of sugar, as long as you treat me with reasonable, neighborly courtesy (which, obviously, means giving me one of the cookies you’re baking with that cup of sugar). If you pound on my door and start calling me names and making demands, there’s a chance I’ll be somewhat less favorably disposed to help.

All that to say: even if I don’t always succeed, I try to treat everyone I encounter as a neighbor, and I hope you’ll do the same for me if you ever contact Take Control Books for help.

On to the Next

With my Friday report out of the way, all I have to do today is get caught up with a week’s worth of work that I’ve fallen behind on. And take the kids to the library to pick up some books. And take my six-year-old for a walk. And indulge my ten-year-old in another game of Monopoly, his new favorite pastime. (Why did it have to be Monopoly? Holy smokes, that game takes forever.)

See you again next week.