your customers must come before everything else

I’ve always had a very strong customer service focus. I attribute this to the time I spent working in retail. My first jobs were all in retail and even my first job out of college.

Retail is a terrible way to make a living. The hours stink, wearing the little outfit stinks, the pay stinks. But if there’s one thing they teach you in retail it’s how to take care of a customer. That the customer is truly the only reason you’re there, that the customer is a precious flower to be cared for, respected and nurtured.

The customer is the one thing you can least afford to put off when you start a business. Yet, I see so many articles talking about getting things done. Often recommending only checking your email in the morning and once in the afternoon. Only doing support at one set time a day.

I think this is horrible advice. See by doing that you’re doing what everyone else is doing. You’re providing the same mediocre service customers expect to get.

Why not be different? Why not be memorable? Why not answer emails right when they come in?

That’s one of the things I try to do if it’s at all possible. Most of the time I am able to respond within 10 minutes or so. Not always, but very often. Because of that my service stands out. I can’t count how many times customers have responded and the first thing they note is how impressive that is.

The reason I’m thinking of this is that I had several large sales today and both mentioned the speed an quality of support as major factors in their purchase decision. I can’t help but think that may not have factored so highly if support had not been faster than timely.

I say let the programming wait. Is that new class you’re writing really more important than a prospective customers question? I don’t think so and neither should you.

gone living

This is an interesting blog by this fellow who used to work at Yahoo but has quit and is now taking a year to tour around the world. I’d love to do that someday.

helpspot in the wild atrixware

Atrixware is a provider of a wide variety of eLearning solutions. They just recently purchased HelpSpot and have really gone to town on portal customizations as you’ll see below. They also were able to get me kick started on a script I’ve wanted to write for a long time. In their old support desk they used phpBB and wanted to transfer the old discussions to HelpSpot’s forums. This lead to the development of the phpBB_to_HelpSpot script now available in the hacks section of the documentation.

They’re also hosted by the good guys over at ValiantHost.

Converted forums:


tips for keeping your help desk running during an absence

Cyndy with a really nice set of procedures for making sure things don’t fall apart while you’re gone:

” I don’t know what your network “looks like”; mine is a law firm network (about 18 attorneys and 35 staff). I take the position that, barring something really unusual, the office should be able to function without my babysitting for a couple of weeks (what if I were hit by a bus!?), and that it’s part of my job to make sure that works.”

im loving code igniter

I’m upgrading some of the behind the scenes systems at UserScape to support customer logins, hosted trials, update mailing lists and a few other goodies. Since I have about 4 minutes to actually spend on all this I’ve been looking around for a good PHP framework to help me out with the heavy lifting.

In the past I’ve had very very bad experiences with frameworks, finding them just about useless. One thing I think Rails really got right is that it was pulled from a real product. This gave it a huge leg up where things are just naturally in the right place. It’s very subtle, but it’s obviously hard to replicate as most frameworks that start as dude’s just thinking about the ‘best’ way to do it stink.

That’s why I made sure to note the URL with Rick Ellis (pMachine guy) released a while back. Code Igniter was pulled from his Expression Engine product and in my first day with it I’m extremely impressed.

It’s super quick to get started, even faster than Rails if you ask me. It’s actually making PHP fun again! I even had an evil thought pass through my mind of rebuilding HelpSpot on top of it. Of course that’s insane, but it’s just that good.

The other HUGE plus is that it’s PHP4 compatible. I don’t use PHP 4 in any production work, but HelpSpot is 4 compatible and most of the PHP install base is 4 so this should be a big plus in the frameworks uptake.

It’s not perfect, it could use a few more docs in some places and I’d like to see a bit better way to handle global header/footer type includes but overall it’s a very nice package which I’m looking forward to working more with over the next few months.

betrayed by bos forums

The Business of Software forums hosted over on have been a great resource for me. I’ve participated there for about 2 years and I’ve learned a bunch from the group of ISV’s who participate on that forum. I also feel I’ve added a good deal to the quality of the discussion there and with it’s rise as a top resource for small ISV’s. That’s why I feel betrayed by the moderators of BOS today.

Over the past few months the quality of BOS has gone down as ISV spammers have taken to posting links for their half finished products. These links are almost always by people who don’t otherwise participate and are pretty transparent attempts to simply drive traffic to their sites.

I wondered if I was the only one feeling this way, so I posted a thread (cached version) asking for these spam posts to stop so that the forum could return to it’s previous quality discussion without all the spam noise. I wasn’t ranting, but in fact offered several suggestions including moving the “review” posts to a new forum on BOS or to an existing link site which joelonsoftware is affiliated with. An energetic discussion ensued where most people agreed with my position. Even Eric Sink a forum moderator and ISV guru agreed.

So I was surprised this morning when the thread, which had 22 posts on saturday still had 22 today. I remembered that the BOS forums will hide moderated posts from all but those who originally posted so I headed over to proxify to check the site from a remote server. I was extremely saddened to find that it had in fact been removed. You can see the image below, the post should be between ‘Formal Documention Process Document Templates’ and (ironically) ‘uISV Needs Review of Revamped Site’.

It appears that the spammers have more rights on the BOS forums than someone who has actively participate for several years and who was simply posting a comment to improve the experience.

I’m not sure where to go from here. BOS feels like a part of my business having been such an important part of my learning process. Perhaps it’s time to move on or start a new forum where the spammers don’t have more rights than the true participants.

Update: Wow, looks like the stars must be aligned. Dharmesh comments below that he’s started a new forum which is an alternative to BOS. Especially attractive is that he’ll be approving all posters. While I normally don’t like that feature in general, I think in this particular case it’s exactly the type of thing I’m looking for. A slightly more exclusive forum where everyone knows everyone. If you’re interested you can check it out here:

Update 2: Thread is live again… Thanks Bob/Eric. I think it’s the right thing. As I’ve been saying all along I just want BOS to be the best it can be. I truly am too lazy to find someplace else to congregate if I can help it 🙂