Originally Published on Techdirt.
Dealing with customers can quite often be a pain for many companies and other people who offer goods and services that require some support from time to time. When offering a free service, the barrier for new customers is eliminated and you can get a whole lot of cranky people when the service is down or not operating to expectations. So what happens when a free user turns into a paid user? Will those people become even more entitled and become even more upset when downtime happens? Actually, it could very well be the opposite.
Over at the Agile League, one software developer, Micah, shares his experience with offering a paid subscription for a free service.
When I finally flipped the switch to add paid subscriptions to Obsidian Portal, I was terrified of the coming support nightmare. I reasoned that if people were angry and demanding when it was free, they would be infinitely more angry and demanding after they had paid. Instead, what I quickly learned was that the paying subscribers were vastly more polite, understanding, and patient than the free users.
So why exactly did this happen? Why did these customers, who decided to pay money, suddenly become more polite in their interactions with this developer? Micah offers what he feels is the best explanation for this change.
My customers don’t pay me in order to buy the right to yell at me. Most of them don’t care at all who I am. They pay money because my service addresses a pain point in their lives. They’re so happy at how well it addresses the pain point that they gladly get out their wallets and fork over payment. If there’s an interruption in the service, they aren’t interested in pointing fingers and assigning blame. They just want the service back. If service interruptions or bugs are the norm, they may get angry, but the point is that they don’t get extra angry just because they paid.
When people find software or any other service that addresses their needs, they will gladly pay for it and be happy about it. This is something we have addressed in the past on numerous occasions. This is what makes Valve’s Steam platform so successful in the games industry. This idea is what leads us to shake our heads at the boondoggles that the movie and music industries throw out there. It is all about identifying a need in the marketplace and offering a service that is convenient and actually meets that need.
Of course this is not going to be true for 100% of users who do pay. There are still plenty of people out there who seek an opportunity to complain. The key is to not be afraid of putting yourself out there.
What I am suggesting is that you relax any fear you have about being beholden to them because they paid you. Asking for payment does not fundamentally change your relationship with your users. Some will love you, others won’t. But, there’s a good chance that the ones who love you will match up to the ones paying you.
So while there may be some paying users who do complain, there is still a large group who will not because they actually love your service enough to have paid. These customers feel that the service offered at the time of payment was worth the money. As long as the service meets those expectations, they are happy. When your customers are happy, you could make a lot more money in the process.