Considerations about support

Let’s talk a bit about support!

… for that I will take a recent example. I recently got a 2 star review for Complete Ear Trainer that stated the following:

Ok ear training app, not one of the better ones. Some lessons are incorrectly ordered (i.e., learning triad inversions before learning 6ths–big mistake! There are 6ths in triad inversions!). The piano sample is not very good and much muddier in the bass than a real piano, making low exercises harder than they should be. The app is also unflexible in wanting you to get 0 responses wrong with an avg time of 4.0. Got 1 wrong with a 2.0 avg? Sorry, fail. Ok for maintenance, bad for learning

Of course, this is not something I agree on (otherwise I would act on it!), so I answered it.

A good answer could have been:

Thank you for the feedback. I have to disagree though 🙂

First, the sound bank is of a real recorded piano, and the only times where I had reports of it being muddy was due to integrated speakers or bad headset that are kind of muddy in the medium range. Can you please try this with a good headset? If it’s already the case, I’m sorry that you hear them as muddy, piano sound is generally praised and acknowledged as a strong quality of the app. Have no idea why it’s not the case on your device.

About the lessons order then. I don’t think it is a mistake. There are a lot of possible orders, and each one of them have strengths and weaknesses. In the end, one particular order has to be chosen, and I stand by the one offered in the app as I do think it’s the best one all-in-all. On a side note, what might be considered as the best pre-smartphone ear training method is probably the David Lucas Burge’s course, and it uses almost the same order with inversions of major and minor chords before studying sixths, so I’m not the only one reaching that conclusion. Of course, I hear your point, and understand it, that is probably one of the weaknesses of this specific order. But changing the order would result in other weaknesses. No order is perfect. I have to add though that it is not really a problem as chords are not supposed to be heard as individual intervals but as a whole. The goal is to recognize the specific color of a chord, and the same goes  for the inversions, with the difference that for inversions it might help to hear/sing the interval between the bass note and the root note, but sixths are not needed for this so not a problem. If you don’t like the order though, what you can do is either enable free progression in the app settings so you can do the drills in the order you want, or even create a full custom program suited to your needs via the custom training section.

About the scoring thing, this is a complex subject, and not everyone reacts the same way to the same incentives. Many people are liking the challenge of making a perfect zero wrong answers. Some don’t care for it. No app can make everyone happy. I have to say though that you are saying that the app wants you do zero wrong answers, and that’s not actually true. This is only the case if you want to earn 5 stars. The drills are considered successful if you earn 3 stars. You can definitely pass them while making some mistakes. For the Easy Mode you can even make many mistakes and still pass the drill.

I have also to point out that if the app takes a stance about what we think is a really good way to do this, the Custom Training section allows many things, including infinite drills without scoring.

I hope my answers will have explained a little the choices we made for this app, and I’m sorry that these choices didn’t suit you.

Best, Stéphane.

… but here is the first HUGE problem we encounter when doing support: we are limited to 350 characters. It might seem like it’s a lot, but it is not. Absolutely not.

This is my actual answered condensed in 350 characters:

Thank you for the feedback. I have to disagree though: sound bank is a real recorded piano and is only muddy if you use a bad headset or speaker. Lessons order: there are several progressions, all valid. The point of inversions are to listen to the chords as a whole, not the intervals. Scoring: having 5 stars is not a requirement 🙂 Best, Stéphane.

Yes, this is 350 characters. I could not have written a single character more.

How can we (developers) answer things in 350 characters?

Well most of the times it’s not possible and we have to condense so much that we have to use very few words and must omit many things and make answers that are not satisfying neither for us, nor for the users.

Here’s the updated review I got after answering this with the answer above:

Ok ear training app, not one of the better ones. Some lessons are incorrectly ordered. You can’t say that there are other ‘valid’ progressions and then say why you think learning 6ths before inversions is invalid! The piano sample was not recorded well and is muddy even with very high-quality speakers or headphones. 5 stars may not be required but the current system is bad feedback. Also, Stéphane, please do not be rude to reviewers! I am not the only one commenting about that, you know it!

… and this is why I’m making this post today. There is no way I can answer this with keeping the context, as to answer another 350 characters (yeah…) I have to delete my old answer and the context would be lost.

I will answer it here and talk about a few things that I find very problematic, and about some general support considerations.

First, about the rudeness of my answer. I’m sorry, I read it several times, I don’t see anything rude about it. I just tried to explain why I was not agreeing, even put a smiley. I see a few possibilities about why it might sound rude though:

  • Having to condense so much makes it sounds rude. That’s a real possibility, again, compare the answer I would have made with the 350 character one.
  • English is not my native language, so subtleties can escape me. Maybe for an English person the tone of my answers can sound rude? (If that’s the case, I would really love to improve this, because I don’t see it)
  • The user finds it rude that I don’t agree with him, as if someone doing support disagreeing with a user would be intrinsically rude.

The reviewer also mentions that he’s not the only one commenting about that, and it is true that it happened to me a few times. To be fair, it happened only a few times since the app was released in 2014, and this among several thousand of reviews, so it’s not a huge deal, but it seems these few times are quite visible in the review sorting algorithm. (Also, most of these are several years old.)

But yes, it happenned a few times, so there must be some truth to it. Might be one of the first two reasons I talked about above. But it could also be the third one, and this is not something that I can stand behind.

It seems to me that we are so used to having professional support guys answering everything while being overly positive, never saying the truth but only what would potentially make the user less angry than he is, that we don’t expect people answering reviews, support tickets, etc. having a human and truthful answer.

Binary Guilt Software is basically just me for the most part and I don’t have enough money to hire someone to do this kind of “professional” support for me. But seriously would it be better? Having someone being totally fake about his answer because it’s his job, is it really better than me, that created the app, trying to explain my choices and why I sometimes disagree with what is being said? And again, how is this rude in any way to disagree?

This is a very common situation when doing support:

  • User: Your app is shit, garbage.
  • Support: I’m sorry that you feel that way, I really don’t think it is.
  • User: Why are you being rude? You are not professional.

Why would we have to say that we are agreeing with users when we don’t?

Why should we accept our work being insulted but always answer with excessive politeness and act as if users were always right and if we were sorry?

I really think it is a bad situation, and that it says a lot about a lot of things, like our relations to others, to the work of others, our way to not being able to make the difference between fact and opinions, etc.

To finish this, if I may, a few pieces of advice if you want to discuss something with the developers of an app:

  • Try to not state opinions as facts.
  • If you think something is wrong, instead of stating it is, why not ask a question about why is it that way? (how many times I had to answer 1-star review or people saying the app is wrong because E# is not a valid note… It’s really perfectly OK to not know that it is, and even to not have read the explanations in the app, but before going public about it, maybe ask politely to professionals about it, don’t start by saying they are wrong!)
  • Please, keep in mind that Google Play reviews are only good if you want to be help the app (5-star review) or hurt the app (anything else than 5-star reviews), but with 350 characters we CANNOT answer you correctly. Our email (binaryguilt@gmail.com) is always open though to discuss things. We might disagree, we might agree, but at least we can exchange our ideas and opinions by respecting each other and with more than 350 characters 🙂

Anyway, this of course is very rare, thank you everyone for the wonderful support that you gave us and our apps, we are really really happy about all this, and this is not a totally-fake-support-like-answer, this is the absolute truth: thank you to everyone that downloaded, used, reviewed or talked about our apps, we are deeply grateful for this.

Stéphane Dupont.