Software Company Shows How Not To Handle Negative Review

from the new levels of fuckery dept

See update at the end, with more details from one of the co-founders of HRD

We’ve seen lots of terrible responses to negative reviews and other online criticism — most of which end with the offended party having earned plenty of new enemies and gained nothing at all in the reputation department. If it’s not completely bogus libel lawsuits, it’s bogus fees being charged to end users for violating non-disparagement clauses buried deep within the company’s terms of service.

Fortunately, a federal law going into effect next year will limit some of this bullshit behavior. It won’t prevent companies and individuals from filing bogus libel lawsuits, but it will prevent entities from using contractual clauses as prior restraint on negative reviews and criticism.

This tactic, however, is a new twist on the old “punish customers for negative reviews” game. A user of Ham Radio Deluxe wasn’t too happy with its apparent incompatibility with Windows 10. He posted a negative review of the software at eHam.net, calling out the company for its seeming unwillingness to fix the underlying issue.

I purchased HRD 6.3, only to find out Windows XP was not supported. So, I installed HRD on a brand new Windows 10 machine, and everything appeared to be working fine. Then, I installed Office 365, and it broke the LogBook. Known problem, they say. There is a whole page devoted to telling you how to tweak the registry, download things, repair files, etc, etc.

Alright guys, enough is enough. If you have known problems, like compatibility issues with Microsoft products, you need to release a hotfix. It would take a day to create a script to do all of the things your page says to do, and it would be idiot proof. Nobody should ever have to edit their registry because of a compatibility issue caused by your software using an old jet driver and ODBC for communications. ESPECIALLY if the issue occurred from installing a tried and true product like Office.

[…]

I can see a lot of development time went into the bells and whistles, but for goodness sake, make it a little more user-friendly and a little more stable before pushing it to market. I’d expect bugs and lengthy configuration procedures in free software. Caveat emptor. Know what you’re getting before you drop the money on software that, in my opinion, is not mature.

Sorry guys, I’ve tried to love it. It just isn’t worth the price.

Nothing out of the ordinary here. A dissatisfied customer airs his grievances about a purchased product. The user also opened a support ticket with HRD Software hoping it could solve his problems.

HRD Software replied to the ticket, telling the user to download a patch for the malfunctioning software.

The version of HRD you indicated IS NOT the latest release… Current Version: V 6.3.0.610 In order to provide proper support for your issue and to insure we are all on the same version, please download and install the current version of Ham Radio Deluxe. It can be downloaded by clicking on or copying and pasting http://www.hrdsoftwarellc.com/downloads.html into your favorite browser, to take you to the HRD Software Download page on our website.   You could also click on the Current Version link in the “HRD Help Links” to begin an immediate download. Once you have downloaded and installed the current release of HRD, please test it thoroughly to see if the issue you have been having has been resolved.

Seems normal enough. But more problems developed.

I’ve tried to install the update according to your directions. Now when I click on the HRD icon, I get the splash screen from version 6.3.0.610 for about a second, and then it disappears and nothing else happens. Was I supposed to uninstall the old version first? I downloaded the setup.exe file you highlited above.   I am now completely dead because of a minor problem. This is exactly what I was trying to avoid. Please advise what steps to take from here. This is a new computer and v610 was a fresh install. Thank you

The company’s response? We’ve intentionally bricked your software because of your negative review at eHam.

We would also like to request that you NOT RENEW your support nor use our software due to the review you placed on eHam back in September. Remember that? http://www.eham.net/reviews/review/143372

The “customer support” at HRD Software then pointed the user to its terms of service, stating that it had the right to do what it had just done. HRD Software reserves the “right” to “disable a customer’s key at any time for any reason.” Then it told him the blacklisting would be revoked if he removed his negative review. Bonus: mention of a capital-A “Attorney” for added seriousness, I guess.

If you remove the eHam review, which was blatantly false, we will remove the blacklist from you call. You are not buying software, you are buying your callsign’s access to the software. the so called bug you reported is not one in HRD, but one in the CAT commands of the FT­3000 radio, which have been verified with yaesu. Again refer to section 8 of the TOS, which was written by our Attorney.

And with that, HRD Software set its reputation on fire. A long thread at QRZ.com is the ham enthusiast forum’s version of Sherman’s March to the Sea, with HRD being razed to the ground like so many antebellum mansions.

But there’s a twist: 37 pages into this forum’s discussion of HRD’s brutally inept handling of a customer complaint, the co-owner of the company wades into the fray and apologizes. Then he spends the next twenty-plus pages engaging with the ham radio community in hopes of fixing issues, past and present, and somehow salvaging a future out of the barely-glowing embers of its reputation. So do some other members of the HRD team — including one who threatened the user with a lawsuit on top of bricking his paid-for software.

They’re not met with much enthusiasm, but it’s a far better response than ignoring the issue and/or sniping back with more complaints about the behavior of paying customers. In any event, this is yet another addition to the growing body of knowledge filed under the heading of “Customer Service: You’re Doing It Wrong.”

Update: One of the founders of HRD, Michael Carper, (who, as discussed above, waded into the comments) reached out, hoping to clarify some points. While the above story is an accurate portrayal of the events, and Carper admits that one of his partners messed up and is no longer with the company, Carper feels that there are a few additional relevant facts. Specifically, he argues that the company did not “trick” the user into downloading software that bricked his software (nor did we report that they did). He says a few different issues collided: (1) The user was out of his 12 month support period, but the initial tech didn’t realize this, and told him to download the upgraded version of the software. (2) When the customer contacted support again, to note that the upgrade didn’t work, the tech realized he was out of his service contract, and then told him he was “blacklisted”. (3) The customer was told that he could revert back to the version that he had purchased, and could continue using that software.

Carper claims (and he’s told some other sites this as well) that the reason the tech told the customer to upgrade to the new version was because he thought he was covered under the support contract, and he was trying to help solve the issues — not to brick the software. The “bricked” software was just the upgraded version that didn’t work because the customer was no longer covered — and then the tech from HRD did go on to make some stupid comments about the review, which is what this story is mainly about. But Carper’s main point is just that the company did not intentionally brick the software — it was just that the upgraded version was blocked because the user wasn’t covered… and then a staff member (who is no longer with HRD) went off on the tangent about the bad review of the software and a blacklist.

So… this still seems almost as bad, but the “more sympathetic” version is that the company didn’t intentionally brick the software, it just (intentionally) added the customer to a blacklist based on his bad review (and then later lifted that blacklist). The bricking part was a sort of incidental side effect of HRD incorrectly telling someone to download upgraded software that he wasn’t entitled to. So… still bad, but maybe marginally less bad than before.



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Comments on “Software Company Shows How Not To Handle Negative Review”

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72 Comments
Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

Because for the longest time, no individual customer had any real ability to make waves large enough to matter.

It’s going to take a multi-generational corporate overhaul to put enough people in all levels of management with the ability to realize that theoretically anyone can make a loud enough complaint. Large companies that aren’t directly dependent on the internet still don’t recognize the amplifying effect of an internet complaint.

Granted, in 2-3 more generations when everyone running those companies understands the internet PR debacle we’ll probably have a new communication technology that eclipses that.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

Most of them aren’t paying attention. There are lots of industries out there that haven’t had a near violent reaction to horribad service.

If your company is large enough belong to an industry, there are enough customers out there that you can have this happen.

If your company is small enough that it doesn’t belong to an industry, you don’t have enough customers to completely bug-f’k alienate one of them. And what few customers you do have, have the internet to talk to each other about their problems.

But until a particular company/industry HAS this happen to them, it’s a case of head-in-the-sand “Won’t happen to us.”

Dirk Belligerentsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I have a aphorism of advice for businesses: "It can cost a lot of money to get people to like you, but they will hate you for free. They may even spend money to take you down."

Any business operating in 2016 that doesn’t understand the power of the Internet and social media deserves all the hurt they bring upon themselves. This isn’t a matter of some old geezer making widgets in 1997 who hasn’t noticed this newfangled AOL series of tubes thing the grandkids are talking about; it’s a software company in the 21st Century.

Then again, look at what Microsoft did to themselves nearly four years ago in the run-up to the reveal of the Xbox One. From the tone-deaf sneering of Adam "Deal With It" Orth to the insanely anti-consumer DRM presented as a wonderful feature by people who seemed oblivious to the fact that their customers were wailing in warning for months that they’d better not do everything they ended up doing.

This left them at E3 with their pants around their ankles as Sony was able to come out later that day and win this console generation five months before putting anything on sale by simply announcing the PS4 would cost $100 less and you could lend or buy used games. They should teach about M$’s epic failure in business schools until the heat death of the Universe because it represents an entity that has no excuse to have not foreseen this cataclysmic result, yet ran full speed into doing every possible thing wrong and then act surprised it all blew up in their faces.

Anonymoussays:

Why don't they ever listen...

Plenty of companies have this kind of language in their ToS and if it were in the company’s best interest and if it made them more money, 90% of them would probably be blocking people left and right. This guy didn’t even listen to the silence of this not happening all around and ask himself “maybe, just maybe this is a realy stupid thing to do and it could end up hurting myself in the end”

Anonymoussays:

I’m not siding with the software company here, but MS’s breaking the jet engine compatibility did really suck. It had a nice little ‘feature’ (read: bug but couldn’t fix cause too many apps utilized it) where you could bulk load a table. I discovered the trick when looking to populate tables with values generated from some software we wrote. The ‘conventional’ code to load the same tables took 19+ HOURS, when we ‘trimmed the fat’ (removed checks for correct data type & format etc) it was done to 15 hrs. Using the ‘feature’ in jet, the same database was populated in 20-30 minutes, and most of that was formatting csv files that were then bulk loaded into the tables in minutes. At the time we used this, MS documentation claimed this ‘feature’ was only available if you upgraded to SQL server.

Roger Strongsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Microsoft Exchange and Active Directory still use Jet databases as their core database engine.

I’ve spent much more time in the Visual FoxPro world. Microsoft spent years telling us to use ODBC’s replacement, OLE DB, to connect to FoxPro databases from .NET.

Then they scrapped OLE DB and told everyone to go back to ODBC. But yes, you need to use a third-party ODBC driver on a 64bit OS.

Canucksays:

One of the owners (WA9PIE) has been trying to right the ship and run things properly in the future, but he also has a bad habit of trying to make light of some of the things that were done to the user who finally outed HRD. Some of the principals at QRZ.com (like W4PG and AA7BQ) also engaged in victim blaming. I’m sure it has nothing to do with QRZ.com getting advertising dollars from HRD…

They’ve been trying to gloss over the fact that many users who posted negative reviews were also blacklisted. They tried to claim this was an anomaly and due to one guy having a bad blood sugar day, when in fact it was an ongoing policy.

So no, issuing half apologies and half truths haven’t exactly endeared HRD staff to the larger community. Go figure?

That Anonymous Cowardsays:

Just because it burned all of these other companies doesn’t mean it will happen to us when we do the same thing.

Every excuse given trying to explain it away will hurt them even more than the initial stupidity. Preparing a patch & then bricking the customer was really dumb.

A smart person would have said, we’ve listened to what you said & we are trying to solve the problem. Please install the latest patch and let us know of any problems. If this has fixed some of the issues, please update your review accordingly. We depend on our users & we are working to make them happy. Instead they decided that even if they perfect the software, they are going to turn off potential sales to “protect” their brand. How valuable is your brand when you actively tell users to avoid you like a biblical plague, because pointing out any problems results in getting blacklisted?

kenichi tanakasays:

HRD Software, nothing but a company full of idiots.

Let’s see if I read this correctly. Customer purchases their software. Software doesn’t work right so he tries to get customer service to assist him in fixing the problem with the purchases software. Rather than fix the problem, HRD Software instructs him on how to hack Microsoft Windows to work with their software.

Then, after not getting the kind of support he expects from HRD Software, he posts a review about the software. HRD Software then instructs him to download a new version of the software (they neglect to inform customer that the new version has been created to brick his software) and when he again contacts their support, it’s only then they’ve informed him that the new version deliberately bricked his installation of the software.

Then, to make matters worse, the Owner/Partner of the company tries to backpedal by sugarcoating the problem and bullshitting HRD Software users by telling them they are sorry?

Who in their right mind would believe that bullshit? Where was this owner/partner when this customer was having problems? He finally comes out in public on a message forum to apologize? The customer’s software should never have been bricked in the first place and I’m no lawyer, but I’m certain that HRD Software is liable for committing to this kind of action.

That’s like someone posting a bad review for Microsoft Windows and Microsoft releasing a patch for that reviewer that effectively bricks that user’s copy of Microsoft Windows. Software companies simply aren’t allowed to do that, even if their damn attorney places it in their TOS. Terms of Service agreements are limited in what they can do, they aren’t a legally enforceable document even though an attorney will try to convince you that it is.

Canucksays:

Re: Re:

“Where was this owner/partner when this customer was having problems?”

He is one of three partners who bought all rights to the software when the original author lost interest. His contributions to date have largely been the funds he fronted. Others, who were supposed to move things forward, have steered towards the rocks by using outdated technology and banning the users who speak up about issues. There are also numerous reports of support staff being rude to clients.

This is what happens when you take a hands off approach and let the asshats interact with your customers.

PIE’s initial postings at QRZ.com were along the lines of “If this happened, that’s bad…”; yes, he had no clue of what had gone down or how often and when he grilled other company members, they pretty much lied to him, claiming that the noisy user was blowing things all out of proportion. Well, he sure knows better now.

CQDXersays:

Re: Re:

I agree that HRD ownership are a bunch of idiots. Their software is highly overpriced at $99. and it’s subscription based. Not to mention tbat Support is very poor. I had an issue with getting error messages shutting down ny logbook.This gas never been resolved and I just learnedcto live with it. Given recent events with HRD blackballing customers and the fact that ownership donated a chunk of change to Crooked Hillary’s Canpaign, I’m not renewing my HRD subscription. Alsi when you have support issues with them they want you to install Teamviewr to gain access to your computer, so basically your giving a bunch of idiots and possible crooks remote access to your computer.

Gyrosays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I had a problem with HRD 6. It was always bug ridden, the same as when Simon was authoring it, but last Feb.(2016) the antenna control had an issue. HRD asked me to update (I was using a 3 month old version and the newest had come out about a week prior.
I updated and half way through the install it crashes. Now it won’t uninstall or reinstall.
They say to fix it they have to access my machine with Team Viewer also.
I’m an Engineer, and I know my way around computers and no way in hell I’ll let these idiots on my computer. I’m done with them and have moved on. Lots of free logbook/radio control/antenna control out there nowadays and many are free.

Billsays:

Re: Re: Just a thought

Ever stop the think that the lawyers are a large part of these problems. They get their ToS so damned long and convoluted, trying to cover every pimple on their a$$, that more than likely 99.9% of the users don’t even bother to read it, they just agree because the program won’t work unless they do. M$ got me up through Windows 7, and I have several machines, but when the program I use most happens to be Windows Media Center (WMC), and it didn’t appear in Windows 10, it forced me to stay on Windows 7 until they eventually kill it like they did XP and 98. At that time some form of Linux will be my option, unless they restore WMC or something similar. HRD is a program I would have a use for having an SDR radio, but have elected to avoid. I have spoken to M$ about it but they have not listened. Companies that won’t support their customers will either have to pay attention to their customers or pay the price in lost sales. We hams do communicate with each other.

John85851says:

How about a refund?

I know the customer probably wants the software to run properly in the first place, but if the company is deliberately bricking the software that he paid for, can he demand a refund? Okay, sure, the company won’t give him one and they’ll claim it’s in their TOS, but can can he go up the ladder, so to speak?
Can he file a chargeback with his bank or PayPal? Can he file a lawsuit?

Roger Strongsays:

Re: Re: How about a refund?

It was a year since he purchased the software, so a chargeback wouldn’t happen.

And a lawsuit? He could spend $thousands on a lawyer, only to have the company simply remove his copy from the blacklist before it ever gets to court. And while the software would now work – other than the original problems – he’d be insane to trust it.

kallethensays:

Just to note from what I gathered from the QMZ thread:

It wasn’t specifically the update that killed the software. It was that his callsign was added to the blacklist the newer versions of the software checks on startup. This callsign check wasn’t in the old version he was previously using.

That’s not to say this is any better. It’s still the company punishing for a bad review.

Canucksays:

Re: Re:

Tech support told him to install the update, all the while knowing that a) his callsign was blacklisted, and b) the update would enforce it. Tech support effectively bricked his (somewhat) working copy.

The support logs show that “What happened? It stopped working!” elicited a response of (paraphrased) “That’s right – you’re blacklisted because of your negative review. Take it down and we’ll un-blacklist you.”

And others were blacklisted for being members of a Yahoo group where some negative things were said about HRD. Class act…

Marssays:

Another reason to use Free Software

I have a policy of using only Free Software in my business and on my personal computers. The whole driving force behind the policy is due to companies who intentionally broke compatibility to try to force upgrades and drive new revenue.

This kind of behavior does not happen in the Free Software world.

Beakersays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Another reason to use Free Software

This is a bit “apples and oranges”. While I think that HRD Software should be sued to kingdom come, I’m totally on board with the developer of xscreensaver.

He did this because one distro deliberately shipped deprecated versions of his software, creating tons of problems for him. (Like being flooded with bug reports/feature requests, that have been solved ages ago.)

Putting a timebomb in may be a bit extreme, but an old version of xscreensaver is a potential security issue. And the developer is known for making no compromises when it comes to potential security risks.

And security is the main reason for using xscreensaver instead of the fancy eyecandy stuff.

Anonymoussays:

Copyright

Digging deeper reveals that this whole ordeal might even branch into another TechDirt subject. According to the Reddit megathread, the company threatened the guy with a lawsuit for posting a pdf of the support ticket, claiming it was copyrighted.

Full disclosure, I couldn’t find a source for it. Here’s the Reddit thread: (https://www.reddit.com/r/amateurradio/comments/5iklei/ham_radio_deluxe_support_disabled_the_software_of/),

Re: Re: Copyright

Two separate incidents right here.

1. They threatened in a voicemail the user that originally posted the story. No direct proof, but here’s one of the company owners admitting and apologising for it, hilariously blaming diabetes:

https://forums.qrz.com/index.php?threads/ham-radio-deluxe-support-hacked-my-computer.547962/page-38#post-4073533

2. They also threatened the guy at textfiles.com for posting the file online:

http://imgur.com/eB7cNbH

streetlightsays:

Re: Re: Copyright

Generally, there are specific rules about placing a copyright notice within a printed document. The placement is specified as is the format of the the notice including the C within a circle icon. I looked at the document in the original post above and didn’t see a such a character string. Maybe I missed it. I’m not sure there can be any copyright claim regarding the ticket document.

Anonymoussays:

found this in that HUGE thread:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6Akyll6a9LjZXB5cVZtaVBiZk0/view

apparently the computer that HRD chose to deploy their software “bomb” on was also used for running classified DoD software (MARS DoD)… and their attack also affected that.

Because the DoD functions were also affected, instead of a small licensing dispute this suddenly can become a major federal crime … probably some zealous prosecutor will throw some cyber terrorism charges in there just for good measure.

starts making popcorn… this will be interesting to watch.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

If I had a computer that had anything to do with confidential information, I would not be installing any 3rd party software that hadn’t been vetted. What if they included a Trojan or other form of remote access into their software instead of crashing it?

My personal computer, sure I’ll install some crappy freeware/shareware/crapware program without worrying too much. My work computer, hell no.

Not defending the software guys, they are still dicks for what they did.

Anonymoussays:

Any company who could treat their customers like this and actually think their behavior is appropriate should be razed to the ground, their assets seized, and all records that they ever existed either erased or amended to more accurately reflect just how shitty they are. Then the owner stranded on a desert island with nothing but a life time supply of shit flavored, dick shaped, worms to use as food for the duration of his exile.

tomsays:

The customer should file a computer crimes complaint with the FBI and his local authorities. TOS can not override criminal behavior. Using a computer network to disable someone’s legally purchased system IS a criminal violation and should be handled as such. People have gone to jail for doing far less harm then this customer service action did.

Anonymoussays:

I’m a fellow ham and I’m definitely appalled by what the HRD people did to that guy.

Hams are particularly geared to “get the word out” about what happens to others in the relatively close knit community. It’s unlikely HRD is going to live this down.

There’s plenty of other software out there that does the same thing HRD does either as open source or free-as-in-beer in piecemeal or omnibus software packages.

This also points out a serious problem with closed source software that uses various forms of DRM to manage “legitimate” usage. At the end of the day, you don’t control the software and your use of it is entirely at the whim of the company that publishes (or writes) it. Take this as a cautionary tale. This is not criminal behavior, it’s entirely legal under the UCC.

JB44says:

Bad Move on Good Product

Yeah, while any IT guy knows that the user wss a moron (XP, really?) and was unreasonable in accommodating software environments to both cloud services (o365) and downloading an old version. Yes, odbc is alive and well. Nothing new in accommodating legacy software in an enterprise environment, we can’t buy everything COTS the day it ships, and have to make it work. Users don’t know this, and are sometimes a**holes, so it goes. The only thing is they are the customers, and an IT professional of any kind cannot be self indulgent and tell them that–we have to try our best and make their stuff work and never get credit or appreciation for helping them. In this case, the vendor should have turned the other cheek, and moved on. Blacklisting them? OMG, should that be something that someone in service industry (IT or retail) should consider? Truth is, I am a ham radio operator and use HRD software, have since it was free, like 10 years ago. I love it, and have never regretted using it. I pay for their support now, and have used it once on a tough problem. For the small cost it is worth it to me. Sorry to see them do that, but it sounds like they learned from it, and maybe they will be a better company for it. Their product is good, so I would say if they vow to not be predatory, I will have an open mind.??

djl47says:

El Reg notes that Rick has been shown the door

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/01/03/ham_radio_deluxe_management_change/
“The developer of Ham Radio Deluxe ? a popular app used by thousands of hams ? has restructured its management following claims it punished users who wrote critical reviews.

HRD Software said in a statement on Friday that co-founder Rick Ruhl will step down to pursue other interests.”

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