Mozy demonstrates the wrong way to talk to users

My friend Saul (not his real name) is a pretty capable computer user on both Windows and Macs, but not a fan of television or pop culture.

Saul recently decided to try out Mozy, an online backup service that I’ve used and liked. He noticed something weird in the EULA, though, and decided to email Mozy’s creators (Berkeley Data Systems) about it. He wrote to BDS:

Hi – I just thought that the highlighted passages in this segment of the Mac OSX beta version’s software license agreement might be of interest to you. FYI – I downloaded this yesterday.

“WITHOUT LIMITING THE FOREGOING, THE TOTAL AGGREGATE LIABILITY OF BERKELEY DATA SYSTEMS AND ITS SUPPLIERS ARISING FROM OR RELATED TO THIS AGREEMENT SHALL NOT EXCEED THE AMOUNT, IF ANY, PAID BY YOU TO BERKELEY DATA SYSTEMS FOR THE SOFTWARE OR SERVICES. FURTHERMORE, YOU AGREE TO USE THE SOFTWARE OR SERVICE EXCLUSIVELY FOR GOOD AND FOR AWESOME. IF THE SOFTWARE AND SERVICES ARE PROVIDED WITHOUT CHARGE, THEN BERKELEY DATA SYSTEMS AND ITS SUPPLIERS SHALL HAVE NO LIABILITY TO YOU WHATSOEVER.

THE FOREGOING LIMITATIONS OF LIABILITY SHALL APPLY WHETHER THE DAMAGES ARISE FROM USE OR MISUSE OF AND RELIANCE ON THE SOFTWARE OR SERVICE, FROM INABILITY TO USE THE SOFTWARE OR SERVICE, OR FROM THE INTERRUPTION, SUSPENSION, OR TERMINATION OF THE SOFTWARE OR SERVICE (INCLUDING SUCH DAMAGES INCURRED BY THIRD PARTIES). DO NOT TAUNT HAPPY FUN BALL. SUCH LIMITATION SHALL APPLY NOTWITHSTANDING A FAILURE OF ESSENTIAL PURPOSE OF ANY LIMITED REMEDY AND TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW.”

Saul didn’t get the joke because he’s not an early 90s SNL fan. “Happy Fun Ball” is a reference to a Saturday Night Live parody advertisement in which a product with a bouncy, cheerful name comes with dire, absurd warnings. It is meant to mock consumer safety warnings, EULAs, and our litigious society. You can watch video of the sketch here.

Happy Fun Ball

It’s a fun thing to throw into the license agreement. It is clever and pleasantly silly. It made me chuckle.

But rather than simply explaining the joke to Saul, president and founder Josh Coates wrote:

[saul], thanks for asking.

i’m not an attorney, but here’s my take on things:

the way i read it, it simply means that you are not to taunt (which means to tease or make fun of) happy fun ball. it’s against the end user license agreement. if you do so, you will be in violation of the agreement.

as far as the “for good and for awesome” reference goes, i believe this statement simply means that the user agrees to use the software of good and for awesome, where good means something that conforms to the moral order of the universe, or something that advances prosperity or well-being and awesome means something that inspires awe. in other words, the user agrees to use the software for both good and awesome purposes.

hope that clarifies things for you.

-josh

Josh Coates
President, Founder
Mozy.com, Berkeley Data Systems, Inc.
jcoates@berkeleydata.net

A user who cares enough to take the time to write to the creators is the sort of user who will show the product to his friends. He’s the kind of user who, receiving positive response from the creators, will find his enthusiasm for the product enhanced.

Sending Saul the “ha-ha-you’re-not-savvy-to-my-pop-culture-smartassery” email isn’t just unprofessional and rude. It’s remarkably stupid.

Let this please be a lesson to anyone who receives communiques from end users. This is opposite of how to behave.

29 thoughts on “Mozy demonstrates the wrong way to talk to users

  1. I think the response is humorous in a tongue-in-cheek style. Perhaps the president assumed that [Saul] is a proficient google user, and already knows what happy fun ball refers to? (hint: the first hit is the wikipedia article on happy fun ball)

    I’m trying to think of how your ideal response might be worded, but I feel like any straightforward explanation of the joke would be more insulting than the above mock-exegesis. In fact, a close reading of such massively intractable and inefficient text as a EULA strikes me as artfully ironic. Looks like an extension of the type of humor that would put an SNL reference into a EULA in the first place.

  2. How about telling the company they should consider cultural sensitivity training? References to pop culture are not only relevant only to a particular time, but also a particular place. SNL is not broadcast in every country, so the cultural references are completely lost on immigrants, and customers elsewhere. It is a little like watching Rick Mercer Report with my husband. Despite having lived in D.C. for many years and being able to discuss obscure political hangers on, he has no idea who Scott Brison is, or why the “Harper Home Pregnancy Test” is funny.

  3. I think you have a good point Amanda.

    That being said, I really like Rick Mercer. I probably didn’t get every joke, but I enjoyed Made in Canada quite a lot.

    For those who haven’t seen Mercer, try this on for size.

    I also like Moxy Fruvous and the Arrogant Worms. Maybe I have a thing for Canadian humorists?

  4. Xander-

    “Perhaps the president assumed that [Saul] is a proficient google user, and already knows what happy fun ball refers to?”

    That’s an extremely foolish assumption, isn’t it? Why would Saul write to the company if he got the joke?

    “I’m trying to think of how your ideal response might be worded…”

    How about like this?

    “I feel like any straightforward explanation of the joke would be more insulting than the above mock-exegesis.”

    That’s…well…absurd. The user clearly didn’t get the joke. The mock-exegesis doesn’t help the user in any way- and Josh had to know that it wouldn’t. I explained the joke to Saul. Saul’s response was something like “Oh. I didn’t get that because I don’t watch television. Thanks for explaining.”

    “In fact, a close reading of such massively intractable and inefficient text as a EULA strikes me as artfully ironic. Looks like an extension of the type of humor that would put an SNL reference into a EULA in the first place.”

    I’m not saying it isn’t funny, Xander. It IS funny. But it should be more important to Josh to help his users than to be funny or to mock them. The user wrote in, obviously confused. Rather than attempting to alleviate that confusion, Josh added to it because he thought it was funny. This is a rude and stupid way to treat users.

  5. clearly, it’s a joke. nothing more. my response was meant to be a complementary addition to the humor – no harm intended. 😉

    -josh
    Josh Coates
    President, Founder
    Mozy.com, Berkeley Data Systems, Inc.

  6. Of course it is a joke, Josh. A joke at the expense of your user.

    You KNEW he didn’t get the joke, so you’d have to know the “complemantary addition” would go over his head, too. Therefore, you weren’t making a joke for his enjoyment, but for yours. That sucks.

    If anyone working a helpdesk (internal or external) answered user questions that way and management heard ’em, they’d rightly be fired.

    Josh, this is an extremely unprofessional way to treat your users. Saul and I both used to enjoy showing Mozy to our friends- but if this is how Mozy regards questions from users, I think we’ll both stop doing that. Not out of spite, but because we don’t want to recommend a service that treats its users so poorly.

    You may remember from being a schoolboy that when you’ve been rude to someone, it isn’t enough to say “I was kidding.” You actually need to apologize.

  7. Do not taunt Happy Fun Josh!

    Are you kidding me? Harmless joke, nothing more, nothing less.

    If someone can actually read out the line “YOU AGREE TO USE THE SOFTWARE OR SERVICE EXCLUSIVELY FOR GOOD AND FOR AWESOME” without realizing that there is some tomfoolery going on then I don’t feel like they deserve an e-mail explaining the mechanics of a joke.

    Make no mistake – the response was tongue in cheek. It did not attack your friend or flame him for his lack of pop culture knowledge. Moreover, you’re making a mountain out of a mole hole here. At the end of the day you will use the product/service if it performs.

    You wouldn’t stick with the product if Josh was the superest-nicest guy on the planet but the product sucked, would you? Don’t attempt to flip that dynamic around. The product works, and he obviously made a joke. That’s it.

  8. Steve, you’re sort of missing the point. I’m not saying Josh’s response wasn’t funny or wasn’t tongue-in-cheek. I’m saying it was rude and unprofessional.

    Saul DID realize there was something odd going on- that’s why he wrote to Mozy. The professional response would be to explain it to him.

    Steve, if you really believe that the perception of a company’s personality and customer service doesn’t matter as long at the product is good, a blog post isn’t going to change your mind. I think that if you ask successful organizations, though, they’ll tell you that such things can make or break a company.

    If I hire a kid to mow my lawn and he does a great job mowing, that’s great. If that kid likes to tease my dog through the screen door as I’m getting out my wallet, I’ll find someone else to mow my lawn. Users are the hand that feeds you. Biting that hand is just stupid.

  9. I don’t believe I’m missing the point at all, just expanding the dialog. The overwhelming majority of responses have been to agree with you, so I will take up the mantle of holding a difference of opinion in defense of Josh.

    You agree then that it was funny, and it is in fact tongue-in-cheek. That flies in the face of it being rude.

    The joke was made in the abstract, not directed towards the lack of knowledge regarding the reference. Your friend was not experiencing technical difficulties because of this verbiage, so the response did not ignore the consumer. What if Josh had simply ignored the e-mail, as many companies do? I don’t think you would have blogged about that. What if it was a canned response that never met human eyes? No blog there, either, although I would personally consider those to be poor actions on the part of the company.

    For the contention that it was unprofessional, I will concede with one caveat – professionalism is a relative term, just like humor, just like taste in clothing.

    If Josh was a Doctor or a Lawyer then perhaps I would wholeheartedly agree with you – but he’s not. He is the owner of small startup – one of hundreds – that enjoys a quirky sense of humor about itself.

    That is the point you’re missing. Furthermore, if this type of thing offends your friend, then he’d probably kill himself if he read something from Despair.com or the like, something very clearly not meant to be taken seriously.

  10. I was okay with the letter and realized it was a joke until the closing line of, “hope that clarifies things for you.” Something about that just screams that the word, “asshole” was meant to come after it.

    I am all for funny and witty, but there is a fine line between that and being condescending. Just because that was not the intent, doesn’t mean that was not how it was interpreted.

  11. Oh, and one more thing I wanted to add, if I was the owner of a small start-up, one of hundreds, then I would go out of my way to be professional and courteous to my customers. No one has the right not to be offended, and just because I may think something is funny or inoffensive doesn’t mean that others will recognize the joke. If I was a business owner I would try to steer clear from anything that my customers, no matter how few and far between, could misunderstand. I would also choose my words when responding to their questions very carefully.

  12. I don’t think David’s friend is overly offended, he just legitimately didn’t get it. I’m assuming he read the EULA, thought it was odd, and wanted to understand it. The answer he received did nothing to explain it to him. It would have been just as easy for a response to have read, “That’s just an old joke from Saturday Night Live.” David gets that the response was a joke, but his point is that this was less than helpful customer service.

  13. “The overwhelming majority of responses have been to agree with you”

    What blog are you reading, Steve? ONE commenter has agreed with me.

    You agree then that it was funny, and it is in fact tongue-in-cheek. That flies in the face of it being rude.

    I can draw you a venn diagram if you like, Steve- but PLENTY of things that are funny and intended as tongue-in-cheek can be rude.

    The joke was made in the abstract, not directed towards the lack of knowledge regarding the reference.

    It was made in a one-on-one email sent directly to Saul. It was obvious Saul didn’t get the joke, and Josh had a laugh about that fact. That’s personal.

    What if Josh had simply ignored the e-mail, as many companies do? I don’t think you would have blogged about that.

    Probably not. Still, I think it is better to ignore a customer than mock him. Call me crazy- I think that a startup should have a good product AND be polite to its users. I’m just weird that way, I guess.

    For the contention that it was unprofessional, I will concede with one caveat – professionalism is a relative term, just like humor, just like taste in clothing.

    Professionalism always includes attempting to be helpful and polite to users. Always.

    If Josh was a Doctor or a Lawyer then perhaps I would wholeheartedly agree with you – but he’s not. He is the owner of small startup – one of hundreds – that enjoys a quirky sense of humor about itself.

    Waitwaitwait- It’s NOT okay for a Doctor or Lawyer to be rude, but it is okay for an entrepreneurial geek? You lost me there. I work in a hospital and know many a Doctor with a quirky sense of humor. Not one of them makes fun of a patient to the patient’s face- ever.

    …if this type of thing offends your friend, then he’d probably kill himself if he read something from Despair.com or the like, something very clearly not meant to be taken seriously.

    Did anyone talk about offense? I’m just saying that this is a good example of extremely poor customer service/user relations.

  14. Perhaps this will help. Help what, I don’t know, but here is my side of this. Flame away, if you must.

    I decided to read this long user agreement to see what I was really getting into. (One thing I discovered, interestingly, is that in contrast to the statement that shows up on the website about protecting your privacy and not sharing your name with 3rd party marketers, this agreement said flat out that since it’s free I can essentially expect that they’ll go ahead and do what they like regarding 3rd parties. OK…. but I’m not here to talk about that…)

    In reading this lengthy tome I discovered some out-of-character wording. In fact, I thought that some disgruntled employee might have
    stuck in as a prank, or that maybe there was some text in the themplate they used that never got erased. Just guesses, of courese. So I sent what I sent to bring it to their attention, just like the many notes I send to many a hapless webmaster when I see typos and oddities on their sites. So at the most, I was expecting a “thank you.”

    As I don’t watch television, as David mentioned, his answer proved exceedingly odd. And, as I said, “It gives one pause.” By which I meant, “Do I really want to trust my data’s security to someone who tries to explain “taunt” to me while ignoring the strange phrase that follows.

    Once learning that this was a cultural reference, I can get that he was joking with me. And… he doesn’t know me to know whether I would get the joke. And, knowing that he was joking with me when I didn’t get it doesn’t make me feel particularly welcome.

    Enough.
    Saul

  15. I’m not even saying any harm was done, Randy- just that this was poor service. I don’t think you’d treat an R-Mail user this way.

  16. I dunno Dave, it wasn’t rude, it was just funny. I’m often in the position of not getting cultural references because frankly, I can be pretty oblivious, so I skim past them or google them or ask a friend to explain. I heard about 47 Bud Light jokes before I got the reference and only just recently someone told a joke about the Village People that clearly indicated they were gay and I turned and asked my husband if that were so and he rolled his eyes and turned his back on me. Yet I bear up under this disability bravely and face the general hilarity when it happens with poise and calm because I excel in other avenues and how are you Mr. Wilson?
    Clearly, we can’t seem to take this as the serious breach of business etiquette that you do, but we do see your point. Luckily, your friend has you, David, to enlighten him, and us. I had no idea about the happy fun ball either and enjoyed it immensely, but I worry about the grammatical use of the word “awesome” in this context. Also, I was mightily confused for the longest time about what a EULA was but I was finally able to piece it together from context. Frankly, I think there are far too many acronyms these days. The forsythia is already done here and my azalea are in full bloom. Love ya!

  17. Anyone with an IQ above room temperature could see that the response from Mozy was nothing more than extending the humor that was in the EULA. This would be the response I would expect and love to see from a company. It indicates that they have a sense of humor, and will go out of their way to please a customer by going along with a joke.

    I’ve never seen that SNL skit, and I could tell it was a joke, because I have a pulse, and half a brain.

    You are absolutely overreacting to a courteous reply from a company.

    If anything, Saul’s original email looks like he is pointing out the little witty remarks in the EULA; like a way of saying ‘hey I read your EULA, and I think it’s funny.’ Mozy’s response was inline with that assumption.

    Maybe the last line of ““hope that clarifies things for you.” could be construed as a bit rude, but it doesn’t look like it was his intent to be rude. I think you know this, too, and are trying to make something out of nothing .

  18. We’re totally in agreement that it was funny, CJ. 🙂

    I don’t even think it was all that serious an offense- just a really good example of a way in which one should not talk to one’s users.

  19. You know, I just typed out a long rebuttal to your comments, but I think it’s pointless.

    You feel that this was terrible customer service, while I think you’re blowing it out of proportion.

    Saul feels that he shouldn’t trust his data’s security because of the verbiage. That’s fine. That’s his personal choice.

    The overarching point I have is that the attempt to vilify the service of Mozy based on one e-mail correspondence that is very obviously open to considerable interpretation is misguided.

    Everyone can agree that the response was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, yet your article brands that as “the wrong way” to pursue customer service. It’s not. It’s just not *your* personal flavor of interaction – based on your life and your viewpoints.

    Me personally? I would have laughed at the e-mail, not knowing the reference (didn’t until reading this, in fact).

  20. I think if anything, this is just a really good example of how communication via email is really bad at conveying intent and context.

    I see both sides, but I guess since I work in a customer service department, I tend to err on the side of caution and with the customer.

  21. Hi Kent-

    It is entirely possible for people to disagree with you AND not be stupid.

    Please do disagree with me (and anyone else) in the comments of this blog, but if you’d please state your views without the ad hominem attacks, you might even receive a response.

    Best,

    -David

  22. Steve-

    I haven’t tried to “villify” Mozy. I pointed out what I thought was extremely poor and unwise communication with a user.

    I maintain that it is generally-accepted business practice to answer questions from one’s users politely and helpfully. I catagorically reject your assertion that this is simply my personal preference.

    I maintain that it is unwise to make jokes at the expense of your users and it is unwise to fail to answer questions from users to the best of your ability.

    I regret that the discussion has caused you so much distress, Steve. Take care.

  23. You’re right, David. I joke with my customers all the time. I also end up explaining and/or apologizing occassionally. They take it goodnaturedly for the most part. I tend not to do it by email as much as in person because I feel that it’s clearer I’m being facetious in person. At least sometimes. There are some people who seem not to have a sense of humor. In person, it is easier to pick up on that and get serious. Or at least to project seriousness. But also, your job and my job is answering people’s questions, no matter how trivial. It wouldn’t occur to us to respond to someone and not address the original request. Even in the pursuit of humor. So I do totally see your point and at the same time can’t really work up any aghastness at the response. Not like when I explained to my pharmacist I was taking 7.5 mg of something morning and night and not 5 mg once a day like they had provided and she said “that can’t be right, it only comes in fives.” That produced aghastness in spades. ta, CJ

  24. It’s seems pretty clear that Josh had no malice.

    Unfortunately, he also seems to have no clue.

    Business communication should have a different tone than personal communication. Why would an entrepreneur not err on the side of politeness and courtesy?

    Save your edgy humor for your friends, or for the next open-mic night at the comedy club.

  25. “If someone can actually read out the line “YOU AGREE TO USE THE SOFTWARE OR SERVICE EXCLUSIVELY FOR GOOD AND FOR AWESOME” without realizing that there is some tomfoolery going on then I don’t feel like they deserve an e-mail explaining the mechanics of a joke.”

    Or maybe their first language isn’t English??? I stand by what I said before.

  26. Amanda, if the person who said this had read all of the above, he might have noticed that Saul DID think there was some tomfoolery going on and was writing to Mozy to make sure they were aware of it.

    A user who doesn’t understand the documentation of your product and writes to you about it doesn’t deserve an explanation? Okay, you’re entitled to your postition, but I see far too many geeks of my generation saying this sort of thing. Anyone who doesn’t “get it” doesn’t DESERVE my courtesy.

    Saul isn’t stupid- he just didn’t get the joke. That makes him worthy of your condescension? I think that’s awful.

  27. I’m sure there must be better things to do with your time other than to talk about this… or… perhaps I’m wrong.

    To add another facet to this conversation, and, perhaps, In my own defense, let me tell you that I am almost always in humor mode. This time, I wasn’t.

    It is also true, as David mentioned just above, that I thought the tomfoolery was going on at the company’s expense. So I wasn’t even thinking that this was even possibly a reference to a cultural phenomenon of which I was unaware.

    As one of you pointed out, email communication leaves out an amazing amount of information. Inflection, gestures, facial movements, all of which can give one a clue about what is going on. I expect that Josh and I would not have had a problem if we were face to face. Maybe, he would even be someone I just love to hang out with… My wife would tell you that she feels the need to warn people that my humor is hard to detect through my straight-faced presentation.

    Finally, David and I are “talking” privately about ways of backing up data… and I keep on telling him I like Mozy over a number of other online backup services, both for cost and convenience.

    Perhaps this will add a wrinkle into the conversation. I’m pleased no one is taking this too seriously.