Dealing With Unhappy Backers

Recently on the Tabletop Game Kickstarter Advice Facebook group (I highly recommend joining if you're thinking about running a Kickstarter), James Mathe, the creator of said group, talked about a particularly troublesome backer who messaged him about his current Kickstarter campaign for giant squishy dice:

I never got my reward for backing the V1 Foam dice, and no reply when I asked about them. I won't back another.

As it turns out, what this backer was missing was that his payment had failed, and James couldn't give him a reward that he never paid for. James was also unable to find any communications from the backer. So, the backer never paid, and he never contacted James. And yet he blames James for the failure. What gives?

I think I have an answer.

By day, I'm... well, to keep it brief, I'm a help desk technician, but fancier. The stuff I do tends to be more on the technical side of things, but I still spend a lot of time interacting with people who are probably talking to me specifically because they're upset about a problem. Having been in the field for nearly 10 years now, I've figured out some great ways to deal with uncooperative folks. And what works there will also work on Kickstarter.

It starts with the understanding that...

You Are The Blob

Have you ever called, say, the customer support number at Comcast? If you needed to call them, you were probably mad about something not working the way it's supposed to (the Internet is down!), even before you picked up the phone. And then, if the technician couldn't fix your problem within 10 minutes, it made you more upset for having to stay on the phone so long. It's okay, it's normal. And chances are you treated the technician in a perfectly respectable way regardless.

But for some people, they get themselves so worked up, they forget that the person on the other side of the phone is a living, breathing, human. The technician is not an individual, but instead is part of a giant corporate blob.

Taking this back to James for a moment, it's possible that his publishing company, Minion Games, was indistinguishable from Kickstarter to this backer. That the two entities were effectively one and the same. That James was not James, but merely the embodiment of those two entities.

To put it another way, it's entirely possible that the customer did contact James... at least in his own mind. He may have found the generic Kickstarter contact info, and mistakenly believed that if he contacted them, then that was the same thing as getting in touch with James. And if he didn't hear back from them, then that means he didn't hear back from James, because Kickstarter and James are both the same blob.

But maybe that's not it. Maybe it's just that...

People Are Irrational

Not just "dumb" people. All people. You are. I am. We all are. It's a fact of life. To assume that others will act rationally is, itself, irrational. And part of that irrationality is that it's surprisingly easy to fabricate false memories. In the linked article, professional memory hacker (an occupation that apparently actually exists) Julia Shaw tells us how to implant a false memory:

To implant a false memory, “you try to get someone to confuse their imagination with their memory,” she said. “That’s it: Get them to repeatedly picture it happening.”

It's really that easy. And it doesn't take a "memory hacker" to do this. In fact, you've probably done it to yourself a few times without knowing it. If you like to tell a particular story, for example, the first time you told it you might have added a few embellishments to make it more interesting. Then the next time you told it, you added the same embellishments because they got a good response. And you keep on retelling the "good parts" version of events, until you eventually forget that they're just embellishments. At that point, you actually believe that events actually unfolded the way that you've been telling them, because you've been telling it that way for so long.

Picture this: James' upset backer decides he needs to contact James about the as-yet-undelivered squishy dice (remember, the backer probably doesn't realize his payment failed). He intends to send James a message when he gets home that evening. But a few hours later, he gets home, dead tired, and goes to sleep. He completely forgot to send the message.

The next morning, the backer goes about his day, until halfway through, he remembers something about sending a message to James. He can picture exactly what the message was going to say. In fact, now that he thinks of it, he's pretty sure he already sent the message. So he awaits a reply. But it never comes, because he never sent it. And once again, the backer would find James to be at fault.

But there's a simple solution...

Be the Backer's Ally

Even though in both of the above scenarios, the backer is wrong, you can see how he came to that conclusion in a natural way; that in his own mind, he's right. And the fact is, that's always going to be the case. Nobody ever holds onto an opinion that they believe is wrong. In other words, the backer came to their irrational conclusion in a perfectly legitimate way, regardless of what that way was.

Once you understand that, then it becomes easier to work with the backer. He's still wrong, of course, but he's coming from a well-meaning place, and treating the backer as such means you're both on the same side.

Of course, when this backer did finally talk to James, he was already on the offensive, so it might take some extra work to get him onto the same page. But often, simply allowing somebody to express their frustration is enough. Then you can push that aside and say, "I understand that this is bothering you. Let's figure out a solution."

You are his ally, and together you will figure out a way forward.