After reading David Frampton's rant about the impact a small minority of mean-spirited customers has had on him, I wanted to send him an email saying that it'll get better.
But I couldn't do that, because it won't get better. I started selling software on the web in 1995, and the problem of nasty customers has plagued me since day one.
Don't get me wrong: I've talked with enough other developers to know that I've had it easy compared to many of them. The vast majority of my customers are great to deal with, even when they have a complaint.
But there's always that small fraction of customers that suck.
They're used to dealing with companies that sell them crap and then ignore them, so they treat it as a rare opportunity to vent their frustrations when they find a company that actually has a real person answering questions.
They toss insults at you, threaten to bad-mouth you all over the web, post mean-spirited reviews on download sites, and demand IN ALL CAPS that you change your software to meet their needs RIGHT NOW OR ELSE.
When you try to help them, they just get worse. And they do this even if they've never paid you for your work, and never plan to.
Being forced to deal with these miserable people is enough to make you want to stop providing support, but that's a mistake. I've always believed that the key to creating great software is to talk with those who use it, to understand what they need and want from your product. If you step away from support, your software will suffer.
You can, however, step away from bad customers. If they have a valid complaint, sure, address it, and treat them with the same respect that you wish they'd show you. But if they bad-mouth you over something very minor and demand that you reply immediately, either wait a little while before answering or just ignore them completely. You're better off without each other.
The worst thing you can do is let these people ruin your day. After all, it's not like they're making you look bad. Think about it this way: if you go to a store and witness someone screaming at the cashier, who looks worse? Everyone knows the customer is being a jerk, and they feel sorry for the cashier.
I've been able to keep doing this for over 15 years by understanding that these people aren't just unhappy with me: they're unhappy in general. You can't change that, and you can't let it change you.