Manufacturers: Give Better Customer Service
Commentary by K. Matthew Dames, executive editor.
New York Times technology columnist David Pogue has written a great article about what electronics makers need to do in order to improve their customer service practices. The article’s scope is slightly beyond what we normally post here at CopyCense. Still, its central theme — how to improve horrifically bad customer services policies that leave software buyers and owners feeling ripped off — is close enough to what Ed Foster does with his Gripe Log that it is worth mentioning.
What follows is a true story.
Pogue’s Commandment IV — ” Thou shalt not charge tech-support fees for thine own mistakes” — was particularly relevant, since my Microsoft Office: Mac suite crashed literally hours before I was to teach a workshop at Internet Librarian 2005. Yes, my presentation was in PowerPoint. Yes, all my contacts and appointments were in Entourage. Yes, I had a completed a full hard drive backup before leaving for Monterey. Yes, that backup data was safely stored on a LaCie hard drive located three time zones away.
Since I use mostly Web-based mail clients, I recovered nearly all my email. (Aside: If you can find a stable, safe Web-based product to manage your e-mail or contacts, use it. It is much more reliable than much of the desktop- or server-based software.) Still, I had no phone numbers, no e-mail addresses, and most importantly, no PowerPoint.
I called Apple Computer’s toll-free AppleCare technical support line and received the standard brush off: “It’s not our software, so we cannot do anything about it.” To Apple’s credit, however, the representative took the time to help me identify the source of the problem. One or more of my Office:Mac preference files became corrupted, crashing the entire program suite. By removing these files, I was able to get the programs running. So, at least Apple provided some level of service.
I was unable, however, to recover the contact data; nearly two weeks later, I still haven’t recovered that data. I know I could recover the files from the data backup, but since Apple “upgraded” its Backup program, now that program doesn’t work like it did before I left for Monterey.
The Apple rep gave me Microsoft’s number. After connecting to a recording, seemingly the second sentence — the one after “Hello, welcome to Microsoft support” — contained the following dreaded six words:
Please have your credit card ready.
I felt strangely odd, sort of that feeling one gets while walking in a dark alley at night, feeling like I was about to get jacked. I hung up the phone.
Rewind to Commandment IV: Why must a customer must pay to resolve a problem that results from a failed product? Computer software is the only industry I know of that distributes products with known faults (they’re called bugs) — some of which are known safety or security risks — that warrants nothing and disclaims everything. Further, customers pay full price for an items they don’t even own: software is leased subject to a license, not owned outright. (There is an important copyright concept involved here that involves Section 109 of the Copyright Act, but I’ll save that for another day.)
How does this industry get away with that?
David Pogue. 10 Ways to Please Us, the Customers. The New York Times. Nov. 2, 2005.
ScottBerkun.com. Why Software Sucks. Sept. 19, 2005.
CopyCense™: K. Matthew Dames on the intersection of business, law and technology. A business venture of Seso Digital LLC.