Opinion: Page (1) of 1 - 09/03/03 Email this story to a friend. email article Print this page (Article printing at MyDmn.com).print page facebook

Customers Take a Back Seat to Profits

I can't get no satisfaction By Charlie White
I've noticed an alarming trend lately. It seems the corporate bottom line is getting to be more important than customer satisfaction. Software prices, although lower than historical levels, are still way too high, while support services are no longer free. Making matters worse, some perfectly good hardware and software has been orphaned, while others are left wanting for driver updates that never seem to come. User agreements give you no rights, and a lot of software breaks down more than an old used car. Helloooo?Can we get some help here?

My first bone to pick is the way companies are charging heavy tariffs for software and hardware support. In the old days, almost all software and hardware help was free for the taking. I can remember my first home PC I bought over a decade ago at CompUSA. I would call the company's help line about twice a day for the first few weeks and received the most patient, caring and competent support possible -- all for free. A quick check with CompUSA today and I see that such help now would probably cost me more than the total price I paid for that PC back then. Now I see some companies charging what they call "competitive prices" of $230 per incident. Even user-friendly Apple charges $49 per incident. As an aside, though, I must say that Apple's support staff has, in the past, been kindly enough to help me when the staffer "felt the pain in my voice" -- read that, I was whining a lot and the guy felt sorry for me. But let's be realistic, too. The old days weren't so good, either, when sure, the support was free but you'd have to wait for an hour or more on hold just to get to talk to somebody. Even then, many times the problem wouldn't even get fixed. But then, is paying $230 a better deal, when even still the problem doesn't get fixed?

Further evidence of this erosion of consumer coddling is the absence of most paper documentation. When learning a new software package, I like to have a nice manual next to me with clearly written and illustrated instructions showing me how everything works. It's awkward to click back and forth between a help file and your application whenever there's a question or problem. I've noticed the best software writers like Apple and Adobe haven't abandoned paper documentation (yet), but smaller software and hardware companies are abandoning it in droves. Yeah, I guess I could print out all those docs, but heck, who wants to do that? It just doesn't seem right that you pay $199 for a software package and there's nothing more than a cheap photocopied "getting started" pamphlet waiting for you inside. Seems like the biggest piece of documentation you get these days is the agreement that you inadvertently agree to by opening the software envelope that says, basically, that the software is probably broken and if it doesn't work then it's your tough luck.

That brings up another important point: Who is responsible for making these products work as advertised? Why aren't vendors taking responsibility for making products that are reliable and secure? I think this insouciant blow-off from software developers goes back to the days when it seemed like a miracle if software worked at all. Well, those days are over, and now we need some accountability on the part of these technology peddlers. Some people are suggesting technology insurance, or talking about establishing a lab that tests software to give it a "Good Housekeeping"-like seal of approval. Of course, for now, there is help available, and you're in the right place right now to get it -- I can tell you this, when it comes to content creation software and hardware, you can depend on us here at Digital Media Net to give you the straight story about what works and what doesn't.

Test as we might, though, there's nothing we can do about orphaned products. The ash heap of history is littered with great products whose companies decided to stop supporting them for one reason or another. Discreet Edit comes to mind as a particularly brilliant nonlinear editing package that suddenly met its demise because its mother ship was sinking and needed to bail out what it thought was some of its bilge water (but in my opinion it was more like throwing out the baby with the bath water). Perhaps the biggest faux pas was Avid's colossal blunder of abandoning support for its ABVB [Avid Broadcast Video Board] standard and replacing it with its new Meridien architecture in the late 90s. There were lots of angry users, but Avid has recently set that record straight with new-found backward compatibility with the old ABVB standard.

Is this de-emphasis on customer service a society-wide problem? I have noticed that even the former Disney-esque McDonald's crew out here on the lonesome wind-swept prairie are handing me a bag o' burgers now while looking the other way. What's up? Is it me? I try to be nice. Naa. Companies are under intense pressure to enhance profits, many times at the expense of customers. But companies need to bear in mind that the customers are those from whom all blessings ultimately flow. Lose us, and there is no bottom line. So, can we just get some help here!?

Charlie White, your humble storytellerDigital Media Net Executive Producer Charlie White has been writing about new media and digital video since it was the laughingstock of the television industry. A technology journalist and columnist since 1994, White is also an Emmy-winning producer, video editor, broadcast industry consultant and shot-calling television director who has worked in broadcasting since 1974. Talk back -- Send Chazz a note at cwhite@digitalmedianet.com.

Read Charlie White's editorials by clicking here.

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Related Keywords:editorial, Charlie White, alarming trend, corporate bottom line, customer satisfaction, Software prices, support services, hardware, software, orphaned, driver updates


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