Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I love the Internet, hate customer service

I've had two experiences, this week, that I think bear repeating. The first one involves a Kodak camera given to me on Sunday. It wasn't working - camera powers up, all of the functions work, with the small exception that it takes no pictures - no preview from the lens, either. I started at Kodak's site, and it's troubleshooting guide led me toward a fill-in form that I wasn't ready to complete, just yet. I then started Google-ing the model number, and found a wealth of information. I found literally hundreds of comments from owners, detailing two obvious flaws in the camera (my symptom is one of them). Nearly all of these cameras quit after about 2.5 years of use (I'm pretty sure that that's how old this camera is), and, if I were to fill out that form on Kodak's site, they would offer me a lesser model camera in exchange for returning this one, oh, and send them $125. Pretty sure that's not going to happen. I'd be livid, as many of these posters are, if I'd paid between $300-400 for this camera. Kodak has lost a lot of business and reputation from this one.
Yesterday, I downloaded an album, using software I'd used before. Eventually. What happened was this. I found the album, clicked on "buy", and charged my account. Then the download wouldn't happen - kept getting an error message. When I clicked on the link to explain the error message, a screenful of information appeared, with a link to technical support and a specific error message. Problem was, this screen would appear, then refresh back to the store. Quitting, restarting, and repeating this event 2-3 times, I eventually had to use Ctl-Print Screen to capture the info and paste it into Word in order for me to read it. It's now been about an hour. Unable to access the tech service link on the page, I found an email address and posted a detailed message with account info, album and artist, answered their system questions, and included the error message provided. Then, just for kicks, I Googled the error message directly, just put it straight in. I found several forums that detailed the same problem, and a solution (the problem was a corrupted file in Windows XP, renaming it fixed the problem). Five minutes later, the album was on my drive, and CD's burning. This morning, I received a response from their tech support (I'd been warned on the forums that this could take 2-5 days, so I was pleasantly surprised). The email politely asked me for more information. What's noteworthy is that each bit of information asked for was provided in the copy of my email attached to the bottom of his response! I had to look, twice, I believe the operative word is incredulous.
I thanked him for his prompt response, detailed my solution, and where and how quickly I had found it, and went on my merry way.
The first example is of corporate incompetence, from design to their response to what is obviously a defective product. The second one is merely bureaucratic failure - failure to list a set of fixes to error messages for common errors. Yes, it's probably more complex than that and, yes, I'm more willing than the average nancy to rename files and such, but still. The fact remains that I was able to find more timely, accurate information from forums than I did from the companies, themselves. It is unfortunately one of the bittersweet realities of the information age.