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Author Topic:   Product Support Narratives
jimh posted 05-24-2009 12:23 AM ET (US)   Profile for jimh   Send Email to jimh  
It is common now to read first-person narratives about product support, and generally these stories are cases of really outstandingly good support or miserably bad support. But I thought I would offer an old story about product support on an electronic product.

Many years ago when I was a kid, my father bought a really top-of-the-line radio receiver made by Collins Radio. Collins was a prime military contractor and made all kids of military grade radios, but they were run by guys who were also radio amateurs. I think that influenced their marketing, and they made a line of single-sideband equipment which was popular with radio amateurs, although very expensive. It was like MIL-Spec ham gear.

When I was about 14 or 15 and passed my FCC examination for a higher class of amateur radio license, my dad responded by buying a Collins receiver for us to use. (He was also a licensed ham operator and had been since the 1930's). This receiver was ridiculously expensive, somewhat like a Boston Whaler boat was back then. Its cost was probably the equivalent of a month's pay. But it was the greatest thing going for a ham radio receiver.

After we had this receiver for a year or so, a problem occurred with its main tuning unit, the permeability tuned oscillator or PTO. This unit was the heart of the receiver. I got out some erasable typing paper--I was a terrible typist--and drafted a letter to Collins Radio Co. of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, informing them of this problem. It probably took me an hour or more to type the letter. Then I folded it up, got an envelope, put a stamp on it, and rode my bicycle to the end of the block and put it in the Mail Box. Then I waited.

Several weeks later I got a letter back from Collins Radio Co. informing me that they were sending me a new PTO assembly. I was to please replace the defective unit and send it back to them. They included lengthy and detailed instructions. To remove the original and install the replacement required a lot of work. The receiver had to be removed from the cabinet, there were wires to be unsoldered, mechanical linkages to be removed, mounting screws to loosen, and so on.

A day or two later a box arrived from Collins. Inside was the new PTO. There was all sorts of paperwork in the box. Collins was a big company, and this thing has been shipped the same way they probably shipped a $100,000 military gizmo to the Army--plenty of forms, stamps, check marks, initials, and so on.

Let me cut this short a little by saying I was able to successfully replace the PTO with the new one, and the receiver was back to working just like the MIL-Spec electronics it was. But here is the odd thing. In the box from Collins Radio there were two PTO units. All the paperwork showed only one unit was to be shipped, but somewhere along the line someone goofed up and sent two units.

I discussed what we should do with this extra PTO unit with my Dad. His view was very simple: we send it back to Collins, as it is their property. I showed my Dad that all the forms showed there was only one unit, and Collins would never know we had an extra. He was adamant. I boxed up the old PTO and the extra new PTO, included a note explaining what was going on, and we shipped them back to Collins.

I see several things in this recollection of mine that I want to mention:

First, we corresponded with Collins by mail. We did not think of calling them on the telephone--my heavens no one made a long distance call to Iowa, and Collins did not have an 800-number for us to dial toll-free.

Second, the process of getting a remedy for our problem took several weeks, perhaps a month.

Third, Collins figured we were competent to perform the repair ourselves, probably because we were licensed radio amateurs I'd guess. We didn't have to ship our entire receiver back to them for repair; we'd do it ourselves.

Finally, my Dad taught me a lesson about honesty. We didn't try to profit from Collins' error. That PTO was worth about one-third the cost of the whole radio, so it wasn't like we were shipping back foam peanuts. It was an expensive part. And we paid for the shipping, too.

That's how electronic companies provided support in the 1960's. Nowadays a company like this would be out of business in a month. You've got to have a Toll-Free number, you have to answer the telephone by the second ring, you've got to cross-ship the customer a new unit overnight no matter what the problem, and if you accidently shipped the customer a second unit by mistake, the chance they'd send it back is about a million to one.

GAwhale posted 05-24-2009 09:46 AM ET (US)     Profile for GAwhale  Send Email to GAwhale     
Great Story Jim!

It is clear that your Dad was a was a tremendous inspiration to you.

Delta Air Lines has listened to complaints from customers and made the decision to close all call centers in India. They really prefer that you do all business on line. It is the most cost effective way.

glen e posted 05-24-2009 11:42 AM ET (US)     Profile for glen e  Send Email to glen e     
[Glen--Stop the JIHAD. Please do not enter into every discussion with your agenda. Thank you.--jimh]
glen e posted 05-24-2009 02:02 PM ET (US)     Profile for glen e  Send Email to glen e     
Jim - stop trying to justify bad support.
SJUAE posted 05-24-2009 04:52 PM ET (US)     Profile for SJUAE    

You missed out the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s :)

Actually I think we have gone full circle but as you note with grater expectations.

Before you use to buy from your nearest dealer who was knowledgeable and was your first point of contact, he resolved your problems and dealt with the manufacture for you.

Now with mass international shopping in your home at the touch of a keyboard more often than not your local store has had to change and no longer offers the support we once had as his loyalty base has been eroded.

We are victims of our own purchasing trends and have initiated self help and direct contact with the manufactures.

We now expect instantaneous results simply by the media we now conduct normal business. Does the average user read the manual or FAQ’s, I suspect not as it’s easier to email the question.

I doubt as you note that OEM’s can provide the service we once got from our local store or specialist.

I recall Gateway PC’s encouraged self help and assembly and would send replacement parts for you to fit with step by step instructions by phone on an 800 number.

What has also changed is the complexity of PCB’s and the disposable nature of components and users expectations of reliability.

Getting the balance between cost and support on modern day electronics is a fine line and OEM’s must love the user provided support forums on the net, it must save them 1000’s.

Sorry we can't have it all without paying for it somewhere


jimh posted 05-24-2009 05:21 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Glen--so far the only real negative I've heard from you is about the length of time you have to spend on the telephone while making a free long-distance call.

As I said, free support is like free beer. Only fools complain about free beer. If you want better support, buy it. It's just like beer. If you want a premium beer chilled to a certain temperature and served to you by an attractive young woman in a bikini, you can certainly get it but you have to pay. Don't complain about free beer or free support.

glen e posted 05-24-2009 05:27 PM ET (US)     Profile for glen e  Send Email to glen e     
Then you don't read well Jim. Once they answer the call, they don't have the info to help. And not getting help for 45 min is enough don't you think?

The is no jihad here, I frankly would have left it with one post if you did not think of every reason why I can't be right including starting this post with outside the marine industry analogies.

And still no one has picked up the phone to verify my challenge.

Done here...Buy the Lowrance/BG/Simrad/Eagle/Northstar stuff. Good Luck,it will sort out soon. Navico is not a dumb company. I have personally discussed this with their highest people.

jimh posted 05-24-2009 09:52 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Glen--You clearly are not leaving it alone. The Jihad continues.

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