The trouble with vendor support

Reader Louis Smith dropped me a note the other day to tell me a story: “I am a support engineer for a large technology company and I recently purchased a Maxtor external Shared Storage Drive.

However, there was one feature that was not working — the sync feature that keeps the external drive in sync with the source drive.”

This feature is important to Smith so he went through the logical route to find a solution; he checked the company’s online Web support, called the standard technical support line and so on.

“Long story short, I was told (I actually have the quote in writing from their Tier 3-level support) that the problem is with my computer…that my registry is corrupted.” We can all see that this was a desperate conclusion on the part of tech support, but Smith was not so easily thwarted. “Now, at this point, I could have easily purchased another product, but for the fun and the challenge I stuck with it.”

I think we can all agree that Smith is either made of stern stuff or a card-carrying masochist. We shall see….

“I started taking ethereal packet captures and sysinfo and a ton of other info…and insisted they send it to their engineering group. It wasn’t until I sent an e-mail to the board of directors that my issue received the appropriate attention. And guess what? It turns out there is in fact a bug that I found…that affects anyone that has a computer without a floppy drive (like the millions of Dell D600s out there).”

Smith wound up burning a lot of time making phone calls, trying out Maxtor’s debug code and giving the company feedback, and was ultimately the reason Maxtor solved a serious problem.

What I realized from this story is that Maxtor has gone over the customer care event horizon. Just as stars collapse to a point and effectively drop out of the universe, so do companies drop out of customer care when they get to a certain size.

But above and beyond Maxtor’s apparently cavalier attitude to putting a paying customer through the support wringer, what stands out is that it is almost always incredibly difficult for technical people to get anything approximating true technical support.

What we usually get is support that leads us through the inevitable maze of dumb questions that only someone less intelligent than a bag of bolts should be asked.

Perhaps what’s needed is some kind of registry for techies. Then when you called a company you’d give your number and they would immediately transfer you to a real tech support guy.

Nah. This will never happen for the same reason that when a Windows application or Windows itself crashes and you let the Windows reporting system send the crash details back to the Redmond mothership you never hear anything. When you’ve crossed the customer service event horizon customer satisfaction no longer matters.

You can see this clearly when you get up to the scale of really big companies such as Cingular. I had to have a broken cell phone replaced over the weekend and my call took 93 minutes. I’m leaving out the 20 minutes I wrestled with Cingular’s Web site to do the same thing. The online time was wasted because Cingular’s Web site didn’t recognize my phone’s serial number (even though they had sold it to me) and then the Web site crashed. Sigh.

It’s true that Maxtor’s board did care enough to get things moving, but it didn’t care enough to follow it through. “Ah” you might expostulate, “surely the board has bigger fish to fry than one little problem.” I would argue that it didn’t. If it wants to capture the hearts and minds of customers then there’s no such thing as a little customer problem — each one should be treated as a four-alarm fire.

So, in case you were wondering what Maxtor did for Smith to recognize his contribution to its ongoing corporate profitability the answer is, you guessed it, nothing. Bet you weren’t surprised.

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