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All About Service

Or Creative Customer Service

It’s not much to ask for you might think a telephone number of a company so that you can return a faulty product under warranty.

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Originally uploaded by DrMoores.

In fact, it’s a great deal to ask of Creative, the company which makes those rather nice media player rivals to Apple’s iPod.

One of the great benefits of being a business in the internet age is that you have every opportunity to keep your customers at arms length. It’s a “New customers only” kind of philosophy which has new business on a cheap-rate or free telephone line and those irritating existing customers with complaints or faulty goods, kept at arms length behind email or a premium rate number in Mumbai or Dublin.

I rely on my own ZenTouch media player to stave-off the monotony of long train journeys and airport lounges and so when mine decided yesterday, to freeze in the middle of playing ABC’s 80’s hit, “Poison Arrow”, I tried everything from resetting the device to looking for hints on Creative’s Web site.

Nothing, unable to even turn it off, all I could do was let the battery run down and try and get the cigarette packet-size device back to Creative, wherever they may be, under warranty.

Not so easy. The warranty information on their website doesn't’t explain what the next step is if you happen to be outside the sixty day free telephone support period but still inside the warranty period.

I tried calling the support line in Ireland without any luck. One option, if I’m older than sixty days (but still inside the warranty period) tells me to try the website and disconnects me. The other, the free support line, kept me hanging on and going nowhere for fifteen minutes, telling me my business was very important and racking-up an international call.

Why not use the preferred method of contact then, email? How many readers honestly expect any email-driven support service to respond from any large company or government organisation this side of Christmas if at all. How about Nikon? I tried them recently with a camera fault and I’m now much older and wiser. My local council perhaps? Slated by a recent public sector audit for not responding to a quarter of a million local enquiries over the course of the year.

Alright, so I still don’t know where to send my media player, so I’ll try the company’s press office. This hides behind a web-enabled email interface. “Send us a message and we’ll contact you.”

OK. How about Creative’s PR company? I finally track this down by Googling Creative for press releases and find the name Prodigy Communications at the bottom. Prodigy is very polite and promise to call Creative and find out how I might return my media player for repair and where. “They prefer you to use email”, I’m told. “But why”, I ask shouldn't’t I be able to pick-up the phone and simply ask for the information directly, instead of playing detective and hoping that someone, some day might simply tell me what the procedure is without a lengthy delay or my having to pay for the call?” I see your point", says the PR person at Prodigy.

And there you have it, the blinding success of the internet where customer relationship management is concerned. Nobody has called me back and I’m no closer to finding out how I can have my device repaired.

This is the bleak future of customer service everywhere I’m afraid. It’s “New customers only mate” and the rest can get lost, because lean, mean, web-enabled 21st century businesses, banks and public sector services can’t afford to deal with them.

Postscript: Hooray.. It works again. 24 hours later and with the battery completely flat, plugged into the mains, I've managed to reboot the device into diagnostic mode and its working again. So I haven't lost all my music and the digital rights chaos that goes with it but never managed to get through to anyone at Creative.

Here by the way, is a telephone number for Creative 0118 982 8256 - I've spoken with Creative's John Mosely who tells me that they are working to adjust their business process in line with my complaints. Apparently there is an option 3 on their automated telephone menu which deals with warranties. Option 2 however asks if I have a Zen player and of course, like many people would, I immediately pressed this, which took me into the loop. Creative are going to change the order so that Warranty information is the second option on the telephone menu.

The company may also publish its Web help statistics to encourage users like me into believing they can answer 80% of customer emails within nine hours. A good result all round I suspect.


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