By Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief
The conversation began with a buyers question. Who [else] would ever pay for technical support from a PLC manufacturer? he complained. Well, I did today and it really frosts me. If I were some dum-dum asking which direction electrons flow, I could understand it. I am, however, an engineer with 15-plus years using this vendors equipment. This guys convinced he pays once in an inflated product price, and a second time when he needs help.
The expression of dissatisfaction found considerable support. Control system engineers unhappy with the concept of paying for tech support began to assemble. Weve bought 150 servo amps from a major vendor in the past year at $780 each, one said. Weve had units fail right out of the box with a fault-indicator light that would not clear. We returned these to the vendor for repair and we got them back with a report saying no problem was found, accompanied by a bill for $250 for the evaluation. He thinks hes been had because work clearly was done. What is strange to us is that the replacements work fine, he said. Hes begun to seriously seek other sources.
Meanwhile, the first objecting vendor checked in. Its very common for an inexperienced person to ask me to send an example of ladder logic or software configuration to do a very specific thing, or review a program theyre having trouble with, he reported. The dilemma is clear. If he spends time on pet projects, 20 other calls go unanswered. Thats why we provide fee-based contract services for application programming, he said. He says a lot of the callers need training, not tech support.
Another supplier was, albeit reluctantly, sympathetic to the complaints of the buyers. As an instrumentation manufacturer, I feel that its difficult for me to charge for repairs, even if the problem is caused by the customer, he laments I cant imagine charging for technical support that should, theoretically, help the customer, and in the long run, help me.
This component buyer was ready to pay for tech support, with a few prerequisites. He demanded a manual thatproperly done, mind youshouldnt even require help pages. He also wanted Web-site FAQ accessibility thats current and complete, and the understanding that qualified vendor reps will freely fix program or hardware bugs. Ive worked with enough bozos to figure out that Im paying extra for products because the vendor is supporting people that are stupid, lazy, or generally incompetent to do a job without someone holding their hand, henone-too-gentlyconcluded.
This was an important arguing point for another vendor. One of the things I get to do is read customers the instruction manual, he lamented. His point is simple: Somebody has to pay for that. He said his data supports this position. Weve been doing a survey for over a year now, and were finding well over 80% of the technical support calls we receive are questions that could be answered by reading the manual, or with basic technical knowledge any user should have, he argued. Those remaining 20% are usually real toughies, he said. We like those because it keeps us sharp. He said, probably with a grin, hed pay to hear from them, since those are the calls that help him make better products.
This is an issue that really generates a lot of emotion, so tell us where you stand on this. Wed like to hear from you, because, in the words of that vendor, it keeps us sharp, too.