Keep afloat but don't drown the customer

Written by David Tebbutt, PC Dealer 08/88 item 01 - scanned

Cast your mind back to the week of 18 July. How was it for you? I tell you, it was a real pain for me.

It all started with a dealer, who I'll come back to in a minute. Then I went to a major Japanese electronics manufacturer to pick up a hi-fi it had repaired for me. (The PLAY button on the tape deck wouldn't stay down). I confidently parted with the £50 for labour and parts, only to find when I got home that it still wasn't fixed.

I returned the next day (after they'd refused to collect the machine) and told them the PLAY button still didn't work. The man leaned across the counter and pressed the button down. It stayed down. This was because there was no tape in the machine. He said: 'You didn't tell us a tape had to be in for the button to fail.' Why anyone would want to press PLAY without a tape in, I cannot imagine.

A couple of days later a review of BrainStorm appeared in a magazine. This was important to me because I wrote the program and my wife publishes it. The crazy thing about the review was that it was based on the original version of the product (circa 1983), with different documentation, aimed at a different market and pushed out by a different publisher. All the criticisms, of which there were many, had nothing to do with us or the product we ship.

The reviewer swears he reviewed our version of the product. (He also admitted to writing an earlier review of the old one for the same magazine). The editor swears he published what the reviewer wrote.

That same day, our long-awaited advertisement appeared in another magazine. It was only small, a top right hand quarter of a right hand page, printed white out of red. What did we get? Top left hand corner of a left hand page, printed black out of red.

All through the same week I was having trouble with the aforementioned dealer. We don't normally sell to dealers. The margin isn't worth their while.

Anyway, this dealer had to have BrainStorm immediately. In fact he'd promised to deliver it to his customer the next day, without knowing where he was going to get it. He begged and my wife, who is far tougher than me in such matters, said: 'We normally ship on receipt of a cheque.' I spoke to the man and agreed to cross our product and his cheque in the post.

Days passed and the cheque still didn't appear. Then I had a phone call from a perplexed user: 'My dealer has put BrainStorm on my hard disk, but it's not there.' At this point I knew a) BrainStorm had arrived safely, b) the dealer had been paid, c) he didn't provide elementary support and d) BrainStorm Software's chances of receiving its cheque were slim. Newstar's Bill Poel told me I should be thankful that I'd given the man a discount. It meant we'd lost less.

Anyway, the guy on the phone still had a problem. A problem I could solve, but which had nothing to do with BrainStorm and much to do with DOS and subdirectories. But, with his problem solved, he'd be able to start using our product. And then, with a bit of luck, he might spread the word about those nice people at BrainStorm. It took me about 20 minutes to get rid of him.

By now, I felt I was drowning in a sea of incompetence. Whichever way I turned it seemed there was a complete wally lying in wait for me.

Tell me, what's it like at your place? Would your engineers repair a disk drive and send it out without checking to see if it could read and write disks? Would your staff deliver the opposite of what was ordered? And would your staff fool around with someone's computer and not tell him what they'd done?

With the exception of the dealer, I bet the bosses of those companies were oblivious to the cock-ups that were being perpetrated in their names.

How about you?