Customer Service: Products That Are Ready

tinerstake-apple-feat-1015As I sat down to write this column, I hemmed and hawed. I even got the column in a little late as I hesitated as to whether I should submit it or write a new one. I did not want to write something that was overly critical of a company, and yet I have had some negative experiences recently that I wanted to share. So this month’s column is really more of a suggestion to manufacturers, integrators and others out there who serve customers, much more than it is an attack on any specific company. Think of it as a “what not to do.”

Over the past few months, the equipment and service we have received from Crestron has left a lot to be desired. I wrote about some of our problems in my last column. We have several Capture HD boxes deployed across campus. Some of these randomly drop either audio or video. As one can imagine, recording without one of those creates a final product that is, well, useless. We have contacted technical support, and the first fix is usually a firmware upgrade, which may seem to work, until the next time the audio mysteriously drops. Part of the issue is that rebooting the box fixes the problem for some random period of time. So, we never know if the firmware fixed the issue, until we get another bad recording. Some of the boxes have gone back to Crestron. They come back with notes saying that nothing was wrong. Of course not — the boxes were rebooted during shipping, and the audio failures are random (it could be after 10 recordings or 30). So, if you set it up on a table and tested, it probably worked.

Next, we had problems with the DGE2 and the TSD-2020. Upon installation, the touch panel would not react to touch. Reboots, hour long phone calls with Crestron — nothing seemed to work — until suddenly one day, it was working. Then again a few days later, it wasn’t. More long phone calls to Crestron and promises of “we need to look into this problem and get back to you.” Eventually, we got sent some new DGE2s. Upon installation, they worked! Yay! Problem solved… until the next day, when they did not again. Today, we are at a point where they work “most of the time” and when they don’t, a simple reset of the USB connection brings them back. However, it is still very frustrating to have a $4,000 box which works “most of the time” and no real recognition of a problem or continued discussion of how to fix it.

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Finally, we ran into major problems with a couple of installation that used a DMPS3 and an Epson projector. We decided to try and connect the projector’s HDBaseT connection directly to the DM output of the DMPS3. We had done this in other rooms with a DM 8×8 and it worked great. We installed it in these two rooms and initially everything was fine. However, after a day or so, we noticed that the projector would lose its Ethernet connection and not respond to commands. We tried a new projector. Same problem. We contacted Crestron, who asked us a lot of questions (including if we could take a working DMPS3 out of another classroom). Follow up answers to the questions brought more questions, but no solutions. Eventually, we decided on our own to install an RMC at the projector and go into it via HDMI and Ethernet. This has solved our immediate problem of the room not working, but again leaves us with a feeling of being abandoned by support.

For me there are several lessons in these experiences. First, if you are doing your own installs, you need to be prepared with equipment, money and experience to be able to quickly swap out equipment in case you need to get a room operating. This may include spare equipment of what you have installed. Second, you need to have a lot of time to spend on the phone with tech support in case of problems. If you are an integrator, the same applies to you. If this experience had happened with an integrator, it would have very likely soured our relationship. I would not have been happy going for three weeks with these problems, while classes were in session, waiting for a fix. Finally, if you are a manufacturer, please understand that when spaces are down for hours, it is a major problem. Asking to swap out equipment from a working room is a ridiculous request. Waiting days for responses to technical questions is simply not acceptable. Be there for your customers, and be ready to act fast to support their issues, or they may not be your customers for long.