the evenings out here - Thoughts, rants and musings about absolutely everything except photography. Or cats.

User support = support from users ?

in General Rants , Friday, November 11, 2005

You, er, want to me to destroy my data to debug your product ? This is a typical tale of the attitude of many software companies these days to user support. The fact that it emanates from a company which I used to believe offered excellent user support makes it sadder, but nevertheless, it is fairly typical. The company in this specific case is iView Multimedia, the product is iView Pro v3, the latest update to an excellent, agile multimedia catalog application released on 1st November. Unfortunately I discovered several problems with this new release. One, which killed my upload workflow stone dead, was an apparent change in AppleScript syntax. So I reviewed the FAQ, reviewed the user forum, drew a blank, and emailed user support. Here is the core of my support request: > Hello > > I've just upgrade to v3, and to my surprise (sort of...) I've discovered > that the AppleScript syntax for referring to custom fields seems to have > changed. Some 3 days later came the reply (iView turnaround on support used to be closer to 3 minutes, but since they have a clearly issue-ridden new release just out, I'll forgive them that): Have you tried this feature with the latest build of MediaPro from our website? What is the Build number of the version of MediaPro that you are currently running? So, what is wrong with this ? First, they're asking me for the Build Number of a product which was released less than a week ago. Exactly how stable is this product, if they already have a new build out ? They don't tell me where to find the Build number (it is in the About popup), and on the website downloads page the build number is not so obvious (there's a small unlabelled number there, but it would not be difficult to make it clearer). So, rather than ask me "are you using Build n ?" and telling me how to check, I seem to be expected to download, unpack, and install the application again, noting the Build number before and after to see if it has changed. Not ideal. I'd note as well that their download files don't even identify the version number - they've all been called IVMP.SIT since at least v2.0, if not before. Next, there was no attempt at all to answer my question. I could infer, perhaps, the standard "it's never done that before", but I'm not even convinced of that. I am left almost certain that the support guy has not lifted a finger to attempt to validate or duplicate my issue, which is actually quite specific. I might expect something like "sorry, we tried to duplicate the problem, but we cannot. Can you provide us with further information ?" before asking me to take full responsibility for testing. This is not what one pays $199 for. If he could tell me, yes, it was an issue in Build x, but it is fixed in Build y, then fine. But asking me to find out for myself when it could be verified at source is pure buck passing. Running AppleScript in iView, or indeed anywhere else, can have disastrous results. I should not be asked to try this, before any other avenue has been explored. In this case I could seriously compromise a 6 year photo archive. Ok, I'd be stupid to do that, and the security of my data is my responsibility but part of user support should be to suggest safe scenarios. Even worse - in parallel, I discussed the issue on their support forum, and I had in fact found a workaround, which I posted, and which at least one other user succesfully adopted. But this appears to have gone unnoticed. A major source of feedback, albeit unstructured, on their own server, seems to go unused. Let's be clear here: this is NOT user support. This is asking users for debugging support, and charging them for the privilege.. I like iView very much. I've used it for years, although I used to use Aldus/Adobe/Extensis Fetch/Portfolio, and I keep an eye on alterntives. The excellent scripting support and user support for iView kept me a firm customer. It would be quite complex to switch now, as I have a lot of development effort invested in an iView based workflow, not to mention many annotated catalogs. Possibly (dare I say probably) the company realises that switching on this sort of product is not a decision made lightly, and acts accordingly when allocating resources to user support. However, reputations are hard won and easily lost. I hope iView Multimedia realises this.
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