January 17, 2010

Too Big To Care? A Matter Of Service In The Audio Industry.

In the organisation that I work for, our corporate sales motto is "Big Enough To Deliver, Small Enough To Care". It just means that we, as a company that you might want to deal with, has the manufacturing scale and capacity to deliver the quality goods yet small enough to attend to the customer on a personal basis as and when required. It's a really simple yet assuring copy line.

However, in recent times, I've found certain MNC manufacturers selling consumer audio products, a.k.a. hifi equipment to offer very questionable levels of sales and services to their prospective customers. The first incident involves a dear friend who wanted to buy a certain SACD/CD player and 5.1 surround processor from the ES range of the Japanese conglomerate's offering. I tried to help him contact the local Marketing Dept of the said company and their response was to "ask your friend to buy something else, cause we're not selling them here!". So much for turning a customer away. No wonder this MNC is not doing very well lately. What ever happened to Akio Morita's(founder of the said company) objective missions?

Another incident recently involves my dearly cherished CD player that broke down after eight years of spotless reliability. I promptly took the equipment to the local distributor for repairs, and from here on, to cut a long story short, refused to repair my CD player, due to it's parallel imports "status". Apparently they have a policy about such things and it's highly controversial in the said company. The said distributor even went to the extent of blacklisting my CD player(by verifying it's serial no.), blocking off my access to parts and services from third party sources related to the said distributor. Talk about avenging the customer!

I then hope to contact the manufacturer in Japan via it's web site and sent them an e-mail enquiring for spare parts purchase. I waited till today with no reply. I also attempted to contact the CD player's designer via Facebook on the www, whom resides in Belgium and is also the brand ambassador for the said Japanese manufacturer, with hope that he could some how point me to the right direction for spares. However till today, I got no reply from this said audio designer whom also happens to be one of my audio heroes! How frustrating, not to mention down right disappointing too. This episode will surely be weighted in to my next purchase decision, no matter how well designed or good sounding the said company's product is. Nuff said!

In retrospect I do have a few happy stories to relate to the audio industry services too. First, when I was using a Sonic Frontiers Line 2 pre amp a few years ago, which sounded like really good. By the time I encountered a problem with the product, Sonic Frontiers as a company is no more as we know it. I searched the www and found the new corporation called Anthem AV who owns the Sonic Frontiers brand now and listed it in their history section of their web site. I sent Anthem AV service dept. an e-mail to request for guidance. I got a response the next day from Frank Pugliano, presumably the tech in charge, and all this during the X'mas holiday season then. I described my problems experienced with the product, and Frank sent me the necessary schematics and instructions check list for me to check my problem in the circuit of the pre amp. After a few days of working on the pre amp, I eventually found the problem and proceeded to replace the faulty parts available locally and the pre amp worked like a dream from there on. My friend's Sonic Frontiers Line 2 pre amp recently developed some problems after many years of use. He found Chris Johnson, then Sonic Frontiers boss and designer at http://www.partsconnecxion.com/ The unit is now in the capable hands of it's designer, not only for repairs, but also an up grade to the full SE spec! I can't wait for the unit to return already.

I love to use Pass Labs and there a good reason for it, other than good sound. The product's designer Nelson Pass is always available on the http://www.diyaudio.com/ forums, where there's a dedicated section, ready to answer your enquiries about his products and hifi in general. After more then a few years of use, the product will some how develop faults due to warn parts. I sent an e-mail to Nelson requesting for parts and circuit schematic, it was all shipped to me via USPS mail, in no time. Now that's what I call service! Some of my Pass Labs gear were bought from the former local distributor whom no longer holds the rights to sell the equipment now. But in terms of services, Centre Circle Audio must be commended to still attend to some of my Pass Labs servicing needs, even when they no longer sell the products. Now, that's what I'd call exceeding beyond the required commitments. My dear, dear readers, please support service oriented dealers like Centre Circle Audio, when you next consider a hifi up grade. These people are a gem!

Another positive service related story I'd like to share is Bryston. Not only do they give you parts and services warranty of 20 years, sometimes they honour their warranty beyond that! I have a friend who owns a pair of very early examples of Bryston's 2B-LP power amps, manufactured in 1978! He recently wanted to refurbish some of the amp's internal parts, and whilst at it, he might as well give the casing a new coat of paint because the casing looked old and most of the screws have rusted. He sent Bryston service dept. an e-mail, requesting for parts and got a response within half a day! Now that's fast. The parts soon arrived via courier courtesy of Bryston with no charges. Needless to say, that my friend is very impressed and will certainly buy another Bryston product should he decide to upgrade his audio system.

I've heard many positive experiences about Mike Elliot of Counterpoint too. Although Counterpoint as a company ceased to exist more than a decade ago, one can still get Mike's personal attention via his new venture on http://www.altavistaaudio.com/ regarding any problems or up grades with Counterpoint products. This is very much in the same spirit as Chris Johnson with Sonic Frontiers. Bravo gentlemen!

By now, it would become clear that most hifi boutique high end audio brands do to offer excellent services, sometimes even after their unfortunate demise and somehow, by the pride of their work, the original business owners and product designers are still able to offer services to their customers. And to all those mentioned here in a positive light, I wish to thank you for your excellent product after sales support and please, please, keep up the good work.
By comparison, two of the so called high end audio MNC companies that seeming fail to respond in the area of pre sale and after sales services should look in to this area for enchancing overall customer ownership satistaction, there by creating brand loyalty to build upon. With all their financial muscle and resources available, it would not be too dificult a task perhaps?
However, based on the above two unrelated incidents and the scheme of things as they stand today, I just can't help but to think if they are indeed "TOO BIG TO CARE?"

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