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Yellow Layer Failure, Vinegar Syndrome and Miscellaneous Musings by Robert A. Harris

Robert A. Harris - Main Page

Hello, Manila! (or, The Firmware Update Customer Service Blues)

There's nothing quite as frustrating as attempting to perform some routine home theater maintenance function, and after calling tech support, to find oneself in some far off land...

speaking to someone who is...

less informed than they might be for the job.

After thoroughly enjoying the Blu-ray Disc set of Lost: Season 3, I attempted to view the final disc, only to have it lock up on me after multiple attempts.

"Firmware Upgrade" came to mind.

That generally solves technical or synchronicity problems between software publishers and hardware manufacturers. Normally, I've found that the problems arise on the software authoring side, with details simply slipping through the cracks, and with the resultant problem then turned over to the hardware folks with the simple request of "fix it for us." After all, it would be too easy to try to play sample discs on various pieces of equipment before you press 50,000 units.

While the battle between HD and BD was raging heavily, there was little that the hardware folks could do but bow, smile and give a hearty "Great, we'd love to fix your screw-ups!"

With the war seemingly starting to wind down, the hardware folks may be a little less pleased to continue fixing software errors, and we may begin to see fewer firmware upgrades and more disc recalls.

In search of a firmware upgrade, I visited the Panasonic web site, and found one available.

I also found that their website isn't Mac friendly - and I'm a Mac guy. This has been a far lesser problem than in years past, and I was frankly surprised not to see downloads for both Mac as well as the other.

Toshiba and Pioneer have always been very good about sending out discs for those in need, and making the rash assumption that Panasonic would be similarly consumer friendly, I made my call.

Beginning with an automated operator, who couldn't quite understand what I wanted, I finally did make my way to tech support.

Now let me get this out there as clearly as possible.

The Philippines has a great history and is filled with beautiful and intelligent people, inclusive of some personal friends.

But it seems that every time that I end up being transferred to some foreign land, be it Manila or elsewhere, things just don't go well.

And I do not speak in some strange backwoods dialect.

Somehow I always seem to get those of lesser abilities. Or possibly it's just that they're being paid seven cents an hour, and are the only people willing to work for such low wages.

Anyway, that's how I met "Bill".

I explained as concisely and simply as possible what my problem was and what I needed - and that I was running a Mac.

A fact that will become increasingly important as minutes grind by.

I requested an upgrade disc, and was asked the usual questions.

"Where did you get the player?"

"What is the serial number?"

"When did you make the purchase?"

This last query seemed to be important to him as I was advised that I could be out of warranty.

I explained that firmware upgrades were generally not considered to be warranty issues.

Once we got past the question and answers, I was told that I would have to download the file, and was directed to a Japanese Panasonic site that would solve my problems.

I reminded my new friend, Bill, that I had already been to the domestic U.S. site, and that it was duly noted that the site was NOT MAC FRIENDLY.

It was excruciating.

Letter by letter. "H... T... T... P..."

"Okay," he replied. "I walk you through it."

Now you've got to understand. I know what sprocket holes look like, but I am not a computer whiz. I gave Bill the benefit of the doubt.

The link didn't work.

We tried another. I'm told to download the file, after which "we'll uncompress it by double-clicking."

Now, not being a whiz doesn't mean that I'm totally computer illiterate. I see the file labeled as an .exe, and I know what that is.

Macs don't like .exe files.

So just to be sure that we're all on the same page, I remind him that I'm on a Mac.

Bill, my bud, tells me to download it anyway.

Fifteen minutes into the download, the file shows up on my desktop.

As an .exe file.

Was I expecting something else?

Bill tells me that we're good.

"Just double click on it...," he advises.

"Okay, I'll try it, but it's an .exe file, and I'm on a Mac," I remind him.

"Just double click and it will open."

So I double click.

The next thing that I know Microsoft Excel is opening, and trying to figure out what to do with a Panasonic .exe file.

It's not good.

Bill assumes that all is well.

"Did it open?"

"No. It won't open. Excel opened."

"Did you double click it?"

"Yes, but I'm on a Mac."

"Oh, you can't do this on a Mac."

With steam coming out of my ears, I explained that I knew that it wouldn't work on a Mac, and we had been discussing that major point for the last 45 minutes. That's why I need a disc.

"Well, why don't you go get one of the other computers? Have someone do it for you. Go to a store."

"I'm not going to bother friends. I'm not going to a store. I just want an upgrade disc."

"Well, we might be able to get you one, but you're out of warranty. You have to do it on line."

"How do I do it on line?"

"You go to the website."

"But I'm on a Mac."

"Then it won't work."

Fearing that I'm getting further and further toward either getting into an old Abbott and Costello routine or gaining a penchant for violence, I request a supervisor.

Twenty minutes on hold, I finally give up.

I call back, and after going through an ever-perky "Hi, I'm Julie!" or whomever, I find myself back in Manila, immediately requesting a supervisor.

Then the connection goes dead.

"If you'd like to make a call..."

Ever gluttonous for punishment, and not having had anything sharp jammed under my fingernails in days, I try again.

This time I get a lovely woman who sounds American.

This is a great sign.

I explain the entire saga.

She commiserates, but she's on the switchboard, and can only connect me. I beg her not to send me back to Manila.

She has no control over where the call goes.

But she's terrific. She stays with the call until I find Steve, who is somewhere around the Chesapeake in Virginia.

I Love Virginia!

After discussing the Mac situation - "Yes, we're working on that."

And Manila... "I'm so sorry" Steve offers to send me an upgrade disc.

Don't need receipts.

Don't need serial numbers.

I'm in the database.

It's not a warranty issue.

Steve is with it! He understands the problems before I even finish discussing them, and it's done.

So here's the issue.

I seldom have a problem with tech support here in the U.S.

But on almost a constant basis, things don't get accomplished once you're in the Philippines or whatever other nation.

I even think I've been to Iceland and Ireland, and those both were fine.

Short of finding really good people in foreign territories, this just doesn't seem to be working. It's certainly not like the old days when foreign labor was easily accessed, but I've got to believe that getting tech support from a seven year old girl chained to a phone, and fed every other day won't work either.

The American economy isn't in the best of shape at the moment.

People are losing their homes.

Children are going without proper nutrition.

Can't companies find people here, or if necessary abroad, and train them to do simple repetitive tech support functions?

"Please check to see if your computer is plugged into the wall."

The automated systems seem to work reasonably well.

Call Apple, and you're routed through to someone who can help you better than 95% of the time. When they can't, they find someone who can.

So what is Apple doing that others can't quite seem to figure out?

Is it that they just care more about customer service and the support experience?

The overriding factor seems to come down to respect of one's customers. Should someone who purchases a high-end piece of equipment be forced to spend over an hour on the phone dealing with people who don't know what they're doing?

How many times do we really need to hear "Would you mind if I put you on hold for three to five minutes?"

There, is of course, an alternative -- the luck of the draw. Like those who continually seem to receive defective discs, I may just get the tiny percentage of people who don't know how to perform their jobs.

But somehow I doubt it.

Had I reached Steve in Virginia rather than Bill in Manila, I would have had an easy and pleasurable experience, and I'd still be thinking highly of Panasonic.

So, to Steve...

Thank you.


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