Is Service Dead?
Joe Martinson - President
Article summary: Everyone makes mistakes. The difference between good and bad service is what they do about it.
In the last couple of issues, I have mourned the near death experience suffered by many areas of pro audio including quality audio, mentorship, productivity and easy to use equipment. My wife is worried that this preoccupation with death is a sign that I'm getting old. At the risk of confirming her suspicions, I would like to comment on the apparent death of service.
The passing of service in the pro audio industry is nothing new. It has been on life support for a very long time. When we moved into our present location 25 years ago, I purchased a new console for our main studio. Until that point, the dealer I bought it from had given me very good service.
When I hooked up the console, every output oscillated at around 3 MHz. I called the dealer to complain. Both the dealer and the manufacturer told me that it must be my wiring. So I pulled the module out of the console and powered it on bench supplies. Even outside the console the module still oscillated! Neither the dealer nor the manufacturer was concerned enough to solve my problem. Trust me, it was not good service.
Around that time I became acquainted with Deane Jensen, the founder of Jensen Transformers. Deane had written several papers about amplifier stability and spent many hours at no charge helping me understand how to fix my oscillating console. Talk about great service. After adding decoupling caps, isolation resistors and ferrite beads the console was stable as a rock. I replaced the console's input transformers with Jensen Transformers and the console sounded great.
Look at the difference between the two companies. I paid $30,000 for a console that didn't work right and no one would help me except to say that it was my fault. Then I got free advice from a company on how to fix the console and ended up buying $1,800 worth of transformers. Now that was great service. It was also a life-changing event that turned me from a tinkerer to a designer. I spent a lot of time after that rebuilding equipment to make it sound and work better. That led to designing equipment for sale.
Well, 25 years later, things are even worse. Even though that dealer couldn't solve my technical issues, he was able to impart a lot of very useful application information to me. But now everyone just buys on price. Wal-Mart, Circuit City and The Good Guys have taught us to serve ourselves. But this has its downside.
With the death of mentor-apprentice relationships the only sources of information left are trade publications, manufacturers and their dealers. Cut rate pricing has made most pro audio dealers little better than guitar stores that just move boxes. You can't spend much time with your customer at 10% over cost. Unlike toilet paper, audio products are a lot more complicated to purchase; you can't afford to change brands just because the product is a little rough.
The best service is a two-way street. We at Martinsound don't know more because we are smarter, we know more because we are smart enough to spend time listening to our customers. And that allows us to be a conduit from those who know to those who need to know. That knowledge is built into the products we make. Our job is to help customers discover what they need rather than just supplying what they request. Even the best product designer will constantly learn from the users.
Another aspect of service is standing behind what you build or sell. No matter how much effort is put into the design, assembly and testing of a product, occasionally every manufacturer screws up. But companies who really care about their customers find each flaw painful. We recently had a console returned to us that was damaged in shipment. We dropped everything and spent a couple of weeks carefully re-testing every section, making sure that everything damaged in shipment was repaired and that it was working flawlessly for the customer.
The good news was that the console had weathered the abuse with relatively little damage. The bad news was that the insert inputs and outputs were reversed, and our testing and re-testing didn't catch it. Ouch. Good service doesn't mean that mistakes aren't made, but that a review process keeps them from happening a second time.
At Martinsound, we want to do more that just ship product: we want to help you stand out as true audio professionals in a semi-pro world. We try to do that with products that sound great and are easy to use. And we want to give you the information you need to get the most out of your investment. If you have any thoughts about service or how we can serve you better please contact us. Together we need to breathe life back into pro audio to better serve your customer!
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