Back in August, I purchased a second generation Victor Reader Stream from HumanWare at a promotional price. While I thought that the included accessories were a bit stingy (a case with no belt clip and no SD card), I thought the device itself was well designed and well executed. The user interface was a worthy follow-up to the first generation. It has easy-to-use controls that are intuitive, and really, I liked mine so much that I often used it instead of other players I have around here, including ones on the iPhone.
Back in February, my Stream developed a problem. Some important controls (play, fast forward, rewind, and the sleep timer button) started acting strangely. They would either intermittently not work, or they would intermittently act as though multiple buttons were pressed at the same time, or one button was pressed multiple times. Both hoping the problem was a fluke and would clear itself up, and also because I had more important things to deal with at the time, I put the player aside. When, recently, I pulled it out again and the problem persisted, and my other irons in the fire were well into resolution, I called HumanWare tech support and sent my Stream off for repair. They received it Tuesday, and I received the following Email from them today:
Recently you sent us equipment for repair.
After evaluation, the technician found out that the damages caused to your unit cannot be repaired.
We will have to replace the unit.
He also found out that these damages are not manufacturing issue and so cannot be covered under warranty. We took some pictures. If you need copy of them, please let us know.
Please find attached a copy of the quotation for a replacement unit. As soon as we receive your purchase order or payment we will proceed the order and the unit will be sent to you.
Please take note that after receiving this quote, if you do not wish to proceed with the replacement unit, HumanWare will return the unrepaired unit and freight will be at your expense or a diagnostic fee, if applicable. In case you do not require the unrepaired unit back, HumanWare will dispose of it for you. Failure to reply will lead to unit disposal after a period of 3 months following quote issuance.
If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact the customer service department.
My first reaction wasn’t disappointment over my problem not being covered under warranty. (I did read the attached PDF and saw that I can get my out of warranty problem replaced for half the cost of a new unit.) No, my first reaction was to marvel at the sheer rudeness of the email. The problem wasn’t a manufacturing problem, it’s your fault, and we’ve got pictures to prove it. Rude and confrontational all on its own, but remember, this is a company whose primary audience includes people who are blind. This specific product’s main users, and buyers, are people who are blind. Those would be people who cannot see pictures, no matter how damning the evidence.
Of course, if this were merely an oversight, it might be excused, but it’s a pattern. HumanWare has put out several marketing campaigns with product teasers that were purely visual in nature. Hey, look at the picture of our new product! We won’t tell you what it is, nor will we describe the picture, but you’ll love it! Oh, by the way, it’s a braille display, we find out later. Really?
I should stress here that I don’t find fault with their conclusion necessarily. After all, I could have accidentally done something or other to break the thing. That sort of thing happens sometimes, in spite of our best intentions. My problem is with their delivery, which struck me as abysmally bad customer service. I therefore replied with the following:
Thank you for your Email regarding my damaged Victor Reader Stream. While I appreciate your telling m that the repair is not covered under warranty, not being a manufacturing defect, I can’t say I appreciate your delivery. You have pictures and are happy to send them? Great! This would do me, as a blind person, and by the way one of your primary markets, any good, exactly how? Would it really have taken you that much more time to have explained, in plain language, what the problem was? “Unfortunately, it looks as though your Stream got splashed with water.” Or “Unfortunately, we found foreign matter in your play button.” Or perhaps, “Unfortunately, a peanut butter sandwich will not fit in the SD card slot.”? Really, an Email that says, “Sorry, it’s your problem, and we have pictures to prove it” is rude and confrontational, besides being terribly unhelpful to a blind person, who is, I may stress, part of one of your primary markets. I would suggest that this is an unacceptably poor level of customer service.
Allow me, if I may, to craft an Email that you may use in future dealings of this nature. I’ll even give this to you at absolutely no cost. Feel free to use it in full or in part. Do not, however, use the Email you sent me in future dealings of this nature.
Dear [Insert customer name here]:
We are writing to follow up with you regarding your recent repair request, with RMA #XXXXXX.
After inspecting your [product name], our technicians have determined that the damage cannot be repaired, and a full replacement of the unit will be required. We found the following problems:
* There was foreign matter dropped into the controls.
* Liquid damage from [water, coffee, etc.] is apparent.
* A peanut butter sandwich will not fit in the SD card slot. Please do not attempt to put one there.
* A crack in the control board indicates a drop from a significant height.
[And so forth]
If you wish to inspect the damage as outlined above, we can provide photos upon request.
Unfortunately, this damage is not covered under the limited manufacturer’s warranty, as it is not a manufacturing defect. Please see the full statement of warranty here:
[insert URL to limited warranty]
Since your [product] was returned to us within the warranty period, we are prepared to offer you a non-warranty replacement at half retail price plus applicable shipping and tax. Please reference [invoice number] when you phone if you would like to take advantage of this offer. For your records, we have attached an accessible PDF with full offer details. This offer is good for 90 days from today.
Alternatively, if you wish to have your damaged [product] back, we require that you pay return shipping charges. If you do not wish to take advantage of our replacement offer and do not want your damaged [product] back, we will be happy to responsibly dispose of it for you at no additional charge.
If you have any questions or concerns, please phone or Email. We are available weekdays from [range of hours], Eastern time.
We appreciate your business. Thank you for being a HumanWare customer.
HumanWare Customer Service
Let me stress here that I have no doubt that you really do have pictures of the damage. I also have no problem believing that the problem is not covered under the warranty terms, not because I know what caused the problem (I don’t), but because, let’s face it, stuff happens, sometimes stuff even happens of which one is unaware. It would, therefore, be really helpful if you could tell me, in plain language, the nature of the problem, so that I know what caused the keys to do the strange things they were doing. I would really appreciate this information.
I really love the Stream. It’s a fantastic product. It does what it does very, very well. It is well designed and easy to use, and I’ve found that I have started using it in favor of other book players I have around here, including ones on the iPhone. So, yes, it really is a great product for the tech savvy blind guy, too. I would even like to get a second one for my wife, who has just lost all of her remaining vision, has very little feeling in her fingers, and is not at all technology friendly. She has a first gen Stream and likes it a lot, and I know she’d like the new one even more. Unfortunately, due to the nature of your communication, I honestly don’t know what I want to do about either a replacement or a second unit. How can I, in good conscience, support a company with so little regard for its target audience? After all, your Email is only one of several such instances; I reference the several years of product teasers (at least one of which was for a braille display) that were purely visual in nature. Can I, indeed *should* I, support a company who, essentially, thumbs its collective nose at the population it purports to serve?
Whether HumanWare was right or wrong in their determination isn’t really the point. Well, I guess it kind of is, because I have no idea either way, having been given no information about it. But even if they were correct in their assessment, their handling of how I was updated on my repair status left pretty much everything to be desired. In short, their Email was a great example of how not to do customer relations. If you do customer relations this way, stop it. Please. Just don’t.