The First Ticket.
I can’t tell you how excited I was to purchase the aircraft in this story. I’ve never purchased this type of aircraft before, preferring the Inspire for high quality and the and Mavic Series for portability. I had heard such great things about this drone, that I decided to throw down my hard earned money and pick one up to review and use for work.
It took longer than I would have liked, but 10 days after purchasing it I had a new drone ready to be unboxed.
My problems started right after the camera stopped rolling and I attempted to activate the drone. It wouldn’t. It took me 5 attempts and almost an hour before the aircraft finally activated and registered to my account.
Thinking that the worst was behind me, I dutifully registered the aircraft with the FAA and went outside for it’s maiden voyage.
While it started up fine and took off as expected, I was quickly (within about 2 minutes of taking off and no more than 10 ft. off the ground) met with frustration as the aircraft disconnected from the controller and refused to land or accept any inputs. After some time, I was able to regain control of the aircraft long enough to land it and begin troubleshooting (to no avail.)
After extensive troubleshooting, I knew that I would have to reach out to ‘Manufacturer 1’ Support as I explained that issue and what troubleshooting steps I had already performed and he agreed with my assumption that the aircraft needed to be returned.
I assumed that this chat would result in an RMA being issued and a replacement aircraft being sent out immediately…I was so wrong. The chat was followed by several emails requesting information (that I had already provided) such as symptoms of the issue, previous troubleshooting steps, firmware versions, and a video of the problem in action. Instead of a simple exchange, the conversation has grown to 3 chat sessions, 14 emails, 2 phone calls, 1 full page narrative of the issue, 3 promises of resolution, 2 UPS shipping labels, and 0 working aircraft. I’ve been told to return the aircraft, not return the aircraft, and finally to return the aircraft again. However, the shipping label I was sent was only for the 5 lb. controller and the UPS store said that it might get kicked back for being over weight. So after weeks of back and forth, I finally sent it back; not certain it will make it to its destination.
Had I bought this drone at Best Buy or another retailer, I could have walked in with the defective uint and walked out with a replacement. However, by purchasing directly from ‘Manufacturer 1’, I placed myself at the mercy of their notoriously inconsistent support/repair process. Instead of just apologizing for the inconvenience and offering me a replacement, I was initially told that my drone would need to be sent in, evaluated, repaired, and returned; a process that could easily take a month or more. Just this week however, I was told that once the unit has been evaluated, they would replace it with a new one. [As I’m writing this, I got an email from the manufacturer confirming that they received my drone (although their inventory list doesn’t include the AC cable that I sent with it) and that a replacement should be sent out within 5-7 days. So, assuming they hit the 5 day mark + ground shipping = drone in hand by Friday, June 22nd.] UPDATE: It seems as though ‘Manufacturer 1’ must have heard that I was writing this article because they have really stepped up their game. Within 24 hours of the last email, I have another from the support rep with a UPS Tracking number indicating that my replacement should be here by Monday. So once they finally approved me for a replacement, the process went fairly smoothly. While this latest update does make me happy, it doesn’t change the fact that I will have been without a working aircraft for almost a month (28 days) by the time the replacement arrives.
I want to be clear, I do not blame any specific support agent. In fact, every agent that I have spoken to has been polite and as helpful as they could be (if not a bit hard to understand sometimes.) Rather, it is the process itself that has failed in this case and a cursory search suggests it’s not an isolated incident. On the other side though, I have heard positive stories of quick repairs and good communication, so perhaps my case was just more complicated than others. In fact, the later part of my support journey lines up well with that anecdotal evidence. If it’s a simple fix that doesn’t require any outside the box thinking or approval, Manufacturer 1 does pretty well (especially if you are in California thanks to reduced transit times.)
The Second Ticket.
While I was waiting for the issues with the first aircraft to be resolved, I chanced upon another aircraft for sale on Woot! At only $589 for the aircraft, controller, two batteries, car charger, and additional remote, it seemed like a steal, so of course I picked one up. It’s important to note that I bought this unit (refurbished) from Woot! and not directly from ‘Manufacturer 2’.
Shipping was fast and I excitedly pulled the aircraft out to give it a once over before updating the firmware. Upon careful review of the aircraft, I noticed that while everything else from the package was in the box, the aircraft itself was missing a critical piece of hardware. (This really wasn’t my week.) No problem, I’ve shopped at Woot! before and they have always been helpful in the past, so I reached out to them with my problem.
Unfortunately, as happens with deal-a-day type sites, they were sold out and could not send me the correct aircraft 🙁
Thinking that the oversight might have been a product of the refurbishing process, I reached out to ‘Manufacturer 2’ support to see if there was anything that they could do. Using their web tool, I scheduled a call later that day and went back to work.
Right on schedule, I got a call from Mitch M. with ‘Manufacturer 2’ Support. I explained to him the issue and he promised to do what he could to help out.
At this point I was skeptical…”I’ve been burnt before, Mitch…”
He asked a couple of questions and we were able to determine that Woot! had accidentally sent me the wrong SKU (not the model I purchased…) and he suggested that if I gave him a couple of minutes, he would reach out to them and see if they could replace the unit. I told him of my correspondence with Woot! and their inability to replace it to which he asked for just a moment to ‘check on something.’ I told him that I understood this was a Woot! issue not a ‘Manufacturer 2’ issue and that I was grateful for any assistance he could provide.
When he returned just a minute or so later, he informed me that he had received approval to send me the missing hardware component free of charge (those modules usually run ~$400 or so) and that I should receive it in a couple days. He also sent me a link of the (simple) installation instructions and told me to call him if I needed help walking through the process.
Within a 12 hrs, I received a shipping notification and within a week I had a fully functional aircraft with all parts installed.
So, huge shout out to Mitch M. from the ‘Manufacturer 2’ Support team
It is purely coincidence that I should have a two concurrent support issue with separate drone manufacturers, but it certainly made for an interesting comparison. The stark difference between the two experiences serves as a reminder of how important it is to properly support our customers.
While those interested can probably determine which companies I’m referring to, I’ve attempted to not specifically name any names (other than Mitch…sorry Mitch.) The point is not that one company is bad, or the other is good, it’s that “consistency is key.” It’s impossible to be perfect all the time, but you can try to be perfect all the time. You never want to miss that one opportunity to over deliver to your customers, you may never get it again.
I know first hand how easy it is to fail at supporting our customers.
As many small business owners will attest, we often have to wear many hats. One of my hats is that of sales and customer support. To that end, Drone Academy uses a chat tool on our website that allows us to communicate with existing and potential students right from the page. I frequently stand watch, ready to assist any and all who visit our site seeking drone knowledge. Well, the other night, I fell asleep on duty…not literally..I was awake but I stepped away from my computer for a bit and left the chat system active and unattended. If I were a lucky man, I would have come back to my computer and there would have been no missed chats, I am not a lucky man.
That night, I missed someone important.
I don’t know who they were, but they came to me (all the way from Atlanta) for help and guidance and I dropped the ball. They asked a simple question and after I failed to respond, they left (most likely never to return again…) I didn’t sleep that night, wondering about my mystery visitor (I called them ‘Questioning in Atlanta‘ in my head) and wishing that I could reach out to them to provide the information that they were seeking. Sadly, that moment is passed and I’ve lost that potential student forever. That one moment was the only opportunity I may ever have to reach them, and I blew it…and I feel wretched. They trusted me enough to ask for my help and I betrayed that trust by failing to be there when they needed me.
That is why support matters so much and why it is sad that it is too often neglected by companies who don’t face major competition in their market. Our customers/students want to trust us but we have to continuously earn that trust and must never betray it.
Lest anyone accuse me of simply bashing ‘Manufacturer 1’; I want to go on record as a staunch advocate of their products. I own several of their products and have owned others in the past. They are, far and away, the market leader in consumer and light commercial unmanned systems and for good reason. Their aircraft are well engineered, their software is generally easy to use, their optics are second to none, and the ecosystem of third party applications and modifications makes them an obvious choice for anyone looking to buy their first (or 50th) drone. However, their after sales support needs some work and it is my opinion that they should start working immediately if they wish to continue to grow. Right now, they can’t be touched, but that might not always be the case and there may be a day where after sales support is a needed differentiator. Keeping customers happy with their drones in the air should be priority one not just for the large enterprise customers, but for all customers.
‘Manufacturer 2’, on the other hand, does not enjoy the brand recognition or ubiquity that ‘Manufacturer 1’ does. In fact, recent reports show them hovering at about 7% market share. In a market cornered by ‘Manufacturer 1’, ‘Manufacturer 2’ must pull out all the stops to keep customers happy and expand their user base. In my personal experience, they are attempting to do just that.
Now, I can only speak from my own personal experiences and they leave a great deal to be desired. It goes without saying, YMMV when dealing with support. I’ve heard from several people who have providing glowing reviews of DJI’s short TAT (turn around times) and ease of service. Alternatively, I have also heard horror stories of Yuneec’s support department failing to acknowledge a well known issue with their batteries. So, Questioning in Atlanta, if you’re reading this…I’m sorry. Ask me again some time and I promise I”ll be there.
Have you had a ‘great’ or ‘terrible’ support experience with a company? Let us hear about it in the comments below!
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