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Listservs as Technical Support

Back in the days of Pagemaker 3.0 when I first started using the program, Aldus supplied online technical support for PageMaker over an 800 line for about $100 a year.

It was super.

Whenever I was having a problem getting Pagemaker to do what I wanted, I could call and someone would walk me through the problem. Usually, in the process of working with me, the technical support person told me about features I didn't know about. The recompose feature, for example. On a mac, hold down the shift and option keys and select hyphenation from the type pull-down menu. If there are no problems with the file, you will hear one beep. If there are problems that recomposing will take care of, you will hear two beeps. If there are problems which can't be fixed, you will hear three beeps.

Alas, times are a-changing. Adobe, which now owns Pagemaker, has continued a form of this technical support, but more and more companies are de-emphasizing the personal customer support and relying heavily on automated FAX systems, online help within the programs themselves, and e-mail. Newsgroups and lists have become one of the best ways to get help with problems.

See Document Design's Resources for newsgroups and lists that pertain to the publishing and graphics arts industry. My experience with lists has been good, with list members responding quickly to calls for help. There is usually someone on a list who has faced the same problem as you, and their responses usually resolve the problem. However, this kind of help is not the same as being walked through a specific task.

It seems to me that companies trying to back out of the personalized technical support function are seriously hampering their efforts to improve their products and maintain customer loyalty. In my formerly frequent conversations with Pagemaker's technical support group, I turned up several program bugs. I also got to let customer support know what kinds of features I would like to see in the next program update, and these were noted and reported.

Companies have perhaps lost sight of the importance of the kind of customer loyalty good quality personal customer support can bring to a product -- a customer loyalty which would be difficult to put a price on. As newsgroups and lists take over the customer support function, loyalties transfer to the newsgroups and list members.

Somewhere down the road, companies may find this shift a potentially expensive loss.

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