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Users mixed over harsh customer support

Tech players unlikely to employ such moves, but two businesswomen tell ZDNet Asia their view on vendors withholding support from users who don't read manuals.

Customers these days are more demanding when it comes to vendor support services, but should tech users also be responsible for understanding the product they buy? Not all are agreeable to having support withheld for not reading manuals.

Last month, Taiwan hardware maker Micro-Star International (MSI) raised some eyebrows when it told over 97,000 users registered on its support forum that it had installed an RTFM chip in its motherboards that could track whether or not an owner had read the manual. Those who didn't would be banned from customer support.

RTFM typically stands for Read the F***ing Manual.

Although MSI had later dismissed the idea as an April Fools' joke, some users were miffed as the message was sent out a good five days before April 1. The company did not respond to repeated requests for comments.

Suzanna Low, founder of online art gallery and magazine Artitute.com and blogger for ZDNet Asia's sister site CNET Asia, said she "won't tolerate customers being banned" from receiving support.

Should she be on the receiving end of such treatment, she may even cease to be a customer," she said in an e-mail. This is, however, less likely if she is reliant on a certain product or brand.

Companies, she added, should not stop users from seeking customer support even though the answer can be found in the user manuals. "Sometimes, we need a human touch or another form of explanation from the customer service officers to guide us through…in order to understand and solve our problems," she pointed out.

On the other hand, Lim Hui-Juan, founder and COO of Singapore-based customized travel provider Quotient TravelPlanner, feels it is "reasonable" to stop customers [who] have not paid any attention to their manuals.

"So many people clog up [support] hotlines with inane questions…people who really need help cannot get the help they need," she pointed out in an e-mail.

Companies that choose to take this route, however, can be more discreet. For example, when users call a customer support number, there could be a message to remind them to first look up their manuals for the solution.

Both Low and Lim said they would seek help from vendors only after exhausting options as such self-troubleshooting or consulting the manual. Lim admitted that calling the service unit is the first thing that comes to mind whenever there are PC bootup problems which cannot be resolved by self-troubleshooting.

IT vendors that ZDNet Asia contacted said customer support has become more complex, but it is still an important gauge for customers and potential buyers.

Over at Canon, the company's policy is to attend to customer queries no matter how insignificant the issue may be, said Lee Eu Jin, Canon Singapore's senior corporate communications manager.

"Our customer service survey has revealed that customer interaction which is polite, attentive and responsive impacts customer confidence to a large extent," he explained in an e-mail. "A manual cannot replace the human touch in customer queries and service with a smile is what we believe in, no matter how trivial or serious the matter is."

A Singapore-based Dell spokesperson said: "Dell values each and every customer contact. Customer experience, whether it be calling into a tech support center or visiting online is a key measure of success."

At the end of the day, customers still have a strong voice in a company's support policies. Earlier this year, German vendor SAP ditched plans to subject customers to a more expensive level of support, offering a tiered program instead. SAP said the move was made following many discussions with customer and user groups.