Written by Eamon Hickey
Pardon this brief indulgence in camera-business navel-gazing, but an unusual event caught my eye last week. What happened is this: Canon USA issued a press release highlighting the results of a U.S. customer satisfaction survey, which compared Canon USA service with Nikon USA service. Canon was the clear winner, according to Canon, and the press release goes on to claim several other advantages for Canon USA’s service and support network (all of which may well be true).
Several blogger/commentators picked this up, including Thom Hogan, who pointed out that it’s very rare for a camera company to make direct comparisons with a competitor by name like this. He’s right—it’s unusual and it will ruffle some Nikon feathers.
The thing that caught my eye, however, was one almost throwaway sentence in Canon’s press release: “…Canon has also launched a new digital advertising campaign that highlights the Company’s knowledgeable tech support staff and efficient service times….”
Why did that jump out at me? I’ve been either working in, or writing about, the camera business in the U.S. for 30 years, and I don’t remember ever seeing a camera company actively promote service and support as part of its sales pitch to regular customers. (Canon and Nikon do promote, very narrowly, their support programs for working pros, CPS and NPS.) Ever since I went to work in a camera store in 1987, service and support from camera manufacturers has been pretty much abysmal across the board in the U.S. Uniformly embarrassing. The secret shame of the industry. But nobody has hitherto made much effort to improve it because the companies believe that regular customers don’t give service much weight in their purchasing decisions. Indeed, the companies believe it has almost no impact on sales. (And, by the way, camera company executives have reams of market research data at their disposal—how customers make their buying decisions is obviously a very well-studied phenomenon in every business.)
Now comes Canon USA touting its investment in superior service and support—i.e. “making customer service an integral part of our business model,” as the press release says. Providing said service ain’t cheap or easy, and advertising it won’t be cheap either, but Canon evidently intends to see if it can get a return on its investment, contrary to decades of accepted wisdom in the business. If Canon USA can, in fact, sell more cameras by promoting better service, it may drag Nikon, Sony, Olympus, Fujifilm et al. along with it. Call it a good service arms race. Well, let’s not get crazy — it’ll probably be a not-quite-as-dismal service arms race, if it happens. But, hey, if things aren’t quite as dismal, then they’re looking up.
So if we're lucky, maybe we'll see some improvements in camera company service in the near future.
Eamon Hickey is a Contributing Editor of TOP and...well, he already told you, he's been either working in or writing about the camera industry for more than 30 years. He has written for Imaging-Resource, CNET, Rob Galbraith's blog (officially Rob Galbraith Digital Photography Insights), and a handful of magazines including DigitalFoto, Computer Shopper, Macaddict, and Laptop.
©2016 by Eamon Hickey, all rights reserved
Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Tom: "I primarily use Nikon so I'm an NPS member. Aside from a nice magazine and a diary sometime in March I see very little value by the way of support. I don't trust them to service my equipment.
"Only one camera manufacturer has ever made me feel that they value me as a customer and additionally that they are committed to photography as opposed to camera sales, and that's Leica. A company I have bought exactly three items from in 20 years. I recall once approaching a Leica rep at a trade show and asking when Leica might produce a digital camera. Instead of brushing me off with some nonsense I could have read someplace on the Internet, he took the care to explain exactly what unusual technical difficulties Leica was facing at that time with their short flange distance and said that although they were a small company, they were working on the problem. I went away with renewed confidence."
Maggie Osterberg: "And who has the worst customer service? Leica USA. For instance, the M9 series of cameras has a sensor that will corrode, but that Leica will replace free of charge. Sounds pretty good, right? Nope. You send your camera (you pay shipping there and back, by the way) to Leica USA in New Jersey, where it will sit for anywhere between six and twelve months. Then the sensor gets replaced along with the vulcanite, which has to be removed to do the repair. I've read that that can take up to a couple of weeks. Then, finally, the camera is shipped back to you. Leica is like owning an old Mercedes-Benz—yes, it can run forever, but repairs and parts are insanely expensive and take forever to obtain.
"On the other hand, my husband's Nikon DSLR, which also had a warranty Sensor replacement, went off to Nikon and came back a little over a week later, all at zero cost to him."
Ed. note: I'm sure you noticed how closely those two comments mirrored each other, but with conclusions reversed. Here are two more which came in one right after the other:
Anthony Shaughnessy (partial comment): "When I was little the television repair man and the washing machine repair man were regular visitors to our house. Nowadays things don't usually break and when they do they're usually impractical to fix and trying to get good sales service for most devices is difficult. So I've grown to expect no after-sales service and simply hope that nothing goes wrong and generally it doesn't. Hence, after sales service isn't part of how I choose products."
Stephen Scharf (partial comment): "I don't know about other customers, but service and support is something that is foremost in my mind when making purchasing decisions. When you invest in expensive purchases, like cars, high-end audio, or camera/photography systems, you are entering into a relationship with the vendor. You're going to be living with the product in fair seas and foul, so while most customers don't think about this at all, timely and robust service and support capability are 'critical-to-quality' requirements for me when making purchasing decisions."
kosch: "Lately, I feel like I have moved back to a time before I was born, when a purchase was not replaceable; all because of the ability to reference YouTube. For the past five years, when any appliance, gizmo, or electronic thing has broken I diagnose it as far as I can, Google it and then watch a YouTube video (sometimes, many of them) on how to fix it.
"I have fixed my washing machine, refrigerator, two cars, a Sekonic light meter, dishwasher, installed wood flooring, and even poured a huge stamped concrete patio, all because experts online have showed me what to do. I don't rely on nuanced warrantees, I do not call repair places anymore, I do not have to consider the service available after I buy the product. I research major purchases based on the amount of repair videos on the Internet.
"I have an Olympus 50mm ƒ/2 Ziuko that will not autofocus anymore. I have a couple of days off coming up. I have been watching videos online already, ordered $17.50 worth of electronic parts, and will have a fully repaired lens by next Tuesday (fingers crossed).
I am already awaiting the videos that will teach me how to build the things that I need...."
Ned Bunnell: "Smart move by Canon. In a declining market, they want to make sure they still capture the lion's share of sales. They've now made service a conversation, and for the first time, a factor in our purchase decision process. Knowing how Canon runs a conservative and financially well-thought-out business, I don't think this is a short-term campaign. It'll be interesting to see how Nikon responds."