Sunday, March 9, 2014

Intentional Fail, FTW.

So is it a viable strategy to fail on purpose?

Maybe you wanted to win some money from "America's Funniest Home Videos" and you set up a scenario to hilariously injure yourself while a stationary camera recorded it?

Or, perhaps you're a ninth-rate celebutante that was sort of famous for doing some thing on that commercial that was banned in six counties in California but not so much these days so you 'accidentally' let a sex tape leak out? (Wow. 'Leak out' sounds horrible in that context.)

So maybe that wasn't what I was talking about. How about this one? How long can you be a name-brand company selling products in the US and have horrible customer support? I'm not even talking about the recent list of much-maligned retailers. In a way it's worse, since I'm talking about a brand that's been sold in Walmart, Kmart/Sears, Target, Office Depot, Staples, some drugstores, all over Amazon, and even legitimate camera stores.

We're talking about the low-price digital camera brand Vivitar. The actual people that founded Vivitar are long-gone, and the company's past success revolved around a rather popular and functional flash unit, the Vivtar 283, that worked better than most of the more expensive units on the market at the time. 

As far as I can discern, they haven't had a consistently working email address for customer support in the last seven years. (Scroll down to the 2/8/2007 post where they describe an email to getting kicked back with a 'permanent error'.) Since Sakar has only owned Vivitar since sometime in 2008, I suppose we can give them a pass on 2007. But, digging around on the internet, you can find people perpetually having issues with them, and a consistent theme that I noticed was that people were not always able to email customer support. It's not like they've changed any of their literature - it all still says that support issues are to be mailed to Having tried it myself, I got emails kicked back in three days or so with a similar type of permanent error. Online mail check programs seem to yield either similar or inconclusive results. (I had never seen 'SMTPConnectionShutdown' errors before.) Having had occasion to call them several weeks ago, they offered up a different email address,, which failed in the same way that the first one did. ("Mail server unreachable for too long.") Imagine all of the productive time that they gain by not having to read and answer email! It could be saving the company tons of money!

Maybe I've glossed over the finer points of this, so perhaps I recall my version of the story here. My wife was given her choice of gifts at work for a recent employment anniversary. It's done through a company that does this sort of employee rewards program for several companies, not just the one my wife works for. As we were thinking that it would be nice to have a newer camera, she ignored the other things in the catalog, like battery drills and vacuum cleaners. It was hard to tell what sort of quality level the things in the catalog are, especially when they did oddball things like including a camera whose part number doesn't appear on the company's own website and doesn't appear for sale anywhere except for one listing on eBay. But, don't look a gift camera in the lens, right? She puts in her order, it shows up in a week, and it arrives with all the accessories and the install CD. Oddly, there's a big crack in the install CD, but all of the crack is outside of the area of the written part of the disk. So, I figure that I'll still be able to install the software. I wasn't able to the first time, but it may have had more to do with the way the program talks to the internet and how Windows 7 behaves during certain types of installs. The camera ran just fine after being charged, and I was able to get pictures and videos from the memory card on the camera. Windows Media Player couldn't play the .avi files that the camera made, but since it said that the camera utilizes MJPG compression, VLC Media Player and QuickTime didn't have any problems playing them. I thought it was a little bit odd about the install, so I thought that maybe there was a newer version of the software that I could get from the internet, and I figured that if I could contact them, I would ask them about codecs and maybe about how to set the time and date on the camera.  I sent them an email, which failed, but I didn't know for a couple of days because the internet really does try to make sure that mail goes through before it completely gives up. I called the 800 number, and got a non-native speaker of English who seemed charming enough. They said that they would email me a link to the software so I could download it, which never arrived. I mentioned that I had already sent an email that never seemed to get there and they suggested the address that also didn't work. I asked them about the model number, they said that the camera was too new. I didn't even want to argue that with the support tech since most of their newer products for the last few years got press releases but this one did not. My personal hypothesis on the camera is that it's a model made specifically for the employee gift program that's not actually much different from a couple of their other models. Was the support tech intentionally lying to me? It seems unlikely. It seems more likely that everything looks like it works from their end and they don't get to see the pattern of failure from where they sit.

I eventually managed to install the software for the camera, after some careful application of "Run As Administrator", but had to tell the software that I have a 785HD instead of a 786HD because it's the closest thing I can find. It turned out not to have any codecs in the install that I could find, and I can't figure out if the program has any way to set the time and the date on the camera. The install also did not change how Windows detects the camera, since all Windows can tell is that it's a generic USB drive.

I just feel bummed by the whole experience. The camera works, other than not having the right datestamp on the pictures, but I'm just not sure that people that were having actual problems would be well served by their support system. Of course, if they spent more money on support, they'd have to charge more for the cameras and they'd risk their low-price market position.

I suppose since America's Funniest Home Videos is still running, maybe there's some studio exec at Sakar that keeps a camera rolling in his office to capture footage of some disgruntled customer that totally loses their mind at him some afternoon when they can't get the customer support email to work. (That's, just in case you need it. Just don't hurt anything important.)

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