Impersonal personal

March 26, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

As the information age grows, communications have increasingly become both more impersonal as well as the opposite.

Where once we might have picked up the phone and called a retailer with our questions, today we turn instead to Google’s bots, nameless people on live chat software, downloaded PDFs, and FAQs. Need help assembling or fixing something? There’s a YouTube video at the ready.

On the other hand, in the long-ago age of the local retailer, if they didn’t have the info you needed it was nearly impossible to connect directly with a manufacturer. Dealers provided an insular barrier between companies and customers and that was exactly what many companies wanted. I remember trying to outfox the switchboard guards of numerous companies trying to get an audience of someone within the company for an answer.

Then came the internet. Some companies pounced on the new connection technology to further isolate them from their customers while others did exactly the opposite.

Take PS Audio as an example. As the information age grows we’re embracing it as a means of greater one-on-one connection with our community: videos, blogs, forums, one-on-one phone communication, emails answered by people, not bots.

The web is a double-edged sword. For organizations unconcerned with providing a one-on-one experience with their customers it permits entire companies to be built with not more than two or three people. On the flip side, if greater connection is the goal, the web also provides a golden opportunity to get closer and closer to a worldwide community of like-minded people.

Like anything in technology, it’s how one chooses to use it that matters.

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23 comments on “Impersonal personal”

  1. Luckily for those who want questions about audio answered, they have options since PS Audio offers people the option of ‘Ask Paul’ on YT or ask Paul by email or by telephone, & once CoViD-19 is under control those who want to make the journey to Boulder, CO. can ask Paul in person…what the hell more would you want?
    Some common sense must prevail though in that if you seek answers on the internet & those answers smell like BS then it’s advisable to get a second opinion…pick up the ‘phone & have a discussion.

  2. I’ve been reading some back issues of Gramophone. Some of the issues dealt with by Paul recently appear in those issues. Particularly the differences and benefits of recording in the studio or in a venue, the role of dealers in selling manufacturers’ products and the general antipathy of the public to high quality audio. In one issue the editor trashed dealers for not stocking the right or enough product and in the next issue a dealer wrote an article in response, referring to dealers as the “social parasite of the gramophone world”. The dealer complained that he went to the trouble to hire a lecturer for a demonstration and 100 people turned up, but not a single sale ensued.

    This was not recent. These arguments come from the issues from May and June 1928. These arguments about how audio product is sold (this argument was about records) are as old as the recording industry itself.

    I bought most of my audio products from two or three dealers who are so well acquainted with the products they sell that they effectively represent the manufacturer. They have been to their factories (often as the manufacturer’s expense) and know everything about the product. The manufacturer’s owner or engineers do demonstrations. In one case the manufacturer’s factory is 2 miles away, in another 5,000 miles.

    I joined this forum after buying PS Audio products. There are no PSA dealers near me that give that service and I bought the products mail order (legally we have a short trial period).

    So in my experience, if the dealer is doing their job properly, there is no need to speak to the manufacturer at all, and I don’t.

    Of course the great benefit of the dealer relationship is that the dealer knows my system, which is from a mix of brands, whereas a manufacturer is only interested in selling their products.

    There are exceptions. The UK sales manager of Innuos told me on the phone that if I wanted to run Roon with 8 endpoints and DSP, don’t buy their product, it will fall over, buy a Roon Nucleus+. That’s a bit like me calling PS Audio, telling them I have good low impedance mains and and use Class D, and them telling me to go and buy a mains conditioner.

    So how you get the advice doesn’t really matter, whether you have to send a postcard or an email, it’s the quality and independence of that advice that matters.

    1. Steven,
      The “social parasite of the gramophone world”…lol!
      Ah yes, the much maligned middle-men of the audio retail world 😉
      I was on the other side of the counter & I loved helping those who genuinely wanted help with component matching & audio set-up, but that’s all behind me now.

  3. If you truly like or of course love something you and only you, have a responsibility to carry things out socially. Introverted attitudes both with the individual and the company will set the stage for total failure.
    Of course with the aforementioned big tech we carry around these days, we’re given the option most times to be less social and as Paul said less personal.
    If I really need some important information and it involves a one on one scenario, I’m picking up the phone.

    As Fat Rat said though, PS Audio gives all the options for social preference and I say because it is that we’re all spoiled bastards! Just kidding. 😉

    1. A dealer I’ve known for years who supplied me with several pairs of Harbeth speakers told me that the vast majority of his customers never go on forums or other internet resources. He thought 95% or more. He sells mainly Harbeth, Rega and Croft, fit-and-forget audio that lasts forever and never goes wrong. He does not sell software-based products as he doesn’t get software at all. He doesn’t sell cables or any accessories at all and it hasn’t held him back, he’s been trading for 48 years and is still going strong.

      The reality is that audio is not about being social, but about listening to music, and the vast majority of audio consumers do exactly that, without going online, going to hifi clubs etc. The manufacturer can help them by making stuff that is idiot-proof, never fails and the software works.

      The vast majority of my visits to manufacturer websites is to get good, accurate product information and specifications without any b-s. The b-s about how great their products are really annoys me. I bought my main power products from a brand without ever visiting their website.

      1. I would love to listen to Harbeth speakers. Im going to have to find the nearest dealer. I hope more Harbeth users can participate online. Its not too hard to listen while bragging online as to how great they sound. 🙂

    2. Hi Neph,
      I listened to three tracks from Tool’s ‘Fear Inoculum’ album & yes extremely well recorded & produced (thanks to Bob) & mind-blowingly hypnotic through a set of quality cans; however, musically, without ingesting some high-grade weed, not really my thang.
      If I ever take up smoking & dealing again I will have another serious listen 😉

      1. Hey! That is terrific news. I’m glad you gave it a chance and regards to any psychedelic upgrades towards consciousness expansion, Tool are big advocators of that and their music speaks volumes on that, so weed away my friend. Maybe one day you’ll give it another run, but I very much understand how progressive metal can’t be everyone’s cup of tea. The real beauty in progressive music in general is that I find multiple listens are needed in order to really “get into it.” Tool are really no different in that regard.
        Anyhow. Glad you appreciated the MASTER mastering. God that BOB has got it down to a fine science. Enjoy the weekend, Martin. Keep spinning. 😉

  4. As one who once used the DARPA net, I can assure you that the internet has never been nor,in my opinion, will it ever be ready for prime time. The internet has brought us good ( e.g. tremendous connectivity, online shopping has literally been a life saver during the pandemic ) and it has brought us bad ( the dark web, people like Mark Zucherberg being responsible for censorship ). My Visa credit card numbers get hacked at least once a year ( even though I have never lost my card ). Fortunately my bank had fraud protection that runs on steroids. I would not join social media even if you payed me to do so ( well maybe if Mark paid me enough I would join 😉 ).

    The internet is like a highway system. A lot of people use it every day and there are always horrible accidents on it.

  5. Regarding PSA. I went through a relatively long process regarding a piece of equipment I initially purchased. It in no way met my expectations from what I gleaned from the one line research and website info. (Of course the 30 day trial was long gone by the time I realized that I had squeezed every ounce out of I could). So 1st the phone calls and e-mails trying to understand what I might be doing wrong. After weeks and months of communicating was met with the comment “we don’t get complaints about that product what do you want me to do”. Of course anyone reading this knows that’s not a good comment to make 🙂

    In the end after a long e-mail exchange with Paul, not to complain, but to try and get resolution, I learned exactly how things are tested and voiced at PSA. He got me hooked up with an individual (no longer there) who was very responsive. We worked through things and I was able to understand my expectations were too high. I “sucked it up” traded it in towards something else and have been happy ever since.

    Having spent the majority of adult life in on-site customer service working with DR’s both medical and institutional, (in the land of lasers for the curious) face to face communications resolves most of the issues. (Fix the customer first, then the rest is easy).

    Maybe Paul’s clan can find a way to use “live” video as another form of communication. That should step things up a notch in the customer service world. ✌️Out

    1. Thanks, Mike and I am sorry your first interaction with us was not a good one. And I am equally glad we sorted it out. I guess the point of my post was that for better or worse we’re committed to interacting with our community as people. And people range from good to great, sometimes bad, sometimes mediocre.

      That’s a point in favor of the bots. Bots are impervious and never get sassy, agitated, or frustrated. They never have a bad day. Only the people interacting with them do. 🙂

      I have learned over the years that most corporate speech recognition bots are programmed to respond to swear words by connecting callers to a human. I often just start swearing and the bot connects me to a live person.

      1. No apologies needed Paul. I’m not a fan of bots either, but also not a fan of some people and the way they can react. 🙂

        I’m a ‘happy camper’ now and have and continue to learn.
        One of the thing that makes PSA truly unique is the easy access to you.

        Forums and phone calls help, but quite often face to face helps with resolution or at the very least helps establish expectations.

  6. The other thing the internet is really good for is allowing me to post comments on your site from a phone without having to put up with the outrageously small keyboard. And of course helps to go back and edit.

    I don’t mind when software answers a corporate helpline. I do mind when I discover that the software is as far into the company as I am going to get.

    I can think of two audio companies with with two different approaches. In both cases software is used for initial contact with the customer. For one company if the answer bot cannot handle the call, the customer is referred to the company’s FAQ site. Many FAQ sites post questions from customers that have never been answered. Others post questions that have never been asked, but which the site creator might be asked, along with answers that the site creator thought might be adequate.

    For the other company the customer is transferred to a real live person who may hel. I prefer doing business with this company.

    John Naisbitt in his book Megatrends calls the first approach high tech low touch. The second approach would qualify as high-tech high touch. I think that we are learning that most customers prefer hi tech hi touch over tech low touch.

    1. Yes, I like these terms: High tech low touch and high touch. We’re always ready to invent a new label to categorize stuff, but that’s ok because we all do it.

      For me, I would like to have our company’s label High Tech Personal Touch. No entry bots ever. Just people to people using high tech as a means to further communication and connection.

      Having said that, please do ignore our bot phone operator that routes calls where the user wants. Though automated, it’s old fashioned enough to simply be a router to where the caller wishes to go.

  7. I have never had a bad internet customer service experience with any of the many audio companies I have dealt with over the years. I think the kind of response you get depends on how clear and focused your inquiry is, as well as the tone of your communication. Internet communication by email or online chat is so much more efficient than telephone, and with email you can frequently get right to the guys at the top. Customer service and technical reps can respond to so many more email inquiries than if they had to take messages and play phone tag. Also, with email (often very important) there is a record of the conversation(s).

  8. Customer service before the sale will usually make or break a sale for me. I like dealing with companies run by people who will actually pick up the phone and answer e-mails, and not do everything they can to prevent you from even contacting them.

    I’m into guitar pedals, particularly fuzz boxes, and would rather deal with smaller companies, some of them literally one-person shops, who are attentive to your needs.

    1. One of my kids is into guitar pedals and it’s given him lots of joy since his mid-teens, lots of fun for little money.

      I have a brand new audio product and something seems to be not right. I emailed someone I knew at the company and he told me to forward his reply to customer services. The next thing I received was an email with a link to a prepaid UPS label, the item will be collected on Monday and it will be replaced in a few days.

      Better than companies that answer questions are ones that replace items, no questions asked, and arrange the international shipping.

  9. It is precisely Paul’s experience that drove him to support PS Audio’s differential advantage. His services, his taking of equipment as part of payment, the fora, etc., that is his “product”. When you decide to buy PS, you get all of this.

    You may buy a Topping or SMSL and get better specs but you don’t get this “human” touch. People always make trade-offs. All these trade-offs have different value to different people. They are usually measured as “utilities”.

    For my office sound system, that wasn’t necessary and a SMSL DAC was the right product. For the main equipment, I had to trade-off different aspects. That is what people do. Features, and other “soft” aspects are part of decisions we all make. And everyone also has their goals. Mine, was trying to attempt maximum accuracy, or less “intervention” of the equipment to the “file” I was getting. Others LIKE different things.

  10. The internet has many, many benefits but has equal number of negatives many quite serious e.g. cyber crime as negatives. These are overlooked just like a child playing with a toy is oblivious to the fact that it can choke and even die if the toy is swallowed.Being fully aware of both is the way to go. PS Audio is on the right path. Stick to it. Congratulations for doing the right thing.Most impressive is the fact that when you praise a PS Audio product as a means of promoting it in your talks about other topics you frankly admit that it is so. That is what is called being honest and forthright. Regards.

  11. This topic brought back an old memory. Twenty five years ago I bought a vacation home on an island off the coast of Florida. Cell phone service was non existent, and land line installation was problematic and filled with delays, although the provider was one of the largest phone companies in the US. Talking to a human being in the service department at the phone company was a useless endeavor. At the time, I was managing a very large amount of money for this company. Being at this home, lacking telephone service, and having to do a quarterly review with the CFO of the company, I was relegated to popping quarters into a phone booth at a store on the island. After a few minutes, the CFO asked what was going on, and I explained I had been trying to get a phone line installed. He thought it was amusing until he realized his company was the provider. The next day, two trucks with technicians arrived and installed a phone line.

    My favorite example of thoughtless customer service is when my internet service goes down and I call the provider only to be advised that I will get faster customer service over the internet, and, by the way, would I like to sign up for a more feature rich program?

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