Proactive Versus Reactive

Nikon has allowed their customers to turn into their testing department.

Every new Nikon product is now scrutinized intensely by the customer base that buys early copies, and that quickly becomes a topic of discussion on every dedicated Nikon Web site and forum. 

Why? Because the track record lately has been a string of products shipped from Nikon with significant user-observable out-of-box issues: D600, D800/D800E, D750, D500, 300mm f/4, 200-500mm f/5.6, WR-10, plus quite a few more that had smaller nuances to them and didn’t rise to the level Internet Meme that the ones I just identified did.

Nikon’s stance on all this is reactive, not proactive. The front line Nikon customer support personnel have consistently denied any known issue pretty much right up to the point where Nikon issues a Service Advisory, and they’re extremely reluctant to escalate a complaint. Worse still, “escalation” means what? 

In my experience escalation means that things go through a string of folk: tech support to manager, manager to subsidiary President/representative, who translates what they heard into Japanese and sends it to Tokyo, where there’s also reluctance to escalate and often a quick “no problem that we know of” response. Having attempted escalation with Nikon myself many times in two decades, I know that it generally takes a very repeatable, documentable, verifiable problem that can’t be dismissed as “bad sample” before you get a cross-the-ocean coordination to look into it. 

Some not-quite-repeatable issues—such as the D3/D4 stops autofocusing in low light problem—never got addressed by Nikon. Yet I can present you several dozen folks that encountered (and still encounter) that problem. It’s subtle, it’s context sensitive, it’s not 100% repeatable, it happens with low frequency, but I’m certain it’s there. When I thought I had found a repeatable circumstance, the Technical Support manager at the time dismissed that for reasons unknown.

Translation often becomes a key issue, which is one reason why you need a real data set to escalate: clear data doesn’t need the same level of accurate translation as does an anecdotal description of a problem. 

But even when escalation works, the response is still reactive. Nikon’s engineers aren’t generally finding problems, they’re waiting until someone else finds them and reports them.

Personally, in my career in high tech I was always proactive, particularly at product launches. My “love child” of a product went out into the cruel world, did it survive? Thus I was always active in trying to make sure that I would hear of any complaint, and even went to extremes sometimes to just randomly call customers and get their take on how the product was performing. 

From that, I often learned about any issues fast enough to get fixes into the system quickly and efficiently. I’d argue that this lowers downstream customer support costs and increases customer satisfaction.

The problem for Nikon is that nothing is going to get past their customer base now, and they’re also going to get a lot of false positives coming into Customer Service because people who look for problems will find one. And everyone purchasing a new Nikon product is now looking for problems. 

I’ll once again point out that the Economist correctly cited Nikon’s poor customer relationships as being one of the reasons why Nikon lost the market lead in their semiconductor equipment group to a newcomer that emphasized customer relations. 

Note Canon’s recent CarePak offer on high end bodies versus Nikon’s recent problems with high end bodies, which they always start out by denying. Notice a difference from a customer perspective? Canon’s willing to fix gear that you dropped for free, Nikon’s denying that there are any issues with their products. Canon is proactively helping customers, Nikon is still just reacting to customers, though now with off-shore call centers and smaller staffs.

This doesn’t end nicely for Nikon unless they turn from being reactive to proactive. Every product launch now gets scrutinized in ways that didn’t happen a decade ago, and the growth of the Internet means that the scrutiny is heard quickly and distinctly by the potential customer base.

I’m going to write it for the nth time: Nikon’s sales are hurting partly because Nikon is self-inflicting wounds on themselves. That this has been allowed to continue and amplify only makes the wounds more problematic. 

Simply put: Nikon wants more customers, but it acts like it never wants to deal with them. Nikon wants lots of Like responses, but never gives one back. 

The only way to turn this around is to be proactive. Otherwise, what I wrote in the first sentence—Nikon has allowed their customers to turn into their testing department—is only going to get worse, and the number of customers willing to do that is going to decline. 

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