When Should Customer Support Stop?

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Recently I talked with a manufacturer who will remain nameless, who told me, "We don't support products not intended for import into the USA. We consider that a gray-market product."

Usually when a company has a policy to limit product support it's because they have had problems with un-authorized distributors or dealers selling gear within an authorized distributor or dealer's territory. And while I certainly understand why a manufacturer would want to support their distribution chain, does limiting customer support do anything to punish the wrongdoers or reduce trans-shipping? I don't think so. But, it sure does catch some end-users by surprise and leaves them with expensive boat-anchors.

I have a strong bias on this issue - I believe that, short of provable in a court-of-law larceny, manufacturers and dealers should always give the same level of service to a customer with a 10 year-old product as a 10 day-old one. It shouldn't matter where or when they bought it, if you make or made it, sold or sell it, you should supply a customer with a repair option for their malfunctioning gear.

Notice I said "option," not "free warranty," or "lifetime guarantee." Obviously fixing an older audio component can be expensive for both parts and labor. Often repair costs can run more than the cost of a current-model replacement. But even though few owners would opt for spending more than their gear is worth on repairs, some small few would, and they deserve the option of having their gear repaired by the original manufacturer. Companies that deliver this level of customer loyalty get brand loyalty in return.

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I'm not expecting or demanding that audio manufacturers repair everything they've ever made, including entry-level $49 CD players. But, when someone spends $10K or more on a CD player they should have a authorized repair option available to them, regardless of the player's age or where it was purchased.

 Is that really too much to expect?

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