Chan's article about the problems faced by international users struck a chord in numerous readers, many of whom passed on excellent comments and additional suggestions. Along with these suggestions, you might wish to check out Tig Tillinghast's excellent article on overseas software pricing issues in TidBITS #168. For those of you who work for companies that do business outside of the U.S., you might want to pay attention. These people want to buy your products - standing in their way does no one any good.
Pete Jones <email@example.com> notes that it's not just citizens of other countries that have difficulty dealing with U.S. computer companies:
Kudos to TidBITS and Mr. Chan for highlighting the problems many of us have outside North America when shopping via telephone. Even more frustrating, though, is the number of vendors who flatly refuse to ship via U.S. mail. A number of us in the military count on U.S. mail to get us the goods, but vendors - such as Pre-Owned Electronics, in Massachusetts - would rather ship to our "friends or relatives" in the States and then have them forward things to us. The implication is that we're somehow not worth the trouble. To a young soldier or airman, this can be a disheartening - and sobering - experience. Shame on them!
Helen Sargan <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes:
I agree with Mr. Chan about U.S. companies and their lack of easy access. You don't need to go to Malaysia to have problems! I would, however, emphasize the usefulness of 24-hour fax numbers if there is no electronic mail access (and sometimes even if there is). Not only does a fax allow composition time for those for whom English is not their first language, it allows those whose direct dial facilities are limited or non-existent to phone at all. In university environments (and many industrial ones) telephones are usually limited to local or national calls and to make an international call requires pre-arranged permission. The fax machine is less-frequently limited in this way, so sending for information is easy. It also cuts out any time-zone problems and usually means the answer will be back by the next day. I have found that some companies don't look at their electronic mail boxes very often, but they don't seem to avoid faxes as much.
Stefan Kukula <email@example.com> writes:
As an international Mac user who bought his computer in the U.K. nearly three years ago and then moved to Japan a year ago, I would like to voice my support of the views expressed by Mr. Chan in TidBITS #226 regarding the poor global outlook of many U.S. computer software and hardware vendors. The problems aren't just there when you try and buy software; they're there after you've bought it. Technical support for foreign customers is virtually nonexistent. I've spent a fortune over the last few years paying to send in those software registration cards (no postage needed in the U.S.) and how many update notices have I received? Or, in fact, contacts of any kind? One. And that was from Maxis - a SimCity upgrade. It's nice to see that game companies pay more attention to their customers than productivity companies.
Not from Symantec regarding the Think C 5.0 compiler bugs. Fairly important, one would have thought.
Not from any "serious" software supplier, despite providing CompuServe and Internet mail addresses. Despite being apparently unable to use email to tell us about upgrades they all seem to assume that we can all use Internet or commercial services to learn about and obtain the necessary fixes. Well, we can't always, and when we can it is more expensive than in the U.S. (CIS usage in Japan carries a healthy surcharge). A postcard informing us of updates would be nice. I've never even heard officially of any upgrade offers - Expressionist 2.0 was upgraded without me knowing one month after I bought it, despite my having sent off the card.
And as for technical support... U.S. manufacturers seem to imagine that beyond their borders there is a nameless "other country." I bought Norton Disk Doctor 2.0, partly because of the CIS support. A problem arose. They had replaced their U.K. (where I lived at the time) phone number with one in... Holland! I posted a question on their forum-and was told to telephone their "European support line" during office hours. They only give online tech support to U.S. customers. (And that's a quote!) I hope their attitude has changed in the last two years, but I won't buy another Symantec product. For many months I had the reply I received printed out and pinned to the wall at the office where I worked. It didn't encourage anyone else to buy from them either.
All the cases mentioned above were "proper" imports, not on the grey market; a mistake on my part as perhaps that way I wouldn't have had to pay the strange conversion rates that seem to be used, and the firms concerned may have believed I was a U.S. customer and therefore worth bothering about.
In short, if U.S. companies want to sell abroad they should start showing a genuine interest in non-U.S. customers, and give us the same level of support as their U.S. customers. I would advise all non U.S. customers that if they want any updates they should join a local user group, as it's the only way you'll get any product support. It also means that you can warn other members of firm's policies.
It makes me wonder. Now I live in Japan, would I get the same level of support if I bought a U.S. automobile?
The best for tech support? Shareware authors, who seem to be much more switched on. I recommend products like TrashMan, Compact Pro, SpeedyFinder, ZTerm, and Maelstrom whose authors have provided me with better technical support than any of the commercial products. Other authors at least tell you they don't intend to give much technical support. It's the same as commercial software, only much more honest.
Among the worst? Quark (special mention, on behalf of another user group member): "So you bought our product, legally, in the U.K.? And then moved, with it and the computer, to Japan? That invalidates the contract. Not only will we not support it, but unless you send it back, right now, we'll call the police, and charge you with software piracy. Yes, even though you haven't copied it or sold it or... You have to buy a Japanese one, even if it's running on a U.K. machine and system. Why? Because you're in Japan."
Lloyd Wood <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes:
I just read Mr. Chan's plaint in the latest TidBITS. I agree completely, but I would add that getting software producers to make their updates available to the world is something that he missed.
Lately, I have spent a lot of my time trying to convince tech support people at a number of companies to make their updates available by posting BinHexed copies of the updaters to Macgifts. My pleas seem to fall on deaf ears; a typical response is "we maintain support forums on America Online, CompuServe and AppleLink - get the update from there."
I have no interest in accessing these services just to get updates, and must bug net.acquaintances with accounts to email me copies of the files - which I then pass on to Macgifts when possible. Many non-U.S., non-English-speaking, but netted folk are in the same position - often we don't even know that the update exists until we run across a mention to it by chance. I'm trying to get hold of the CopyDoubler 2.0.3 Lite updater as we speak. I miss Salient's Internet support team.
[The Info-Mac archives based at <sumex-aim.stanford.edu> and the massive archives at <mac.archive.umich.edu> have worked together to establish two Macgifts addresses at <email@example.com> and <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Anything sent to either address will go to not only the two major archive sites, but various others as well, ensuring the widest possible distribution. If you work for a company that distributes updates online, please include Macgifts in your update distribution plans - with free updates there's no reason not to. -Adam]
David Riley <email@example.com> writes:
Great to see that someone is noticing the plight of the Mac Majority! I'd really like to be able to call a company once in a while, but they tend to use 800 numbers, including Apple. I even went out and got a calling card from AT&T recently, which allows you to access those numbers from most countries. Well, the phone charges for about 30 minutes of time came to almost $100! "Aacckk," as Bill the Cat might say. Besides, you have to wade through about five minutes (if you're lucky and get through) of non-human interface before you can even start explaining your predicament to someone. For those of us outside of North America, real phone numbers, fax numbers and most of all, email addresses, really help out. With respect to assistance in using a product, though, I believe that the people on the Internet are much more helpful (and knowledgeable) than many of the company reps you might get on the phone.
Daniel Petit <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes:
True, you cannot reach 800 numbers from overseas by calling the regular way through your local phone company. But it is easily done if you use a service provider to gain access to the U.S. telephone network. These companies sell you, in effect, U.S. dial tone through intercontinental fiber optic cables and allow you to place a call as though you were physically in the United States.
This is how it works: you reach the United States by dialing an international toll-free number from your country. This number connects you to a private telephone switching system in the United States. After the connection is established, you hear either a dial tone or a recording that prompts you to enter the number you wish to reach.
These service providers exist mainly to offer less expensive international calling rates - often up to 20 percent less. But equally beneficial is the ability to connect to U.S. 800 numbers and the wide variety services that they offer - though you would have to pay for the call. I happen to be associated with one of the companies that offers this service, called Viatel <email@example.com>. Viatel has no sign-up fee and no special equipment is needed. Users need only a valid international credit card. The service works from any phone to any phone that can be reached from the United States. 800 numbers are no problem.
Another reputable company in this field is USA Global Link. Viatel and USA Global Link are known in the telecommunications industry as "light carriers." As opposed to traditional carriers, they do not own a physical transmission network but use sophisticated software to process calls for clients worldwide. Because Viatel uses fiber-optic links and digital switches, there are no delays nor quality degradation.
Bill Baldridge <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes:
Although I understand Mr. Chan's gripe, there's an easy solution - at least for the phone number portion - called VendorDA, which FourArts publishes.
VendorDA lists 1,246 Macintosh (and cross-platform) vendors, with their main (non-800), sales (usually 800), and support/fax phone numbers.
I have registered users from foreign countries as far afield as Japan, Cyprus, U.K., and Sweden, so apparently it's helpful beyond the bounds of the U.S., as I intended it to be. Usually, when I call a vendor to update their contact information, I ask for the non-800 specifically for foreign callers.
VendorDA 1.43 (and an important updater to 1.43a) is available on America Online (keyword: MUT/Applications 3), and can be ordered directly from FourArts for US$15. [The version I could find on the Internet is older and has some 300 fewer entries, but is probably better than nothing. -Adam]