Why is Customer Support for 3D Printers so Poor?

by Jason King on April 14, 2017

Whilst it’s not very often that customer support from any company receives rave reviews, it seems that 3D printer manufacturers get particularly bad press.

From talking to people, creating surveys and doing some general research, customer care does seem to be a problem for many purchasers of 3D printers.

I thought it was about time I talked a little about this.

I don’t pretend to be a customer services expert, or have all the answers, but like most people I do have an opinion or two which I’d like to share.

If I achieve nothing else from this blog post, I’d at least like to start the discussion about 3D printer manufacturer support and encourage you to give your opinions too.

Let’s start with a look at customer support from the perspective of the customer themselves.

Customer Perspective

Although 3D printing has been around since the mid 80’s it’s only recently become accessible to home users. It’s still not Mainstream and probably never will be, but due to cost reductions it is now accessible to many small businesses and home users.

Desktop 3D printers, like the ones we often use at home and in the office, are still a relatively new technology. 3D printers are still improving and evolving and the truth is they can break down a lot and don’t always perform as expected.

It’s understandable that many people are a little disappointed in this and turn to the manufacturers for help, only to be equally disappointed in many cases.

Unhappy CustomerTake Amazon and Their 3D Printer Section for example.

Many manufacturers are selling their printers to Amazon at discounted prices for Amazon to sell on.

It’s not unusual for someone to purchase a 3D printer from Amazon and when things go wrong to contact manufacturer support.

The problem here is that the customer then finds out that Amazon aren’t actually an authorised dealer, so new replacement parts cannot be sent to the customer without additional costs. The customer is quite rightly annoyed by this.

When the manufacturer sells their 3D printers to companies like Amazon they expect them to take on the role of customer support. Amazon customer support is generally quite good in my experience so contacting them is always an option if the manufacturer support fails you.

Personally I think that we as consumers have to accept that 3D printers aren’t like other well established household goods. They will go wrong and they will sometimes disappoint us. We also need to accept that we are largely responsible for diagnosing and fixing problems when they occur.

Whether you agree with that statement or not, with the current state of 3D printing technologies it does seem to be the reality.

One last thing to mention about the customers perspective is that when support is good or average, people rarely rave about it on the internet. However, when support is bad they’ll go out of their way to make sure everyone knows about it. After all, a problem shared is a problem halved.

What this means is that if we search the internet for customer support reviews we’ll see an unusually large amount of bad reports, which may not represent the true picture. It’s just human nature to want to share bad experiences more than good or average ones, so the problem of customer support may not be as bad as it seems.

Manufacturer Perspective

If you exclude the larger 3D printer companies who have been manufacturing other electronics for years (HP, Ricoh and GE for example) then a lot of 3D printer manufacturers started either in someones garage or as Kickstarter projects. The point is that many of them have little or no prior history of manufacturing anything.

Money Down DrainThis not only means that their products are not as polished as those from the mainstream manufacturers, but that they don’t have any existing mechanism for providing good customer support and no experience either.

Also, there is increasing pressure on the manufacturers to reduce costs and with 3D Printer Costs Dropping all of the time there’s more demand for cheaper and cheaper 3D printers.

This is partly the fault of consumers themselves, because someone somewhere down the line has to pay for good quality support, but we don’t really want to pay for it.

There is also pressure from shareholders to make more revenue generating sales, with less emphasis on the overhead of after sales support. This is particularly applicable to companies which now float on the stock exchange, like Organovo, Stratasys (who now own MakerBot) and 3D Systems for example.

I don’t want this to sound like I’m making excuses for the manufacturers, as bad customer care is inexcusable and does ultimately result in lost sales and revenue. I’m just trying to establish some reasons as to why customer support from 3D printer manufacturers might sometimes be lacking.

Staff Perspective

As well as looking at it from the manufacturers perspective, it’s important not to forget the individuals who are actually on the end of the phone or who are typing out that email, the customer support staff.

Unhappy StaffStaff might not be trained properly or simply might not care.

This problem applies to any industry, but if staff aren’t trained properly and are underpaid then they might not care too much about your jammed extruder.

It’s a shame, but it’s just human nature.

3D printers are particularly difficult to diagnose and fix sometimes, so it can be a lot to ask of someone on the end of a phone or via email. It’s hard enough to do this when the printer is sat next to you but to do it remotely can be an unenviable task.

This often results in something which I know really annoys people, including myself. That’s those pre written, generic, template emails which we sometimes receive from customer support.

Creating systems and processes for dealing with customer support isn’t a bad thing, even if it sometimes involves pre-written answers to common questions. But where if fails is when a generic response is sent in reply to an email which doesn’t describe a common problem, but requires more investigation and thought.

This does really wind people up and it applies to many industries, not just the 3D printer manufacturing industry.

Alternative Support is Available

Personally I have heard great reports about customer support from one of the manufacturers I often recommend, which is Printrbot. I’ve also had good personal experience of MakerBot support, but I realise that not everyone will agree with this.

Think PositiveWhen things go wrong it’s natural to turn to the manufacturers for support and when it fails us we can easily feel lost and alone.

It’s a little unfortunate that 3D printer manufacturer after sales support is sometimes lacking.

To be honest though 3D printing is a lifestyle thing so diagnosing and fixing problems is just part of the whole 3D printing experience, whether we like it or not.

However, don’t despair as there’s a massive 3D printing community out there who are happy to help. Practically every problem you could have with your 3D printer has already been experienced by and solved by someone else.

We all have access to the internet, else you wouldn’t be reading this now. Googling the problem will often bring up forum posts where someone has experienced at least something similar. This can be a great starting point at least.

Groups like the 3D Printing Facebook Group I run myself can give you a sense of community spirit and make you feel less alone, as well as offering a place to post your problems requesting help.

So, when the manufacturers fail you, you can be sure that someone out there will be more than happy to help.

Thanks for reading and feel free to Like and Share this article if you found it interesting, useful or maybe even a little controversial.

Happy 3D printing.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Alexander Crease April 14, 2017 at 1:51 pm

One of the other factors that play into this on the manufacturing end is the hardware and materials – many new 3D printing companies go the “open source” route, telling customers that they can use any materials, any slicers, and can upgrade hardware in some situations. This is a logistical nightmare for support teams because there are so many unknowns – if a problem occurs, there is a chance of it being caused by materials, software, etc from a different vendor and the support team is thus unable to handle the situation.


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