Customer Support

A couple of days ago I got this long email from a reader telling me his experience with Autodesk.

This is just sharing of my thoughts and my experiences in CAD. Mostly about how the Big CAD company and it’s vendors treat & support us customers vs the treatment & support given by the smaller CAD companies. I am a self practicing Architect with a small SOHO setup. I am an old timer who started with AutoCAD Release 13. Now I have one Full AutoCAD 2013 & 5 licenses of LT. Over these years the upgrade cost of AutoCAD & LT became very high and almost unaffordable.

What I have found out is that after a certain point of time the upgrades were being made just so that not to lose the upgrading options when the AutoCAD version gets retired. This is really forced upgrade. For an office like mine, I do not require space age technology in CAD. (It doesn’t mean that we are doing simple drawings – our drawings are highly detailed and very comprehensive). Whatever we could do now with LT 2012 and AutoCAD 2013, we could have done it with AutoCAD 2006/LT 2006.  Only a few (I am talking about India) could be using the very advanced technology that today’s AutoCAD offers. We are forced to use bloated software even though we don’t need it.  Why doesn’t Autodesk deliver simpler AutoCAD software at affordable price for those who don’t need all the bells & whistles of their latest software? For people who would like to keep things in a simple way, the present AutoCAD is technology overload.

This AutoCAD 2013 gave me some strange problems (but Autodesk does not call this as a problem but says it is “as designed”).  I started getting problems with opening drawings created from LT 2009. It just would not open and would give a new blank file. But not all the LT 2009 files had this problem. Quite a few files had this problem. But these problematic files would open in LT 2012 without any problem.

Only at this point of time did I find out that there was no possibility to contact Autodesk directly by a customer to get support or to post a problem. The “Support” page takes you to Autodesk discussion groups, downloads to service packs, FAQ, etc. but does not give a direct link to Autodesk to report a problem. There is no “Contact Autodesk” on their website. So one has to necessarily report anything and everything through the vendor only. When I reported this to the vendor he said to my surprise that he had to find out how to report the problem and that he wanted sometime on this. After my constant nagging he did manage to report the problem to Autodesk India. I had also sent him one of the problematic files.

Next day I got a mail from Autodesk India that they were able to reproduce the problem and that they had sent the file to Autodesk research & development department for further action. In the meanwhile (since the vendor was taking his own time in reporting the problem) I had posted this issue in Autodesk Discussion Groups and also in AUGI.

I got a reply from a person who did not clearly identify himself – but I think it is an employee of Autodesk – he said that my file had at one time contained some Xdata and it had been saved back to an earlier version (We habitually save all drawings even today to the 2004 file format)  and during the conversion process the Xdata was missing and so AutoCAD 2013 could not open the file. (But 2012 could open the file). It was implied that the highly advanced technology of 2013 would not roundtrip a drawing saved to an earlier version because to make it do so (it was implied) would have hampered the higher technological development to 2013.  Now this I consider it as Technology Overload.

Because of all these hassles I wished for a downgrade to 2012 (through subscription benefits). My vendor said he did not know how to and where to apply for it as he had not done this so far. He wanted time for this. After constant nagging, he mailed me saying I had to apply this for myself on the web through the subscription centre . I had found out myself that there was a request form on the subscription centre to apply for the media also and I applied for it and a couple of days later I got a mail from Autodesk that the media had been shipped to my address and I would receive it in 2 or 3 days time. Even after 3 weeks I have not yet received the media.

Again you could use an older version no older than two versions back. I would have been satisfied with 2006 itself but this was prohibited. What is it for Autodesk which worries them if I wanted to use a much older version? Why should it be restricted to subscription customers only? No other software company in the world has this sort of policy. Why not all the Cloud Computing, Fusion Inventor plugin, very high quality render plugin etc. be sold as separate plugins and let the Full Version of AutoCAD be more basic but with customization and 3D capabilities and with a simple render engine? Those who wanted higher ups could pay extra and get the plugins. Life for the majority of us would be much simpler.

In the meanwhile let me tell you another different story. Last December I got an email from Progecad India dealer from Hyderabad saying that progeCAD 2011 Professional special Indian Edition was available at a permanent special Indian price of Rs.5,999/= per copy – all taxes and shipping included. (The international going price at that time was around Rs.20,000/= per copy).

I literally jumped at this offer and bought 7 copies. As I had expected from the trials I knew it had several small bugs and also several small features needed to complete a decent full CAD with 3D capabilities including rendering. ( I am not comparing this with AutoCAD at all but I am considering this on its own merits & demerits and what I could put up with and what I cannot).

When I presented the problems to the Hyderabad vendor, it was unbelievable at the support and help rendered by him in getting the problems solved through progeSOFT, Italy. Later I began to correspond direct to progeSOFT, Italy and to my great surprise the replies were immediate – straight from the head of technical support department. He not only cleared my doubts, but started solving problems one by one and intimated me whenever a problem was solved. Like this all the problems were solved in the next upcoming version. In fact the Chief Operational Officer of progeSOFT himself wrote directly to me quite a few times. Later I posted them with about 12 wish lists which would make life much easier for a progeCAD user in his day-to-day work in CAD. Except for my wish to have Dynamic UCS for 3D (which they said would take a very long time for them to provide), all the other wishes have been resolved and incorporated in the upcoming version of progeCAD professional.

I wrote to the head of technical support thanking him for all the support provided and for resolving the problems in the next version – but what happens to the present users of progeCAD? progeSOFT COO was generous enough to give free upgrades to the next version for all the copies purchased. In a few weeks another announcement was made that whoever purchased progeCAD 2011 now would get free upgrade to the next version which would be launched approximately by the end of June or so. The Hyderabad vendor also gave really unbelievable support promptly and constantly followed up and co-ordinated with progeSOFT to get any kind of info we wanted.

Another great thing done by progeSOFT: I had also reported this AutoCAD 2013 problem to them even  thinking that progeCAD was corrupting some files which gave problems in opening them in AutoCAD 2013. They immediately took up the issue and found out that it was not progeCAD giving the problem. But anyhow they took it up to resolve the problem and in 3 day’s time they came out with a solution and put up an update patch which when installed in the present progeCAD, solved the 2013 problem. You just open the problematic file in the updated progeCAD and save it and then this file opens in AutoCAD 2013 flawlessly.  Once the upcoming new version is installed, I may not require AutoCAD at all – except for very rare needs.  progeCAD would fulfill most of my needs as a full AutoCAD  with 3D capabilities, customization through LISP, etc.(minus the space age technology which most of us do not require.)

Now just look at the support that this company provides to their customers – big or small (I must be their pettiest customers who bought only 7 copies) – but still they took time to care my queries. But the BIG company is yet to give me a direct reply and the vendor also had to be kept on nagging for even simple support.

Why shouldn’t we in India not consider these type of CAD software for day-to-day use and have limited number of AutoCAD or equivalent as backup for the features not available with the lower end CAD. (The price difference – progeCAD being Rs.5,999/=  and full AutoCAD nearly Rs.1,30,000/= is something to be of importance which could not be ignored). Probably many in India are not aware of alternative CAD software.

I sincerely hope that this story becomes useful for our brethren.

With best regards

P.R.S. Sivakumar – Architect.

Madurai, India.

I guess the downside of having a large customer base is that you really cannot pay attention to each and every customer. You need to rely on your channel to do that for you. Resellers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some are very good while others are merely what we in India call “box pushers”. I remember when I was working at my first job in Automobile Corporation of Goa Limited, we were using AutoCAD Release 12 for DOS. The reseller at that time was a computer hardware vendor who didn’t know the first thing about AutoCAD. According to him he sold us an box of expensive floppies and that was it. I’m pretty sure things have changed now.

However, there are other CAD vendors, who in spite of their large customer base, still put a lot of importance to solving customer problems first hand. One example in India is PTC. Whenever I have a problem (and mostly its related to their wretched Flexnet licensing system) I log into my account at PTC.com and create a support ticket. I can be assured that someone from PTC will call me in a hour or less and stay with me on the phone as long as my problem has been resolved. In fact PTC’s support staff is relentless. If something can’t be solved on the call they actually come after you like pestering sales executives and keep calling you till they close the case. Once I had to actually asking one PTC executive to give me some breathing space. He said to me, “Sure. But to do that I will need to de-escalate your case to a lower level“. 😉