Creative Labs PR 2.0 Debacle + Microsoft’s shoddy VISTA OS = Lost Customers

On 28th March 2008, Creative Labs, makers of X-Fi series of Sound Cards which are known for it’s good quality and Dolby Digital LIVE experience, faced the worst PR ire. I would call it a PR 2.0 debacle.

Good product + BAD OS + Bad Drivers + Bad Support – Customer empathy = Worst PR 2.0.

The public admonition on blogosphere (creative’s forums) worked against the company’s product and services marketing efforts.

All this PR 2.0 debacle started when Phil O’Shaughnessy, VP Corporate Communications, Creative Labs Inc., openly on the forum posted the message below, pointing it out to Daniel_K a regular contributor to the forum, who modified the code of the drivers to make the X-Fi cards work properly on Windows Vista.

Daniel_K:We are aware that you have been assisting owners of our Creative sound cards for some time now, by providing unofficial driver packages for Vista that deliver more of the original functionality that was found in the equivalent XP packages for those sound cards. In principle we don’t have a problem with you helping users in this way, so long as they understand that any driver packages you supply are not supported by Creative. Where we do have a problem is when technology and IP owned by Creative or other companies that Creative has licensed from, are made to run on other products for which they are not intended. We took action to remove your thread because, like you, Creative and its technology partners think it is only fair to be compensated for goods and services. The difference in this case is that we own the rights to the materials that you are distributing. By enabling our technology and IP to run on sound cards for which it was not originally offered or intended, you are in effect, stealing our goods. When you solicit donations for providing packages like this, you are profiting from something that you do not own. If we choose to develop and provide host-based processing features with certain sound cards and not others, that is a business decision that only we have the right to make.
Although you say you have discontinued your practice of distributing unauthorized software packages for Creative sound cards we have seen evidence of them elsewhere along with donation requests from you. We also note in a recent post of yours on these forums, that you appear to be contemplating the release of further packages. To be clear, we are asking you to respect our legal rights in this matter and cease all further unauthorized distribution of our technology and IP. In addition we request that you observe our forum rules and respect our right to enforce those rules. If you are in any doubt as to what we would consider unacceptable then please request clarification through one of our forum moderators before posting.Phil O’ShaughnessyVP Corporate CommunicationsCreative Labs Inc.

Even though I do not have personally anything against them, and I do understand that there action was primarily to support IP protection of their own company products, however, the communication message and the behaviour adopted was un-customer friendly and obviously the potential and existing customers have punished it openly.

However, the sound cards, which work fine on Windows XP, yet lose some functionality on the new Vista operating system. Forum member Daniel_K made some modifications to the code used to run the sound cards, and released drivers of his own that allowed Creative Labs users to take full advantage of their sound cards on Vista.

Daniel_K was recently able to “fix” many drivers, enabling the “incompatible” features as well as fixing some bugs. He made a few mistakes, however, as in asking for donations. Making a profit off his modded drivers was asking for trouble. Now Daniel_K probably shouldn’t have sought donations for his work – that’s the main thing that most likely attracted attention to his efforts. But otherwise, he was only trying to ensure that other users like himself were able to get their sound cards to work properly on the sometimes-unstable Vista OS.

However, Creative’s announcement, as well as Daniel_k’s indicating he was quitting the modding business drew still more ire – from Creative’s customers.

For example, this one:
I am sure I am not alone when I ask this. Once and for all, we want the truth:After your disrespectful messages to Daniel_K, will you be fixing your own drivers? Or are you going to leave it as it is?

And this one:
I’m happy to announce that by your recent actions AGAINST your customers I have decided NEVER to purchase a Creative product again. I’m also happy to say that within 30 minutes of your horrible news I’ve managed to convince 3 people to NOT purchase planned Creative products.It’s indeed not a lot but at least I’m doing something.
And
finally:
Can we (Vista and X-Fi users) request for a refund as Creative has failed to deliver the necessary drivers and materials in order for the Sound Card to work as advertise?
I have to admit, Daniel_k has a good point in his post I linked above, one that Creative should take to heart:
The funny thing is that you are faster “protecting” your technologies and intelectual properties than providing improved drivers and softwares for your customers.
You purposedly crippled and ruined the Audigy/Live! (Emu10kx) and the Audigy LS/SE/Value/Live!24-bit (P17) drivers for Windows Vista.
This just proves you don’t really care about what your customers and what people think about you.

Immediately following their VP’s blog post, the rants against Creative Labs begin – and as of this writing, continue for 80 pages – almost 700 comments – nearly all of them negative. Most posters are saying that they will either return their Creative Labs product, or that they will never purchase or recommend the purchase of a Creative Labs product again.

What Creative Labs does not seem to get is what they have been hunting themselves, it’s called ROI, return of investment. Something the folks that who have invested over $200 for a high-end Audigy card with a breakout box did not get back when they moved to Vista.

A complete PR 2.0 Debacle. My advice to Creative Labs, firstly fix the drivers and provide it on a priority and reassure the customers, that they will get the ROI on the cards they have bought. And then go public like this, they way they have.

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