How Adobe lost a loyal customer and strengthened their competitors

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Prior to today’s article I’ve never used my blog to complain, my articles have always been technical and full of information for developers. The fact my monthly visits have consistently gone up (about 65,000+ unique visitors per month currently) tells me that a lot of developers check in here regularly and for that I appreciate all my readers and in whatever country they reside in (the top three countries visiting my blog are: U.S, India, and Germany). Today though I have to get something off my chest and I feel I need to warn other developers and graphics designers of the potential problems of using Adobe’s software and then having to rely on their support system.

What follows is my story, a developer that used Adobe Creative Suite 5.0 Web Premium and had been a customer since the early days of Macromedia and Flash 3. I’ve pumped thousands of dollars into Adobe’s coffers over the years, not to mention the licenses I had companies that I worked for purchase for me at work so I could have a legal copy of Adobe’s software at my workplace to use.

On April 25, 2011 I opened a ticket (Case #0205750202) with the following message:

I have moved to a MacBook Pro running OS X. I’d like to move my license for Adobe Creative Suite 5 Web Premium (with Acrobat 9 Pro) from a Windows license to OS X.

I added the required documents for the platform swap (which Adobe allows) and sat back and waited. On April 26 they replied back stating they also needed the Acrobat Pro 9 license not just the Web Premium 5 license, I supplied that on April 28 (their ticket system doesn’t notify you via email when the ticket has been updated so its up to you to check it daily).

On May 6 I added this to the ticket:

What is the status on this ticket? I’ve already supplied the requested information.

On May 7 they come back with this:

Hello Chad,

Thanks for contacting adobe,

We have received your Acrobat Pro 9 Serial number and Creative Suite Web
Premium Serial number for Windows to Mac swap.

To help you complete your request, please contact our phone support for
futher assistance.

http://www.adobe.com/aboutadobe/contact.html

Interestingly enough if you follow the help on the page they sent me for a platform swap it just sends you through the same steps I did originally. At this point Adobe starts calling me from an off-shored help desk and they begin telling me they can do a product refund. Well, as I explained I just wanted a platform swap. I’m told to put in another ticket in which I do. I’m also told I should just pay for the 5.5 upgrade and they can swap it to a Mac version. I don’t want to pay for 5.5 though, 5.0 is working just fine thanks. On May 13 I finally give in and send them my original receipt for my purchase of the software from Amazon so they can refund the price. I keep saying I just want a platform swap but finally think “well, I can just buy Web Premium 5.0 for the Mac from this refund money”. A short while later they call me to say they cannot do the refund as I bought the software over a year ago….well no kidding! I again state: All I want is a platform swap, you guys were the ones talking about a refund, not me. Once again I’m told to purchase the upgrade to 5.5. Again I refuse to pay $399 for an upgrade I don’t need right now.

I get a phone call around this time informing me that they stopped doing platform swaps a few days ago. I state “well, my original ticket has been in since April 25, long before this new cutoff”. The guy contacts his manager whom apparently approved the platform swap, keep in mind they still think I want a refund, no one there seems to know what is going on at all.

May 19 they add this to the ticket:

Hi Chad,

you need to fill this informaiton in order for return

indirect return process

Purchase date (the date on the customer’s store receipt)
Purchase location (U.S., Canada, or Mexico)
Amount paid
Product serial number
Mailing address for delivery of the refund check
Current e-mail address
Adobe ID (can be different from current e-mail address)
Reseller name and address
Method of payment

Please call us at 1800-833-6687 We are open 24/7

You can also visit www.adobe.com/go/supportportal for any assistance
regarding Adobe products. You may also visit www.forums.adobe.com as
it’s a useful resource for self-help.

Thanks & Regards,

Adobe Customer Service

Keep in mind all that information has already been supplied by me. In addition the receipt I attached on May 13th had all this information. Regardless I supply this information (again) on May 20th.

In-between I’m still getting phone calls all hours of the evening from the off-shore support staff, none of which have any idea whats really going on, I’m always told “I have to talk to my supervisor” or some other story. Constantly I’m asked about the refund and constantly I’m saying “you guys brought that up, not me – I just want a platform swap”.

At this point I just want my Adobe Creative Suite 5.0 Web Premium software to work and I purchase Parallels and just plan to retain my Windows license for the Adobe software and run it in coherence. I install Parallels and setup Windows 7 and proceed to install Adobe Creative Suite 5.0 Web Premium. Surprise! My license has been revoked! This is why I’m not a fan of software that is activated via the Internet because you are at the whim of company/person who can shut you down with or without notice, in this case no notice. I now have no way to run software I paid a lot of money for. Interestingly enough its the pirates out there that are running stolen copies of Adobe’s software without issues and its the paying customers that are the ones being consistently punished in my opinion.

So on May 30th I contact them (Adobe Support) to reactivate my software:

You have deactivated my license key now for Adobe CS Web Premium 5 with Acrobat Pro 9, re-activate this license key IMMEDIATELY, I have paid good money for this license and now I am unable to use the product I paid for.

June 2, 201 I received the new product keys back and the software is finally working. I can’t use my original product keys since they (Adobe) invalidated them. Basically I’m back where I started now and nothing has been resolved except I now see Adobe in a different light.

Conclusion: In the end I didn’t get the platform swap, all I got was the run around and Adobe killing my original license keys then taking their time to send me new ones. Its simply not worth being an Adobe customer any longer for me. What they accomplished was:
1. They lost a long time customer that also has written a lot of articles on their products like Flash and Flex.
2. The experience made me look into (and purchase) their competitor’s products like Hype and Pixelmator. I now own Hype as well as Pixelmator. Pixelmator (for me) is a decent replacement for Fireworks/Photoshop, Hype helps replace some of the functionality of Flash.

So if you use Adobe software please be careful because one day you might have to use their Customer Support. My personal feeling is: I’m not important to Adobe, I’m a number, nothing more. So I’ll vote with my wallet now which is sad because they have a whole system in-place to do platform swaps and yet they can’t execute. Very frustrating. Heck, now I’ll take that “refund” they were dangling at me on the phone for almost a month but I know even that was nothing more than smoke…

Update: November 4, 2011
I wrote this article several months ago but never posted it. Several months have passed now and I’ve found I’m no longer reliant on Adobe’s Creative Suite and in fact don’t even have Flash installed on any of my home systems/laptops. I’ve found alternative ways to create my content now with HTML5 + jQuery being a large part of that. Pixelmator and Hype fill in the rest of the void.

As evidence here are the case numbers of this mess that is Adobe Support.

If you do use Adobe’s software I sincerely hope you never need to contact their support team and if you do I hope your issues get resolved. I like Adobe’s products, but the hassle (for me) is simply not worth it now. What should’ve been an easy thing to do was lost in some sort of bureaucratic nightmare that in my opinion Adobe has no excuse for treating a customer like that.

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8 Responses to How Adobe lost a loyal customer and strengthened their competitors

  1. Vic says:

    Consider haxe + FlashDevelop, or any open source.

  2. Sounds like Adobe have not learnt their lessons. This post is a few years old:
    http://www.tink.ws/blog/cross-platform-request-nightmare/

    That’s just terrible customer service and the same stories crop up time and time again.

  3. Neil says:

    I also contacted Adobe about a swap (Windows to Mac) and was told they couldn’t do it because they had run out of mac licenses. Odd response? I thought so. Anyway, whether they couldn’t or just didn’t want to I thought it was a bit crap, but then again a lot of their customer service is very poor; if you belong to any of their internal lists you quickly learn that they don’t really seem interested in hearing about poor experiences. They sometimes make noises in response to criticism, but nothing changes. Don’t get me wrong, there are people that really do seem to care, but I guess Adobe’s internal structure doesn’t give these people any power to initiate change. As it happens I would have upgraded to 5.5 to get the swap, but I just wasn’t offered, so now I run version 5 in a Win VM and rely upon alternatives where possible.

  4. AL says:

    I had need to reactivate an old copy of Freehand. It had previously been activated on two computers as per the licence….One had a harddrive failure so it couldn’t be deactivated. I had followed the de-activation procedure on the other computer before reformatting the disk and rebuilding. Try to install Freehand and no luck…too many activations.

    Adobe’s response was that this was old software and I should upgrade to Illustrator. I already had Illustrator (which couldn’t open the files correctly)! After a bit of telephone tag and hassle with the ticket system I finally managed to get this reset.

    Adobe’s DRM strategy is broken and needs an overhaul.

  5. Dags says:

    As you allude to, the irony of this saga is that if you had downloaded the (illegal) CS5 activator instead of trying to do the correct thing, you’d probably still have a positive impression of Adobe.

  6. Angi says:

    I just tried to contact adobe about the issue about flash and shockwave both keep crashing and they just tried to charge me $38.00 to give me an answer….ummm I am not paying them anything for them to lie to me …I can get that at home from my kids for FREE

  7. Windsor says:

    Wow – that is a terrible story, but unfortunately, that seems to be the way things are going everywhere. Corperations and governments no longer trust their customers and citizens – and treat them like criminals. Whereas, the criminals just lie low, making things harder for those who try to work within the system.

    So, how’s HTML5 doing?

  8. Chad Lung says:

    @Windsor,

    HTML 5 is going well enough. There are sufficient JavaScript libraries out there that can do some amazing stuff (JQuery, jCanvaScript, etc.). Add in things like Nodejs, Socket.IO (WebSockets), etc. and the realtime web becomes a reality.

    Chad

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