As part of a project at work, I’ve been running specs on a bunch of different barcode scanners and label printers, mostly so I can make sure that they’re able to handle the requirements for the app I’m developing. Out of my research comes a tale of two companies, Symbol (when the hell did they get bought by Motorola?) and Zebra, and the stark difference between the service each provides to people like me ready to spend money and interested in getting the right products.

First, start with Symbol — and more specifically, start with the godawful website for their line of barcode scanners. A VAR made a recommendation of a specific scanner to me, but Symbol’s page for the scanner provides exactly two sentences of specification information, and a closer look reveals that the page isn’t actually specific to that scanner model (but rather covers two related models). Having bought Symbol scanners for a project back when I worked in New York City, I also remember that you have to make sure to get the right cables to connect the scanners to your computer — but there’s also not one single page on the Symbol site that provides information about any cables.

Confused, I decided to call Symbol’s pre-sales support. After automatically being transferred to two different phone systems, I was connected to a genial-enough man, and when I asked for clarification about the cabling I’d need, I was told that I’d have to call the parts department to get that information. I then asked for the specs on the scanner that was recommended to me, and was told I’d need to call the tech support line. Finally, I asked what services the pre-sales support line did provide, and was told that they were available to take my name and phone number and make sure a salesperson called me back. Stunning. After a ten-minute call to the parts department (where I was given a part number that doesn’t exist at a single reseller I can find), and another ten-minute call to tech support (where I was literally read the same two vague sentences from their website, and then referred to a third-party reseller for more information!), I gave up.

Now, move on to Zebra. I had my eye on a specific printer, but it had a few issues that I’d need to figure out how to work around, so I gave Zebra’s pre-sales support a call. I was quickly connected to a woman who literally knew the answer to every single question I asked. She agreed with the printer recommendation, provided me with the part numbers for the add-ons we’d need to get our setup working, warned me about a few gotchas we’d likely experience getting everything working just right, and provided me with her name and direct number for any further questions. In just about five minutes, I knew exactly what I’d need to buy, and knew that the setup was highly likely to work for us.

There are times when I wonder if my standards for good business practice are a lot more exacting than others’, and then there are times when I’m sure a company is flirting with the thin line between doing the bare minimum to keep its customers and ceasing to give a shit altogether. Either way you look at it, though, Zebra’s performance far exceeded what I’d expect, and Symbol’s was so awful that I can’t imagine even the most tolerant consumer would accept it. It’s too bad Symbol has such a huge segment of the barcode market — or more likely, that’s the very reason the company can get away with such laziness. Too bad the market tends to correct behavior like this over the long run…