A couple weeks back we published a review of the TAC-CON 3MR trigger, and needless to say the PR guys for TAC-CON weren’t pleased. As with most things in life, there are two ways that companies can handle negative reviews, the “good” way and the “bad” way. The good way is to work with us and give us more information to try and explain what we may have missed, bring new information to light and try to change our opinion. That’s something MasterPiece Arms is doing with us this weekend and, when done in good faith, has every chance of actually working. The wrong way to handle a bad review is to call the reviewer, explain that they’re an idiot, claim they didn’t read the instructions, that they’re a crappy shooter, and swear off all future contact. The folks at TAC-CON have chosen door #2 . . .
Their approach to our less-than-ideal review has been a master’s course in how not to handle bad news. I decided that it might be worth dissecting the experience as an illustrative example to help other companies avoid this same situation in the future.
Yesterday afternoon I received an email from the PR guys at TAC-CON voicing their displeasure at my write-up and asking me to call them. That’s not unusual after a less than stellar review, and I was happy to listen to whatever critiques they may have. We aren’t perfect, and as with all of our reviews, if there are any factual inaccuracies we want to correct them as soon as possible. So I re-read the review and called the number, expecting it to be like the scores of other similar conversations I’ve had in the past.
Nope — this one was different. I want to re-construct the phone call here for your reading pleasure, and point out how getting mad at the reviewer and digging yourself a bigger hole isn’t really a good idea.
First, a quick note about reviews in general. When I review a new product and it’s a novelty of some sort, be it a new type of stock or a new trigger with a different set of functions, I try to limit myself to the information commonly available from the manufacturer. My point of view is that if the manufacturer didn’t bother to make the function of the device clear to the end user, then that confusion should come out in the review so people can know what to expect when they buy it themselves. The average person usually isn’t able to call the head of R&D for for the company and discuss the intricacies of their products, so naturally the quality of the promotional materials and instructions factor into the review.
In the case of the 3MR trigger, there isn’t a single scrap of documentation that I could find either in the box or on the manufacturer’s website explaining how the trigger works. I saw a promotional video, but nowhere was there an instructional video on how to properly use their device. In fact, the following paragraph is the most information I could find about the trigger:
The 3MR is a drop-in 3-mode fire control system with Safe, Semi-Automatic, and Tac-Con™’s patented 3rd Mode. The 3rd mode has a positive reset that dramatically reduces the split times between shots. The positive reset characteristic is achieved by transferring the force from the bolt carrier through the trigger assembly to assist the trigger back onto the front sear. As a result, this gives the firearm the fastest reset possible. Both semi and 3rd mode positions exhibit a non-adjustable 4.5 pound trigger pull weight.
There is no description of how to use the trigger, no instructional video on its proper use…nada. Even if you go to their YouTube channel, there’s still no additional video other than the “hey look at this cool thing” promotional video we’ve seen before.
TAC-CON disagreed. The following is a simplified excerpt from the conversation we had over the phone:
Nick: There’s no instructions on how to properly use the trigger or how it works.
TAC-CON: Yes there is.
Nick: Uh, no, there’s not. There was nothing in the box, and there’s nothing on the website. There are just some promotional videos on your YouTube channel.
TAC-CON: You’re wrong, there is an excellent instructional video on the website. You didn’t do your research properly. Maybe you just don’t know how to shoot a gun.
Now, I’ll readily admit that I’m not the greatest shooter in the world. I do know how to work a gun though, and I’ll eat my hat if anyone can find an instructional video produced by TAC-CON and on their website detailing the operation of the trigger. In my view, TAC-CON claiming that we’ve screwed something up and are using their product incorrectly is about as ridiculous as Steve Jobs saying the iPhone’s reception issues are because people are holding it wrong.
TAC-CON also claimed that I was confused about ambidextrous safeties and other replacement parts not being available, but they don’t list any on their website. Unless there’s some super secret website specifically for this trigger that I have somehow missed, that is. There are a lot of things they claim are on their website yet I can’t seem to find any of them.
The next complaint TAC-CON had about the review was that we were comparing their product to the wrong triggers.
TAC-CON: It’s a 4.5 pound trigger, and you’re comparing it to triggers much lighter than that.
Nick: Yep. What’s wrong with that?
TAC-CON: But military and law enforcement need that 4.5 pound trigger to meet their specs. Comparing it to lighter triggers isn’t a fair comparison.
Nick: Most of uur audience isn’t military or law enforcement. We’re mostly a consumer blog. Your product is designed to make people shoot faster, correct?
Nick: I compared it to other triggers designed to let people shoot faster. Yours was more expensive and didn’t work as well.
TAC-CON: That’s not fair.
This I’ll leave up to y’all in the comments. I don’t think that it’s unfair to directly compare two products designed to achieve the same goal, but apparently TAC-CON thinks it is. I can even replicate TAC-CON’s claimed cyclic rate of fire with my Geissele S3G trigger, and that costs about half as much as the 3MR. Nevertheless, claiming that directly comparing your product to its logical competitors is “unfair” seems like an admission that the product isn’t up to scratch to me.
We aren’t a blog directed at military or law enforcement folks, we’re a consumer blog. At least, that’s how I see us. TAC-CON claims that their product is being used by all kinds of military units and law enforcement organizations. That’s wonderful for them, but it doesn’t impress me. Just because some police chief likes their product doesn’t mean that it gets an automatic five star review — they still need to earn that on their own merits and compared to the rest of products in the field.
The biggest issue for me with the trigger, though, was the price. TAC-CON didn’t seem to understand why.
TAC-CON: You knew it was a $500 product going in. Why did you request it if you knew how much it was?
Nick: Because I wanted to give it a chance? We don’t automatically give good reviews to products just because they’re expensive.
TAC-CON: But you knew how much it cost before you asked for it, if you were going to give it a bad review you shouldn’t have asked for one.
Nick: How can I know the results of a review before I even try the thing? It might have been worth the money, but in this case it was not.
It seems that they way the TAC-CON folks see it, the cost of an item shouldn’t factor into a review — we should review products in a vacuum, ignoring their price tag. I disagree. Price doesn’t always play a big role in the reviews we do, but when the difference is drastic enough — for example, being twice as expensive as a competing product that performs as well or better — that factor needs to be taken into account.
Apparently their opinion was that if I wasn’t prepared to give the trigger a glowing review, I should never have contacted them in the first place. It’s an opinion that would have made sense in the days where Guns & Ammo was the only game in town, but with the rise of the gun blogs, the days of paying for a good review are long gone. Well, they are here anyway.
The biggest issue they had, however, was that I called their trigger a “gimmick.” They didn’t like that characterization of their product and saw it as an unnecessary dig against them. It’s a fair cop, but it’s also accurate. Under what set of circumstances would this device be useful in a defensive gun use, or a shooting competition? All it does is let you chug through ammo faster on the range in a new and interesting way.
In my review I gave the 3MR trigger a 2-star review, and I stand by that. The review guidelines I set out when I started as the Testing & Reviews Editor are pretty clear that 3-stars is “average,” and if this trigger was priced competitively with the other “go-fast” triggers out there it would absolutely meet that standard at the very least. But add in the lack of documentation or information and the two star review is pretty much spot-on in my opinion. It’s not a terrible review, it’s a slightly below average rating from a website that actually uses the entire rating spectrum — this isn’t some game review website where an 80% is like a one star review, we use the entire range.
The reason I’m writing this article isn’t necessarily to name and shame TAC-CON for exhibiting a pretty piss-poor response to criticism, it’s to illustrate to other companies how to deal with bad press. This entire situation could have been avoided (and we would even have been open to a re-review in the future) if they had just said the following words:
[GOOD EXAMPLE:] Nick, I understand you didn’t like the trigger, can I give you some more information about it and put you in touch with some people who can explain its use a bit better?
That’s all they had to say and I would have been 100% on board. We’ve heard similar responses from many other manufacturers in similar situations.
You may remember MasterPiece Arms as a company that I haven’t exactly been kind to in the past. Instead of impotently venting their anger at us, Masterpiece Arms wants to show us that we’re wrong and that their guns are quality products. The result is that we’re spending our own money to fly down to Georgia this weekend to meet with them, hear what they have to say, and see if our opinion of their guns holds up. We are absolutely open to re-examining our opinions in the face of new information.
On the other hand, there’s this:
TAC-CON: I don’t like your review, and you’ll never get anything from us ever again.
We don’t respond well when companies try to bully us into giving them a good review.