Customer Care Experience: Part 5

Turning up the heat…

Ok, so it’s taken a while for me to get around to writing this post. If you’ve been following the story so far and have been eagerly awaiting the next instalment then I apologise for the delay. It’s not like I haven’t wanted to write before now, it’s just that I have a lot happening in my life at the moment and so I don’t have the time that I might like for something so frivolous as whingeing about my misfortunes which, frankly, I’m amazed that anybody really enjoys reading about anyway.

If you haven’t read the first four parts of the story, then you can start here for the complete background to this article.

So, without further ado, on with the saga…


Communicating with the merchant

At about the same time that Sony notified me that my handset was uneconomical to repair, I initiated communications with Mobile Phones Direct – the retailer who sold me the phone, albeit it was a purchase that I made a little over 2 years ago. This was in parallel with my communications with Sony and again I wished to keep a record so I communicated exclusively via email. I had no intention of aggressively pursuing the retailer for a satisfactory outcome for reasons which will become clear later on but from a legal perspective I had to make contact with the retailer to see if there was anything that they were prepared to do to resolve the situation. As before, with my recount of emails between myself and Sony, the following are just summaries of the messages that were sent and received.


Mobile Phones Direct Email #1

Me: I explained when I purchased the handset, reported the order and customer numbers so that MPD could verify my purchase and described the scenario that lead to my device failing. I let MPD know that I understand consumer legislation and that under said legislation it is the retailer’s responsibility to rectify the problem.

I referenced and quoted the page of the user guide for the Xperia Z which states that the device can be used in a chlorinated swimming pool at depths of up to 1.5m for 30 minutes.

I referenced and quoted Sony’s website stating that their devices can be used in a swimming pool.

I referenced more recent web pages on Sony’s website that contradict the information in the previous link by stating that the device should not be used underwater.

I referenced another couple of blogs that indicate that Sony have recently changed their stance on how their waterproof phones can be used.

I stated that I interpreted Sony’s change in stance as a clear acknowledgement of a problem with their devices and that if Sony state that they are not changing their stance then all of the user guides, marketing and information about waterproofing must have been deliberately misleading.

MPD: Sony have the ability to test the device to identify what caused the water to enter the handset. I was advised to enter a dispute with Sony based on the advice from them at the point of sale.

If Sony are unable to repair or replace my handset following their assessment, then MPD would require to see the report of the Sony engineers.


Clearly the response from Mobile Phones Direct is incorrect. My complaint should be lodged with the retailer and not with the manufacturer and this is what I was attempting to do. In addition, any report would be mine and while it may assist me to share it with MPD, I believe that it really ought to be their responsibility to get an independent report.


Mobile Phones Direct Email #2

Me: I explained that my handset had already been returned to Sony’s repair service and that I had found Sony customer support to be a particularly poor experience.

I informed MPD that Sony had stated that the handset was not economical to repair and that they were offering me a replacement for a fee.

I explained that I had asked Sony for information about where water had entered the handset but that they “will not speculate”.

I corrected MPD’s last response and stated that from a legal perspective it is their responsibility to rectify the problem and not Sony’s. In this instance Sony had been obstructive and unhelpful and so I stated that it was with regret that I returned to MPD as I was required to do in law.

MPD: No response.


Mobile Phones Direct Email #3 (2 weeks after previous correspondence)

Me: I simply asked whether, seeing as I had received no response to my last email, somebody was dealing with my problem and I mentioned that I was still without a phone.

MPD: They stated that they were unwilling to go further without an official manufacturer’s report stating that they cannot repair and will not replace my Xperia Z. “If you could forward that to us, we will get this looked into for you.”


Suspicions

By now I’m beginning to suspect that retailers and manufacturers are colluding in order to protect their businesses and completely stitch-up the consumer. Sony won’t do anything because the legal responsibility falls to the retailer and the retailer won’t do anything without a report from the manufacturer that the manufacturer won’t provide (and I believe that the retailer knows this)…

Most retailers probably recognise that by now most consumers will have given up because they don’t understand, are intimidated by and/or can’t be bothered with the aggravation of going through the process of making a claim through the small claims court – the consumer’s course for redress.


So it was at about this point that I requested my phone be returned from Sony’s repair service and a copy of the engineer’s report to satisfy MPD’s request.

Joint liability

At approximately the same time that I was requesting the engineer’s report that MPD wanted I decided to initiate proceedings via Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. This Section of the Consumer Credit Act states that, when making purchases between £100 and £30,000 using a credit card, then the lender (credit card provider) is jointly liable with the retailer for a breach of contract.

Fortunately I had used my credit card to make the initial purchase ( >£100 ) and so my lender has a legal responsibility to consider my case and apply remedial measures if they conclude that my case is valid. This route to recourse is far less hassle than trying to persuade a stubborn retailer. It’s for this reason that I now use my credit card for all purchases over £100. I even put £100 on my credit card when I recently bought a second-hand car of considerably greater value from a dealer (where there was no other finance agreement), just in case. I highly recommend that you consider doing the same with your purchases, for extra protection.

Incidentally, the car I purchased – a Volkswagen. What’s more I bought it just before the news broke about the international emissions scandal and the so-called cheat devices that VW had implemented in their cars to hide the fact that they were non-compliant with emissions regulations. It subsequently turned out that my car is one of those affected. VW intend to rectify the situation but I may still have a legitimate reason to use Section 75 again within the 6 years that the Limitations Act provides for. This may come in handy and I’m pretty glad that I paid at least some of the purchase price with my credit card!


To be continued…

 

 

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Customer Care Experience: Part 4

The Warm Up…

By now you should be aware of the situation that I was in when my Sony Xperia Z mobile phone terminally malfunctioned, the process that I went through via the dedicated Sony Xperia repair-service, the response that I received following receipt of my handset at the repair centre and how it frustrated me.

This chapter of the ongoing situation that I’ve found myself in details the approach that I took next, the reasons why I chose to do so and some of what ensued.


So at this point, and arguably I could have considered it earlier, I had a choice about the approach that I was to take from here, assuming that I didn’t just want to give up completely. I could continue to pursue Sony in the hope that they would see sense, value my custom and make an effort to retain me as a future customer. The problem with this approach is that they have no legal duty of care to me as I purchased my phone from an online retailer and not directly from Sony. The handset is also now out of the Sony warranty period. I am almost entirely reliant on their good-will to keep me as a customer and their desire to keep any potential bad press regarding their products at bay. Alternatively I could pursue my dispute with the retailer who sold me the device.

Technically the correct approach is to return to the trader who sold the goods as, under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (only applicable to goods purchased in England prior to 1st October 2015), the retailer entered into a contract of sale with me at the time of purchase where that unwritten contract stipulates that the product that I purchased must be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable length of time. In my case, I think that I could successfully argue that my phone suffered at least one of the following…

  • unsatisfactory quality (waterproofing failed on first use and after a period of time that was unsatisfactory)
  • not as described (was never waterproof to the extent claimed)
  • not fit for purpose (as it wasn’t waterproof as was claimed)

and/or

  • it did not last a reasonable length of time (but this may be open to debate).

In addition, the Limitations Act in English law gives the consumer up to 6 years to complain about a product after purchase.

I decided to pursue both. I was already engaged with Sony and, as you all know, I was unhappy with their response, so that required further clarification anyway. However, I also now decided to contact the retailer, Mobile Phones Direct to see how they would look after me, although if they had required me to send them my handset then there would have been a delay as I retrieved it from Sony who still had it until I decided what to do.


Communications

I have been interacting with both Sony and Mobile Phones Direct almost exclusively via email so that I have time to plan and consider my approach and everything is documented. However, the main problem with this method is that there is a 2-day wait for an answer from Sony and so the whole saga takes much longer than it might do over the telephone. In addition I often take more than 3 or 4 days to consider my response but always respond to Sony within 5 working days so as to keep the original support number that is assigned to my case open. Sony closes a support request automatically after 5 days.

For brevity, and to demonstrate a degree of professionalism on my part, I don’t intend to publish verbatim any of my personal email communications or the responses that I received. The following are therefore paraphrased summaries of the original communications with quotations only where appropriate.


Sony Email #1

Me: I expressed my dissatisfaction with the response from Sony’s contracted repair centre. I reiterated that I had used my phone in water in good faith and that damage was not caused by misuse or something that I could have otherwise prevented. I requested clarification of why my device is “uneconomical to repair” and explained why I feel that this statement lacks transparency. I mentioned that the offer of a “functionally equivalent device” is ambiguous and that the price quoted is insulting given the lack of abuse to my handset. I asked them to elaborate on what was being offered to me and informed them about what I had expected Sony to do in order to rectify the situation.

Sony response: Sony confirmed that their engineers found liquid damage and stated that it is not covered under warranty as there were no defects in design, materials or workmanship.

“As with any issue on your handset our engineers would fully examine the handset and the issue…”

Sony confirmed that they stand by the quotation and I was encouraged to either pay for the replacement or the handling fee for return (which I consider to be nothing more than a ransom as, at this stage, I had received no evidence that Sony had actually done anything but there is no way to get your device back without paying some money for it).

Sony email #2

Me: I sent the following queries:

1. If the Sony engineers can categorically state that there was no fault with the design, materials or workmanship, then they must have determined and be able to say how water entered the phone. I expressed my interest in this matter because I can confidently say that I was not at fault and these are the only other possible causes.

2. Precisely what is meant by the offer of a “functionally equivalent device”, as my previous request for clarity in this matter has yet to be addressed.

Sony response:

1. Sony stated that they cannot speculate.

2. Offer is for reconditioned Xperia Z.

Sony email #3

Me: I explained that I would not be accepting the offer of a reconditioned handset, not only because there is clearly a fault in their design, materials or workmanship (so why would I want another?) but the quotation provided (£266) is almost the same as to purchase a new Xperia Z from Sony’s own webstore (£289). I also stated that I would not be purchasing another Sony product.

I asked if the pressure test that is mentioned on the Sony website was conducted by the engineers as a means of confirming or otherwise the integrity of my handset for water-resistance. I explained that this should provide conclusive evidence as to whether there was a fault or not.

Again, I reiterated no misuse on my part and so fault must be design, materials or workmanship. If categorically not, then point of water entry must have been determined.

Sony response: Cannot speculate how water got in.

“Full testing would have been conducted which would have left a non-manufacturing fault” (i.e. blaming me)

Sony email #4

Me: I expressed frustration at Sony not being prepared to speculate about how water got in to my Xperia Z and yet in the same email apparently being prepared to speculate about what tests were conducted by the engineers. I explained that an engineer’s report or notes should be available to them, stating what tests were performed and their results. I said that I simply wanted information that should be contained in the report. I then made my first request to see the full engineer’s report for myself.

Sony email #5

Me: This email was purely to provide further information to Sony. I had requested the return of my Xperia Z but I wished them to know that I was making the payment under protest, as I had yet to receive any evidence that my handset had been properly reviewed by an engineer or my situation adequately considered. I also reminded Sony that I was waiting for a copy of the engineer’s report (second request), as requested previously.

Sony response: This response only contained information concerning the breakdown of charges for the return of my phone.

Sony email #6

Me: I thanked Sony for the information about the breakdown of charges for the return of my handset. I asked about when I might receive the engineer’s report (third request).

Sony response: This response was to inform me that my details had been passed to the Sony offline escalations team.

Sony email #7

Me: I simply thanked Sony for escalating my case.

Sony response: Sony called my home while I was at work. My wife was promised that I would receive a follow-up email and told that I could also phone the switchboard and ask to speak with somebody in the escalations team.

I never received a follow-up email.

Sony telephone call #1

Me: I called the Sony support switchboard and asked for the escalations team as my wife had been advised.

Sony: Nobody was available in escalations to take my call.

Me: I requested to be contacted by email instead.

Sony: My request was noted.

I never received an email.


Seeing as this post is now quite long, I intend for the next post in the series to be an account of my communication with the retailer and the subsequent action that I have taken. You should then be right up to date.

To be continued…


You can find more useful information regarding consumer rights in England and the UK on various websites including the following:

Citizens Advice Bureau

The Money Saving Expert (Martin Lewis) – Consumer rights

Wikipedia

Customer Care Experience: Part 3

It shouldn’t be this way…

So if you’ve read the first couple of episodes in my ongoing saga with Sony’s Xperia UK Customer Support team then you’ll already know that my premium and supposedly water resistant Xperia Z mobile phone malfunctioned as soon as it became submerged in shallow water. You will also have read about the response that I received from the UK Sony repair service and be aware that it infuriated me. If not then I’ve quoted it again below as this chapter is all about why Sony’s response maddened me so much. Also bear in mind that in addition to the statements reproduced below I received a quote of approximately £266 for the “functionally equivalent device” mentioned.

Your handset is uneconomical to repair. We offer you a functionally equivalent device.

So yes, Sony didn’t offer me what I think I deserve or am entitled to and yes, that is a significant source of my frustration and disappointment but it is not the only reason why I’m dissatisfied. As you will read below, there’s more to it than that and I think that I’m justified in being upset about it.


When I packaged up my handset and sent it to Sony’s engineers I thought that they were going to assess it with a view to establishing liability and only then would a repair be considered. I was certain that they would find a fault which pointed the finger at design, materials or workmanship and thus the repair or replacement would be at Sony’s expense. As it happens, it would seem that Sony’s contract engineers have either…

a) assumed that my handset was sent in purely for a repair as the result of accidental water damage and given no consideration as to the reason for water ingress and therefore to liability

or…

b) they have concluded that I am liable but have failed to explain their reasoning.

As the customer, I feel that I should not be left wondering how the decision of liability, which clearly affects me and is central to the whole issue, was established. Or indeed if it ever was.

Of course I realise that Sony have apparently made up their mind about how they intend to treat this case and therefore I know that I am now incredibly unlikely to get the outcome that I want and, frankly, deserve. To be clear, all that I’m after is for Sony to put me back into the situation that I was in prior to taking my handset to the swimming pool where it failed as a result of some as yet unknown or unacknowledged reason but which was NOT due to misuse. What that means to me is that I want Sony or the retailer to supply me with a replacement handset at no cost to me. Why should I be out of pocket? An offer of a refurbished handset would have been fine, as long as it worked: I’m not trying to scam a free copy of one of their latest models. To be honest, even a decent discount on a direct or equivalent replacement would have led me to think that they were being reasonable. After all I’d had two years use from my device before I decided to use it in water for the first time, so offering only a discount to me wouldn’t be unreasonable. However what Sony decided to do got my back up because the only thing that really is clear from their statements above is that they believe that I was at fault. And it came with no explanation.

So, supposing that I accept liability for the failure of my Xperia Z and therefore the offer might be of interest to me, then the biggest problem that I have with the statements above, issued by Sony’s Customer Service, is that they are not at all transparent. To me it looks as though Sony simply see a customer’s misfortune as an opportunity to try and make as much additional money for the least amount of effort that they can get away with. That may not be an entirely fair or accurate statement but without proper transparency that is the conclusion that I’ve come to and if others conclude the same then it is likely to be a fairly serious problem for customer retention and isn’t retention what good Customer Support is all about?


So now let’s review and consider each of the two comments that I received from Sony…

Your handset is uneconomical to repair

To support this statement I think it would useful to have a full quote for a repair that details which parts have failed and an associated cost to replace each component including labour. By the end of the quote it should be easy for the consumer to see that the cost of repair is uneconomical when compared to the price of a replacement. It may be too technically involved and therefore expensive to provide this level of detail but something in addition to the simple statement above is surely required to give the customer confidence that Sony and their engineers are operating in the best interest of the customer and not in their own.

We offer you a functionally equivalent device

(Also, bear in mind that I received a quote for approximately £266 alongside this statement).

What on earth does this statement mean? After all my device isn’t functioning at all! I don’t want another brick and I certainly don’t want to pay for one! I assume that Sony intend to replace it with something working at least?! At least I sincerely hope that’s the case for roughly £266.

Aside from the poor choice of words these are my two main questions:

  1. Exactly what model device is being offered to me? I could make an assumption that it’s the same as my old handset but a more recent and cheaper model may also be considered a functionally equivalent device. However, before I hand over that kind of money I want a proper description of the product just in case my assumption is incorrect or they are offering something to me that I’m not interested in.
  2. What is the condition of the replacement device? New? Refurbished?

Neither of these questions should have to be asked. The offer should be explicit with no opportunity to misunderstand.


In summary, it really shouldn’t be this way. I believe that there should be absolute clarity and transparency in all communications with the customer regarding the engineer’s assessment, the justification for the decision about liability and the potential remedy or offer put forward. Sony has failed spectacularly on all counts. What’s more, in future chapters you’ll see that it gets worse when I start to try and interact with Sony’s Customer Support agents…

Customer Care Experience: Part 2

First Contact with Sony Customer Support

So, my Sony Xperia Z died when it came into contact with water at my local swimming pool where I took it to photograph my baby daughter during one of her first swimming classes. If you want to read more about it you can do so in my first blog post here.

So, now that I have had a reason to search the internet for the experiences of others and their water-resistant Xperia phones, it would seem that I am not alone in having suffered a failure in this manner. A quick Google search will show results for many forums and blog posts which recount similar woes across various Sony models. Of course, I now wish that I’d investigated this before I went swimming because I would have thought twice about taking my handset with me.

So, although now out of warranty, I thought that I would make use of Sony’s Xperia UK customer support to see if my phone could be repaired. After logging in to my account that I created immediately after i purchased my phone, I navigated to the part of their website that offers three support options: chat, phone and email. Uncertain about whether I needed to send it for a repair (another link at the foot of the web page), given that I suspected water damage may have written off multiple components, probably necessitating a full replacement, first I sent a general message asking if water damage is possible to repair. The reply I received simply instructed me to send my phone in via the repair service. Nothing more. Actually, I’ve abbreviated slightly as the message was a standardised template directing me to the service I already knew about and instructing me on how to use it. It was not personalised in direct response to my original enquiry and it was therefore not terribly helpful but I didn’t really expect much more when I was trying to take a bit of a shortcut. Perhaps unsurprisingly, sending the handset in for their engineers to review also seems to make a few extra pennies for Sony and it wouldn’t really be fair of me to expect them to say whether my handset was repairable or not without allowing them to see it for themselves, but I got the feeling that I was beginning to see the potential colours of this multi – national although it didn’t put me off at this stage.

So, in order to request the repair, I proceeded to fill in the online forms as instructed, stating that my device had suffered water damage. Incidentally, in case you are unaware, as I was until I found some information elsewhere on the internet, each port has a little white tab alongside it under the sealing flap that turns pink if it comes into contact with water. Well, I already knew that water was responsible for the failure due to the circumstances that I was in when it occurred, but it’s handy to know so I’ve included a picture.

Pink water indicator

Pink marker indicating the presence of water

Upon completing the form, I also noted that to send my mobile phone to the Sony contract engineers (like many other manufacturers they don’t use their own engineers) would be free of charge but to have it returned would cost me a small amount (~£20). Alternatively my device could be re-cycled at no cost to me. So I packaged it up and sent it on its way.

A few days later my account was updated to reflect that my handset had been received and reviewed. Excellent. Seeing as I wasn’t at fault I was certain that I would have an apology and a replacement in no time! In fact, after logging in to my account I discovered that I had the following:

Your handset is uneconomical to repair. We offer you a functionally equivalent device.

Oh and I almost forgot, along with the offer of “a functionally equivalent device” was a quote for ~£266.

That was it. No further explanation.

I was a little confused and thoroughly livid.

 

 

Customer Care Experience : Part 1

Setting the Scene

Do you ever consider the reputation of the customer service department before buying a product? Hopefully you’ll never need them but, as I recently discovered, even a premium brand doesn’t guarantee that you’ll receive a premium after-sales service.

I’m sure that, as consumers, we have all experienced less than satisfactory products and services. Personally, sometimes I can live with a defect but on other occasions I know that over time it will start to grate with me and I will regret not making a complaint. On other much rarer occasions I let my principles get the better of my emotions when it would just be easier to write off a grievance that isn’t being correctly handled by a customer service department.

It was one such genuine grievance that I recently had that has led to me starting this blog in the hope that my story may offer some information or assistance to somebody dealing with poor customer service. If not, well at least I can let off some steam without hassling my wife about it. Yet again. And that’s another thing. If you can be bothered to pursue such a complaint or grievance, be prepared for the whole experience to consume you and your time in the event that you may be dealing with a particularly obstinate company or representative.

Two and a half years ago i purchased a top of the range mobile phone from an online phone specialist, mobilephonesdirect.co.uk. I bought a Sony Xperia Z which, for just shy of two and a half years, was reliable and excellent for my needs. I was in no hurry to replace it but, realising that the battery in particular could give out over the coming months, I had recently started to consider what I might replace it with. Not long after I’d started to look around at the latest handsets I decided to take the Xperia Z with me to the local swimming pool to photograph my baby daughter, who I was taking to one of her first swimming classes. Seeing as all of the handset capabilities had worked flawlessly since i bought it I was confident that the waterproofing would also be reliable, especially since I had looked after my device. In fact a few months earlier I had replaced the sealing flap that covers the micro USB port where the seal had obviously perished and I was absolutely paranoid about ensuring that all port flaps were firmly closed before I entered the pool.

I had my phone switched on, ports closed and in a closed pocket on the leg of my swimming shorts. I passed my daughter down to my wife who was in the pool already and then I descended slowly into the shallow end via the pool ladder. As soon as I was in the pool I reached for my phone, extracting it from my pocket and up through no more than half a meter of water  where I tried to illuminate the screen without success. It was dead. Already. In case you are not familiar with the handset and are wondering, Sony claim that this model is water-resistant to 1.5m for up to 30 minutes.

I was annoyed that my trusty phone had died due to a failure of the water-resistance but moreover I was upset that I wouldn’t now be creating the images of my little girl’s early swimming experience. I was confident that the device failure shouldn’t have occurred, that I’d done everything correctly within the limits set out in marketing and the manual, so I was sure that being a premium device from a premium brand I would be well looked after. Little did I know that in fact Sony’s Xperia UK team was about to deliver me some of the worst customer service that I’ve ever experienced…