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…