Thursday, September 24, 2009

Struggling with Sony service

Why do companies that make great products back them up with abysmally poor support and service?

The Global Command Center needed a smoking hot computer to keep it humming, and I spent months researching specs and visiting showrooms to qualify the candidates. There is nothing worse than having a consultant drag in a cheap netbook or underpowered laptop, then waste everyone's time waiting for it to boot up before a document can be retrieved or a presentation started. I wanted something light, peppy, stylish, bright, a pleasure to use, a featherweight to carry.
After a lot of looking, I settled on a Sony Vaio Z, a lovely 13-inch laptop in a rugged carbon-fiber case with a nimble 3 GHz processor and shockingly bright screen. It has a full-sized keyboard and skinny little form factor: after 10 years of dragging corporate Dells through airports, this is a delight. I keep it in a small (Apple) carrying case slipped into my shoulder bag: when I reach the worksite it boots in about 20 seconds. The long-life battery lasts for a full plane ride and there's enough memory and drive space to keep even Vista happy. I'm thrilled, especially since Sony cut a deal for 15% discount and two-years no payment / no interest financing.
'Ordered in early July, shipped mid-month, arrived for my visit to Seattle. No problems at all for the first two weeks as I configured, loaded software, and made friends with my new laptop. Then, in mid-August, trouble: a blue screen of death appeared every time I unplugged a USB cable. It turns out that Microsoft had shipped a bad update that corrupted 64-bit Vista; eventually they sent a patch that resolved the problem.

But in trying to figure out the cause of the problem, I discovered a small crack in the lower case at the upper right hinge. It loomed large immediately; it's a stress point near the socket for the power cord and next to an airflow vent. So I called Sony Service to see if I could get the plate swapped.
  • Call Sony Netherlands, please, and they will help you. Sony Netherlands has never heard of a Z-790 and cannot help with the problem (1 week).
  • Call Sony Customer Support, please, and they will help you. No, your warranty covers internal electronics, not external parts. Please call Sony ServiceNet (1 week).
  • You need an accidental damage warranty: please call Customer Support. No, you can't buy that warranty more than 30 days after placing the order. Let me try to get my managers to agree to an exception. (1 week, then an e-mail saying 'No').
  • To Sony Sales: I just purchased a new computer and I cannot get a potentially pre-existing problem fixed. Can you help me? Let me transfer your call and file to someone who can. (A series of baffled agents, each without a file and only some of whom have working computers, swat me from desk to desk for three hours).
  • To Sony Customer Care Ombudsman: Can anyone help with this? Of course we can, let me get a supervisor (hands the phone to the agent at the next desk who lowers their voice and sounds official). Transferred to service / sales, they tell me that there is no credit for time spent chasing through the system, I am outside the period for buying a warranty, the problem is not covered, thank you for calling Sony.
  • Three days later I receive an e-mail survey asking whether I am pleased and satisfied with their customer care. I dump my experiences onto it, but there is no follow-up.
It's a frustrating experience: I probably spent ten hours on the phone trying to get a replacement part that should have been trivial for a six-week old laptop. Every department was disconnected from the others, nobody had responsibility or accountability, everyone handed the problem off. Inevitably, this will factor into the recommendation I make to others and into any decision to purchase Sony products in the future.
Yet companies do it all the time.
Customers have a longer connection with service and support than they ever will with sales and shipping.  So why make the sales relationship so warm and supportive, then make the user experience so difficult and unproductive?

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