If you know me, you know that I’m a very positive person. My glass is half-full. I give people the benefit of the doubt. So with that in mind, read if you will my cautionary tale regarding Sony’s products and customer service.
A few years ago, I was given a small Sony digital camera as a gift by a friend in Japan. It turned out that the camera, despite having a Language menu, only supported Japanese. The same camera here in the US, which also has a Language menu, only supports English.
I contacted Sony to see if the language could be changed somehow or if they would simply replace the camera with the English version. They said they couldn’t because the camera came from Sony Japan and they were Sony USA. Do I care about those distinctions? No. They are Sony. That’s all I care about. They suggested I write to their “Executive Review Committee”. Now you would think that if a customer takes the time to write to such a committee with a reasonable request, it would be granted. Unfortunately, that was not the case. The letter I received back said they would not swap out the camera. Despite being a long time Sony customer, they were not interested in solving my problem. At this point they lost me as a customer.
In June of 2010 I found myself in need of a portable audio player with iPhone connectivity. I went to the local Best Buy store and the best unit, regrettably, was made by Sony. Despite not wanting to give Sony another penny of my money, I bought it anyway. Remember this is a portable unit. It even can run on batteries. It’s the kind of boom box you might take to the beach for example. Last month we had it out in the backyard during a birthday party for my daughter. It was outside for an hour. That’s when we noticed that the CD cover, the buttons, the handle and part of the case all had actually warped from exposure to sunlight! Amazing. The CD portion of the box no longer functions.
Here is what a hour in the sun will do to a Sony portable audio player:
Having recently had a stellar customer service experience with Panasonic (who totally rocks by the way), I tweeted about the fact that Sony sucks at customer service. That same day, SonyListens started following me on Twitter and then I received a tweet from SonyListens asking me to contact them via email to tell the story of what happened. I did so and received a reply (from a Senior Customer Service Representative – now we are getting somewhere!) asking me to call a phone number and give them an event ID (which they supplied in the email) presumably so the person I would be speaking to could read the email message.
I called this morning and after about 10 minutes on hold, my call was answered. The person answering it seemed to be reading the email and asked me to confirm the issue I had was with a camera. I explained that that was only one issue and that there was also an issue with a boom box as well. It was like he didn’t even hear that because he said he need to transfer me to the camera division.
For about 10 minutes I waited on hold. During this time I listened to canned messages in English occasionally interrupted by canned messages in Spanish. What little Spanish I remember from college suggested to me that I had been transferred to the wrong number but I figured it was still Sony so they could either answer my questions or transfer me, yet again, to the right place. Finally someone answered in Spanish but he spoke English as well. I told him the entire story. This was now the fifth time I have had to tell it to someone at Sony and it was really disappointing and yet no surprise that his response was the same: Sony would not do anything about the camera. He suggested that the boom box, having been purchased in the US, could possibly be dealt with. Being curious as to just how badly Sony’s customer service would suck, I decided to pursue the boom box issue so the Spanish Sony customer service rep transferred me to the boom box division.
And again I waited on hold. I’m not sure how long but it was at least 10 minutes. The woman that answered said her name was Jo and she would be happy to help me. I explained the story for the sixth time now. She asked me when I purchased the unit but I told her I don’t remember. She asked me if it was June 15th, 2010 and I said that was possible but I couldn’t be sure. She then proceeded to verify my physical address which means I registered the unit so she KNOWS I purchased it on June 15th, 2010! Jo said that I could send the boom box to one of Sony’s customer service centers for a free evaluation and that if any repairs where required, I would have to pay for them. I explained to her that most repair costs for consumer electronic devices under $100 are more than the replacement cost but in any case, this was simply poor design. I explained to her that Sony should be more interested in keeping customers and less interested in the occasional additional cost of keeping a customer happy, especially at a time when the economy is bad and stories of poor customer service can spread so easily. She said that if I would wait on hold again, she would see what else could be done. I asked if she could simply call me back but she said she couldn’t because they are not allowed to make outbound calls. Wow, more poor customer service. But the fact that she was willing to check again to see what could be done led me to believe that Sony might be one of the companies whose policy is that if the customer yells loud enough, they will be taken care of. That’s a terrible policy but I was curious to see if it was Sony’s.
At this point I had been on the phone with Sony for 45 minutes. I waited another 15 minutes (I timed it this time) only to have Jo reiterate what she had already said with one change: it would be the repair facility that would tell me if I would be paying for the repair or not. She gave me the address to which I should send the boom box and asked me to write an order number on the outside of the box in which I shipped the unit. When I asked for the order number she said she was getting it. That took at least another 10 minutes of simply hanging on the line for her to get the order number. Finally, after 1 hour and 18 minutes on the phone, I had an order number I could use to ship (at my own expense) a poorly-designed boom box back to Sony for a repair that I might have to pay for myself.
At this point I’m simply curious how this story will end. To exactly what depth will Sony’s customer service suck? I’m going to send in the boom box (apparently the camera is a lost cause) just to see what Sony says. It’s really almost masochistic curiosity at this point. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
Here’s the positive, upbeat side of me coming out again: The thing I learned from this experience that I find valuable, as the CEO of a software company, is just how important great customer service really is. One of my business books was pointing out what some well-known companies are known and not known for. It specifically mentioned that Sony was not known for customer service. I didn’t think must of this at the time as my issues with Sony had not yet arisen.
Sony, you need to change your attitude. You have a lot more competition than you have had in the past. The economy is poor. And badly-treated customers can spread their stories of woe at the speed of light to potentially millions of people. You really can’t afford to have customer service that is this bad.
Here are a few suggestions for you. If you choose to take my advice, the only payment I ask for is a digital camera with English and a boom box that won’t melt like ice cream on a sunny day.
- Make your policy that you will do whatever is necessary to make the customer happy.
- Don’t allow a customer to wait on hold for more than 2 minutes. Give your reps the ability to call the customer back so they don’t have to wait on hold.
- Hire customer service reps that can think and that get a warm fuzzy when the solve a customer’s problem. Enable them to do so.