Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Sony: The Worst Customer Service in the World

I normally like Sony. Have for some time. I have a number of Sony products -- including a big-screen TV, desktop PC, and laptop PC. But no more.

Here's the story of the worst customer service I've ever encountered. (And I've encountered a lot of bad customer service, so trust me on this.)

On Wednesday Dec 13, I used my Sony laptop as normal during the day, no problems. That evening, at home, I try to turn on the laptop and nothing happens. Nada, no power, no lights, no nothing. Panic ensues, as I use my laptop for my professional writing, and had a ton of work on it that I now couldn't access.

This was about 10:00 p.m. (Eastern time) on the 13th. I called Sony's 24/7 support line. A lady (in India, of course) talked me through various procedures, to no effect; the ultimate conclusion was that I probably had a bad motherboard.

At this point I stressed that I needed repairs as fast as humanly possible, due to the needs of my profession and some looming deadlines. As the laptop was purchased just a year previous and supposedly had in-home service, I thought the next step would be fairly straightforward. Not so.

The lady in India said that before she could schedule service, I had to fax them my sales receipt. I questioned this, as I had purchased the laptop directly from SonyStyle. Doesn't matter, she replied, her department and that department are on different systems. I still needed to find and fax my receipt to a different number in California, and then call that office to confirm -- after 8:00 the next morning (Pacific time), which is apparently when that particular 24/7 service department opens for business.

Arguing did no good, so I hung up the phone, dug up the receipt, and faxed it to California.

The next morning, at 11:05 sharp (Eastern time), I called the California number. Yes, they'd received my fax. Unfortunately, it showed that my computer was out of warranty, and I wasn't eligible for either free or in-home service.

To this point, I argued. The computer had been ordered on December 8, 2005. Obviously, I didn't receive it on that date; to the best of my recollection, I received it on December 11, or thereabouts. The PC went dead on December 13, 2006 -- although it was now December 14th. To the kind and understanding folks at Sony, that meant that the PC was six days out of warranty (from the 8th to the 14th). To me, it meant it was at best two days out of warranty (the 11th to the 13th), but that wasn't really the point. Whether it was two days or six, it was close enough for Sony to take care of the issue.

Which they didn't.

For the next three hours, I talked to a dozen different people at a half-dozen different phone numbers, trying to get some satisfaction. There was none to be had. The folks at Sony, all twelve or so of them, went out of their way to tell me in no uncertain terms that they need not, could not, and would not help me in any way shape or form. All of them said that I had to ship my PC back to Sony and pay for the repairs myself. No in-home service. No warranty coverage. No help, no sympathy, no apologies. (One jackass even had the temerity to suggest that if I had just purchased an extended warranty...)

Finally, mid-afternoon, after spending more than three hours on the phone, I finally, finally found a supervisor of a supervisor who offered this solution. He would (and this is his exact word) "accommodate" me. This one time, he said, he would cover the repairs under warranty, but only if I shipped the PC back to Sony. I replied that this wasn't an accommodation, it was an obligation, and one that should have been offered at the start, not after three hours of pushing and pulling. And, I stressed, the needs of my business wouldn't let me wait a week or more for the PC to be shipped to them and then back again; I needed immediate local service. That was not possible, the Sony person said. The only way they'd do the repairs for free was at their San Diego service center.

I argued and cajoled and threatened some more (including the threat -- no, the promise -- to blog about it here and on my AOL Digital Lifestyle blog, which is read by tens of thousands of people daily), to no avail. This was his accommodation, and I could accept it or not. Fine, I finally said, who should I send the bill to? What bill, he asked. The bill for the new PC I'd have to buy that afternoon, I answered. There's no one to send it to, he said. Sure there is, I continued. You have a boss, don't you? Yes, he said. Then give me his name, I said. I can't give out that information, he said. Fine, I said. Just send the damned FedEx box so I can send the thing to San Diego for repair. He said I should receive the box by Monday (the 18th). "Is there anything else I can help you with," he said, directly from his script. I hung up the phone.

Three things happened next.

First, I went out that afternoon and bought a new Gateway laptop. Twice the performance of the year-old Sony at half the price. And it wasn't a Sony.

Second, I waited for the shipping box. It didn't arrive on Monday the 18th, as promised. It didn't arrive on Tuesday the 19th. It finally arrived on Wednesday the 20th, ensuring that I could not ship the PC to California, have it repaired, and have it returned to me by the Christmas holiday.

Third, I fixed the Sony PC myself. After loading the new Gateway PC with as much backup data as I could, I realized that I had still had some irreplaceable files on the Sony that I really needed. If I could only get it running for five minutes, I could retrieve those files.

I remembered something the first Indian tech support person had me try. I was to remove the battery, plug in the unit, depress the power button for 25 seconds, then try powering up again. This supposedly would fix any Windows hibernation-related problems. We had tried it that first evening, to no effect.

I wondered if, perhaps, 25 seconds wasn't long enough. So I plugged in the notebook, depressed the power button for 60 seconds, then tried starting it up.


Then I tried one last thing. I unplugged the unit, reinserted the battery, and pressed the power button.

Voila! The notebook sprang to life, and has been working perfectly since then.

So here's the list of Sony's technical support failures:
  • Failed to offer to repair a potential problem under warranty
  • Failed to honor the warranty's in-home service provision
  • Failed to provide a FedEx shipping box in a prompt manner as promised
  • Failed to properly walk me through the process that would have fixed the problem

Ultimately, Sony's biggest failure was in the way they handled a customer in need. At no point did a single person say "I'm sorry, Mr. Miller. We'll take care of this for you." Not a single apology, not a single note of sympathy, not a single person willing to step outside the process to take care of the situation and help the customer. Every single person I talked to went out of their way not to help me. Every Sony representative had to emphasize how he or she couldn't help me. No apologies, no sympathy, no help. This is not the way to run a business.

(In contrast, when I had similar problems with my Niveus Media Center PC this summer -- a bad motherboard, it was -- the Niveus people bent over backwards to help, rectifying the problem to my satisfaction and without cost to me. Yes, their PC broke just like the Sony, but Niveus' superb customer support made the best of a bad situation. Kudos to Niveus for their first-class customer-focused support.)

So now you know why I will never buy another Sony product. Never. I gave the now-functioning Sony laptop to my girlfriend to use (until it does eventually crap out) and I'm happy with my new Gateway machine. But the Sony experience is one everyone must know about; to be forewarned is to avoid companies that treat their customers with such disdain.

There will be no more Sony products in my household. This type of customer disservice must not be rewarded.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


The war in Iraq is a failure. No one knows what "victory" may mean, but it is clear that it is now unattainable. Iraq is is worse shape now than under Saddam Hussein, before America invaded. U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians are the target of almost constant violence, and the country is the midst of what is and will remain a bloody civil and religious war.

Facing these facts, President Bush wants to send more troops into Iraq in a final "surge" that amounts to little more than a late fourth-quarter Hail Mary play. His Joint Chiefs oppose this strategy. Most members of Congress, both Democrat and Republican, oppose this strategy. The American people oppose this strategy. It is, in all estimations, a recipe for failure, a move that will only prolong the inevitable American withdrawal at the cost of hundreds if not thousands of new American deaths.

Despite the facts, despite the reasoned opposition, despite the will of the American public, Bush intends to pursue this deadly strategy. He exists in his own fantasy world where the public supports him, the American will shall always prevail, and victory in Iraq is just a surge away. Bush is not just blind to reality, he is a madman. He must be stopped before more lives are lost, and before America as we know it is irrevocably destroyed.

Defeating his party in the mid-term elections apparently was not enough to stop this madman from pursuing his insane agenda. Wiser heads must prevail, using whatever means are necessary. On a ship, this would be cause for mutiny. In the ship of state, other means are available -- including but not limited to impeachment.

Stop the madness. Stop the madman. Now.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


In late November, six Muslim clerics were removed from a US Airways flight in Minneapolis after some other passengers were disturbed by their very public praying at the gate. This has become a major incident, with the imams claiming religious discrimination, various interfaith organizations conducting "pray-ins" and calling for the acceptance of public prayer, and other Muslims calling for the establishment of a private "prayer room" at the Minneapolis airport.

Here's where you might expect me to get all up in arms and plead for more tolerance toward minority religions and such. Suprise.

Not that I support yanking the obviously harmless clerics off the plane (that reeked of overkill), but I do think that their actions in the terminal were inappropriate for the very public place they were in. Praying silently and privately is one thing; laying down prayer mats, kneeling down and bowing, and reciting your prayers out loud is something completely different.

While this activity is perfectly acceptable in a mosque or private home, in a public setting it can be very disrupting. There is an unstated obligation in a public society to fit in with your surroundings, to not draw attention to yourself. You can be as individualistic as you want in private, but in public you become part of the public. That's why we have various laws regulating public behavior -- you can't walk around naked in public, or play your car radio too loud on a neighborhood street, or stagger around drunk and beligerant. We moderate ourselves in public in order to form an orderly society; practicing private ritual in public disrupts that order.

I don't direct these comments solely to Muslims who feel the need to pray five times a day, no matter where they are or what they're doing; the same holds for anyone who wants to make private religious rituals public. Imagine a Pentacostal loudly speaking in tongues during dinner hour at Applebees, or a Buddhist sitting down to meditate in a cross-legged position in the middle of a crowded shopping mall, or a fervent Baptist holding his Bible aloft and shouting out prayers in the aisle of a commuter train. None of these are appropriate public behaviors; all become disruptive when forced on nearby strangers.

I would think this would be self-evident, that individuals would police themselves in these matters, and that further restrictive rules and regulations would not be necessary. Instead, what seems to be to be common-sense restraint is viewed as advocating religious intolerance. Asking someone to tone down their behavior in public is now tantamount to attacking an entire religion. It's political correctness elevated to a level of religious evangelism, and it's wrong.

If you want to pray, do it at home, or in church, or silently to yourself. When you're in public, moderate your behavior so as not to offend or disrupt others. Asking someone to pray to themselves is not religious intolerance; it's simple civility.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.