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.