Sony’s Poor Customer Service

I ordered a Sony camera that arrived with dust inside the lens. The dust showed as a dark spot on photos made against light-colored backgrounds. I should have returned the camera immediately, but like an idiot I trusted Sony’s warranty service system.

Unfortunately the service contractor returned the camera with smaller, more widely distributed dust, so I sent it back to them. Today the contractor’s website indicates it just shipped the camera back to me again, ignoring my request for overnight shipping. By now I’ve wasted hours calling Sony, calling the repair shop, waiting on hold, packaging the camera, driving (twice) to the shipping place, etc. And of course I don’t have the camera to use during this time.

The people I spoke with at Sony and the repair shop were all very nice and tried to be helpful, but they seemed to be constrained by rigid rules and would not accommodate me — I asked them to pay return shipping on the first return and to replace the camera on the second. And, of course, the repair people cheaped out on quality control. (When I complained about the poor cleaning job they assured me that more-experienced technicians handle repairs that have to be re-done — IOW, they cut corners the first time.)

Maybe Sony management doesn’t understand that good service is more than courteous phone manners, or maybe it doesn’t care. Sony seems to have a customer-service policy designed to save the company money in the short run by nickle-and-dimeing customers on shipping and repair costs, at the eventual expense of customer goodwill. Don’t the Sony people realize that requiring customers to escalate through a rigid hierarchy of repair procedures in order to get satisfaction is very costly in time and hassle for anyone who has a persistent problem? Perhaps they do. Perhaps they assume that most customers will not need service, and that most of those who do can be helped on the first attempt, so the cost of alienating the rest is acceptable. Perhaps that was once true. I don’t think it still is, however, given today’s low cost of broadcasting complaints about companies via the Internet.

Common sense might suggest that a company that shipped a defective product should go out of its way to make the customer happy. I’m not talking about something that breaks ten months into a one-year warranty, but rather a brand-new item that comes from the factory with an easily detected problem. I think the company should bend over backwards to make the customer whole in that case. I mean, what would it take — a prepaid overnight UPS label by email (with overnight return shipping)? a replacement camera after the first repair attempt failed? It’s more costly to do these things than it is to dribble out parsimonious assistance as the customer complains, but look at the potential benefits. If Sony had treated me generously they would have converted me into a customer for life: I would have looked forward to buying more Sony cameras and would have recommended them to others. (Who isn’t more likely to buy complex, expensive items like cameras if there’s no risk to doing so?)

Instead, Sony is making me think I’m a sucker for buying one of their products and allowing myself to be drafted as an involuntary quality-assurance inspector. Too bad. It’s a nice camera, but eventually I’ll want to replace it and I’ll probably avoid Sony products the next time around.

BTW, I hope to receive my camera back from the shop next week. With luck it will be fixed. But if it isn’t, and if anyone from Sony is reading this, my incident number is E30933518 and you will be hearing from me again.

UPDATE (June 5): I received the camera back. Precision Camera Repair, the service contractor, reports that all the things I didn’t complain about check OK but ignored my request to clean the lens. The same dirt marks are present as before. Utter incompetents. A call to Sony reveals that I have now suffered enough to be allowed to send my camera to Sony’s own repair facility. Boy do I feel privileged. Now I get to piss away another hour or two of my time boxing the camera, writing a note, printing photos with big arrows showing where the dirt is, and driving to the UPS place. Then I get to wait another two or three weeks and maybe they will send me a clean camera. It really isn’t worth the hassle.

11 thoughts on “Sony’s Poor Customer Service”

  1. Sorry to hear about your troubles. If you would like a heartfelt condolence, please press 1. For a sincere apology, please press 2…

    I’ve decided to buy all my electronic equipment at Costco. You can return it any time it breaks – years if need be. Now *that’s* customer service.

  2. Yeah, I should have shopped at Sears instead of an online photo retailer. You have lost the game once you get involved with the mfr’s customer service and shipping stuff back and forth, so the big lesson may be whenever possible to buy locally at stores that makes returns easy.

  3. Interesting post that I can relate to. My business is selling heating and air conditioning parts and equipment wholesale (to contractors only). Along with this comes lots of tool sales. Almost every single day we bend the rules or make some sort of accomodation if a customer brings back a broken tool within warranty. If it is out of the warranty period we will often replace the tool out of our own pocket if we get the feeling that our customer feels wronged, i.e. two days after the warranty expires. We do enough business with most of our vendors that they will take care of us. And if they don’t, we will just push someone elses brand. At the point of the transaction, it becomes the customer vs. us, not the customer vs. the vendor. So if we just stood there and said “sorry Joe, two days out of warranty – want to buy another one?” we are creating animosity towards US, not the manufacturer.

    Your other point is right about just replacing the camera right out of the gate. If they would have done that, they would have probably saved oodles of time and money and you probably would have looked at Sony for your next purchase.

    By the way, I use a Fuji F10 and love it, but can’t comment on their customer service as I have had no problems.

  4. Thanks for the perspective. I bought the Sony largely because I had decided the day before that I wanted a camera with good video capability, and I knew from experience that Sonys have that. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time shopping around. I had read good things about the F10, but I wasn’t sure about its video quality and the Sony had some other features I liked that the F10 lacked.

  5. I’m increasingly starting to think that there is such a thing as overall corporate IQ…some companies tend to do stupid things repeatedly much more than do others.

  6. Before I left retail for college (and eventually law school) I was a salesman and then a manager for Sears. Trust me when I tell you that you’d not have been in a much better position buying from Sears w/r/t service.

    Admittedly, on a brand new camera with an issue, any manager with any sense would just replace it, but the way things are done internally at Sears, policy often overrides good sense. You have to get lucky (or know the manager).

  7. If I had bought the camera from Sears I could have driven (15 minutes) back to the store the same day and asked for a replacement, or failing that a refund. They couldn’t refuse one or the other if I had paid with a credit card. Because I received the camera on a Friday afternoon, and the online retailer I bought it from closes for the Jewish Sabbath (I would have had to call them to arrange a return), and because I was eager to use the camera, I decided to use the camera over the weekend and then return it to Sony on Monday. I was also influenced by the prominent note in the camera packaging that said that if one had problems with the product one should call Sony’s service number rather than the retailer. As I wrote above, I was an idiot to be so trusting.

  8. Jonathan,

    If you bought it fomr B&H, be ware – they have been getting tougher and tougher on their return policies, although I have had much luck going in person when I go to NY on business.

    But Sony seems to have lost their corporate way and become more like a domestic Japanese company than one of the Internationals that are the face of Japan to us Westerners. The Internationals prided themselves on customer service, but internal Japanese companies, with their lifetime employment and state-protected oligopolies, are the pits to deal with. When I lived there I learned quickly who to deal with, and retailers like Yodobashi did a lot to protect their customers, but you paid a price for it – Sony digital cameras at the high end of their range are roughly 1/3 cheaper at B&H than at Yodobashi (although Yodobashi is usually cheaper than going to some no-name stall in Electric Town).

  9. Thanks, John. Yeah, I bought it from B&H, who are no help one month later.

    See my update to the original post, BTW.

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